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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Wang Xizhi (wahng SHEE-jee) was from a family of aristocrats and scholars. He was a court secretary of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 c.e.), general of Ningyuan prefecture, governor of Jingzhou, a general, and a civil administrator of Guiji in Zhejiang until he retired. He then maintained close contact with the literary scholars of his time.

Wang Xizhi learned calligraphy initially from Wei Shuo, a noted woman calligrapher, and further developed his skills by imitating the work of distinguished calligraphers of the past, such as Zhangzhi’s (d. c. 192 c.e.) caoshu (cursive script) and Zhongyao’s (151-230 c.e.) kaishu (standard characters). His calligraphy integrated styles of all schools into his own, showing a mighty, majestic appearance, limitless changes, and round and smooth motions. He was superb in all script styles, but especially so in kaishu and xingshu (running script). Most of his original works have not survived; only copies exist. These include his running script renderings of Lanting Xu (after 353 c.e.; preface to poems made at the Orchard Pavilion) and Kong Shizhong (n.d.; Kong the imperial attendant), and his cursive script rendering of Shiqi Tie (n.d.; seventeen models) and Chuyue (n.d.; the crescent Moon). His son, Wang Xianzhi (344-386 c.e.), was an equally accomplished calligrapher, and together they are known as the “two Wangs.”


Wang Xizhi has been regarded as the sage of calligraphy and much admired in later dynasties and in modern China.

Further Reading:

Chang, L. L., et al. Four Thousand Years of Chinese Calligraphy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Froncek, Thomas, ed. The Horizon Book of the Arts of China. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969. A concise biography of Wang is included under the heading “Wine, Weather, and Wang.” Preceding page has a picture of Wang entitled “Wang Hsi-chi Writing on a Fan,” painted by Liang Kai (Liang K’ai; c. 1140-c. 1210).

Long, Jean. The Art of Chinese Calligraphy. 1987. Reprint. New York: Dover, 2001. A general introduction, including chapters on history and the relationship of the characters to Chinese thought.

Moore, Oliver. Reading the Past: Chinese . Berkeley:...

(The entire section is 504 words.)