Wang Xizhi Additional Biography

Biography

(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Chinese calligrapher{$I[g]China;Wang Xizhi} By refining the styles of earlier calligraphers and developing new ones, Wang Xizhi, through his innovative brushwork, set the aesthetic standards for all subsequent calligraphers in China, Korea, and Japan.

Early Life

In 317 c.e., because of military onslaughts by non-Chinese “barbarians,” the Western Jin Dynasty (Chin; 265-316 c.e.) was forced to evacuate southward, reestablishing itself in refuge as the Eastern Jin (Chin; 317-420 c.e.). Wang Xizhi (wahng shur-dzur) was born some years before this move in what is today the province of Shandong, where the Wangs enjoyed the status of a leading aristocratic family. His father, Wang Kuang (Wang K’uang), was the cousin of Wang Dao (Wang Tao), a prominent minister of the Western Jin, who advocated moving to the south. Both Wang Kuang and Wang Dao were praised for helping save the Jin through this fortuitous move.

Many of Wang Xizhi’s relatives, besides being active in politics, were literati well versed in philosophy, literature, and the arts, especially calligraphy, the technique of writing characters with brush and ink. Chinese characters, the oldest continuous form of writing in the world, evolved from primitive markings on Neolithic pottery, to first millennium b.c.e. graphs carved on tortoise shells and scapulae used in divination, and later to a complex script preserved on cast bronze ritual vessels and stone tablets. By the second century b.c.e., characters were being written on silk and bamboo slips using bamboo brushes with animal hair tips dipped in ink made from molded lampblack hardened with glue and dissolved in water on an ink slab.

As writing changed from carving, casting, and etching to a means of expressing, through a flexible brush, nuances of aesthetic feeling on a receptive surface such as silk or paper, the art of beautiful writing emerged. Writing had become not only a means of communication but indeed an expression of sentiment made manifest in ink. The ability to use the brush as both an artist’s and a calligrapher’s tool was a hallmark of the cultured gentleman. “A person’s true character is revealed in one’s calligraphy” according to a Chinese maxim; the facility to write Chinese characters in an elegant hand was judged to be a sign of talent and breeding.

Calligraphy is a discipline learned through practice and imitation. Wang was introduced to the “four treasures of the scholar’s studio”—the brush, the ink stick, the ink stone, and paper or silk—in his youth by his father, who was adept in the li (“clerical”) style of writing, and an uncle, Wang Yi, a master of the xing (“running”) style. These styles of writing had evolved from earlier calligraphers’ experiments with character forms and the movement of writing implements over the ages. Beginning with the Shang-period jiaguwen (“oracle bone”) script, calligraphic styles progressed through the inscribed guwen (“ancient”) script on bronze implements, the dazhuan (“large seal”) script on Warring States-era ritual vessels, and the clerical style on Han Dynasty bamboo slips, to the kaishu (“block”) script of the first century or so. By Wang’s time, the running style, aptly named since the strokes run together, along with zhangcao (“official grass”), were new styles emerging out of these historical predecessors.

As a teenager, Wang became a disciple of the noted calligrapher Lady Wei. She was impressed with his talent, reportedly saying, “This child is destined to surpass my fame as a calligrapher.” Later, to broaden his knowledge of past masters’ brushwork, Wang traveled the land examining inscriptions preserved on stone stelae. In the south, he encountered specimens of Li Si (Li Ssu; 280?-208 b.c.e.), the Legalist prime minister of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 b.c.e.), whose decrees unified the scripts of the rival feudal states into a single one based on Qin models. He was also impressed by the zhenshu (“regular”) script works of Zhong Yao (Chung Yao), a Wei premier, and Liang Hu, noted for his large characters. The masterpieces of Cao Xi (Ts’ao Hsi), Cao Yong (Ts’ai Yung), and Zhang Chang (Chang Ch’ang) also had an effect on him. From their examples he learned the theoretical and technical essences of calligraphy to enable him to go beyond imitation to creativity.

Awakened to new inspirations, he reportedly lamented that he had wasted years in studying under Lady Wei. “I [then] changed my master,” he wrote, “and have been taking lessons from the monuments.” He absorbed all the styles that he encountered, adapting them to create new versions. Besides the running style, he was especially proficient in the cao (“grass”) style, an abstract, cursive form of writing whereby individual strokes of a character are effortlessly blended together while the brush rapidly moves across the writing surface, producing characters as flowing as “grass undulating in the breeze.”

Life’s Work

Wang Xizhi held several government positions, including Censor of Kuaiji (K’uai-chi) and General of the Right Army (Yujun), a title frequently affixed to his surname. He held posts in the provinces of Hubei and Zhejiang, but he was far better known as a calligrapher than as a...

(The entire section is 2224 words.)

Biography

(Biographies of the Ancient World)

Early Life

In 317, because of military onslaughts by non-Chinese “barbarians,” the Western Jin Dynasty was forced to evacuate southward, reestablishing itself in refuge as the Eastern Jin (317-420). Wang Xizhi (Yi-shao was another given name he used) was born some years before this move in what is today the Province of Shandong, where the Wangs enjoyed the status of a leading aristocratic family. His father, Wang Kuang, was the cousin of Wang Dao, a prominent minister of the Western Jin, who advocated moving to the south. Both Wang Kuang and Wang Dao were praised for helping save the Jin through this fortuitous move.

Many of Wang Xizhi’s relatives, besides being active in politics, were literati well versed in philosophy, literature, and the arts, especially calligraphy, the technique of writing characters with brush and ink. Chinese characters, the oldest continuous form of writing in the world, evolved from primitive markings on neolithic pottery, to first millennium b.c.e. graphs carved on tortoise shells and scapulae used in divination, and later to a complex script preserved on cast bronze ritual vessels and stone tablets. By the second century b.c.e., characters were being written on silk and bamboo slips using bamboo brushes with animal hair tips dipped in ink made from molded lampblack hardened with glue and dissolved in water on an ink slab.

As writing changed from carving, casting, and etching to a means of expressing through a flexible brush nuances of aesthetic feeling on a receptive surface such as silk or paper, the art of beautiful writing emerged. Writing had become not only a means of communication but indeed an expression of sentiment made manifest in ink. The ability to use the brush as both an artist’s and a calligrapher’s tool was a hallmark of the cultured gentleman. “A person’s true character is revealed in one’s calligraphy” according to a Chinese maxim; the facility to write Chinese characters in an elegant hand was judged to be a sign of talent and breeding.

Calligraphy is a discipline learned through practice and imitation. Wang was introduced to the “four treasures of the scholar’s studio”—the brush, the ink stick, the ink stone, and paper or silk—in his youth by his father, who was adept in the “clerical” (li) style of writing, and an uncle, Wang Yi, a master of the “running” (xing) style. These styles of writing had evolved from earlier calligraphers’ experiments with character forms and the movement of writing implements over the ages. Beginning with the Shang period “oracle bone script” (jiaguwen), calligraphic styles progressed through the inscribed “ancient script” (guwen) on bronze implements, the “large seal script” (dazhuan) on Warring States-era ritual vessels, and the “official” or “clerical” (li) style on Han Dynasty bamboo slips to the “block” script (k’ai-shu) of the first century or so. By Wang’s time, the “running” style, aptly named since the strokes run together, along with “official grass” (zhangcao), were new styles emerging out of these historical predecessors.

As a teenager, Wang became a disciple of the noted calligrapher Lady Wei. She was impressed with his talent, reportedly saying, “This child is destined to surpass my fame as a calligrapher.” Later, to broaden his knowledge of past masters’ brushwork, Wang traveled the land examining inscriptions preserved on stone stelae. In the south, he encountered specimens of Li Si, the Legalist prime minister of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 b.c.e.), whose decrees unified the scripts of the rival feudal states into a single one based on Qin models. He was also impressed by the “regular” script (zhenshu) works of Zhong Yao, a Wei premier, and Liang Hu, noted for his large characters. The masterpieces of Cao Xi, Cai Yong, and Zhang Chang also had an effect on him. From their examples he learned the theoretical and technical essences of calligraphy to enable him to go beyond imitation to creativity.

Awakened to new inspirations, he reportedly lamented that he had wasted years in studying under Lady Wei. “I [then] changed my master,” he wrote, “and have been taking lessons from the monuments.” He absorbed all the styles that he encountered, adapting them to create new versions. Besides the “running” style, he was especially proficient in the “grass” (cao) style, an abstract, cursive form of writing whereby individual strokes of a character are effortlessly blended together while the brush rapidly moves across the writing surface, producing characters as flowing as “grass undulating in the breeze.”

Life’s Work

Wang Xizhi held several government positions, including Censor of Kuaiji and “General of the Right Army” (Yujun), a title frequently affixed to his surname (Wang Yujun). He held posts in the provinces of Hubei and Zhejiang, but he was far better known as a calligrapher than as a government official.

Many anecdotes, perhaps apocryphal, but repeated nevertheless in most Chinese biographies of Wang, attest his brilliance and...

(The entire section is 2140 words.)