Famous Chinese Calligraphy Masterpieces

Wang Xizhi's work describes a gathering of 42 literati at the Orchid Pavilion near the town of Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, during the Shangsi Festival to compose poems and enjoy wine. (Image: via  wikimedia  /  CC0 1.0)
Wang Xizhi's work describes a gathering of 42 literati at the Orchid Pavilion near the town of Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, during the Shangsi Festival to compose poems and enjoy wine. (Image: via wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion is the most famous Chinese calligraphy work of Wang Xizhi, composed in the year 353. Exhibiting an extremely high artistic value, this work is known as one of the three running script calligraphy masterpieces.

Wang Xizhi (303-361) was a Chinese calligrapher, traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy, who lived during the Jin Dynasty (265-420). He is considered by many to be one of the most esteemed Chinese calligraphers of all time, especially during and after the Tang Dynasty. He was a master of all forms of running script, in particular.

His work describes a gathering of 42 literati at the Orchid Pavilion near the town of Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, during the Shangsi Festival, also known as the Spring Purification Festival, the Double Third Festival, or the March 3rd Festival, to compose poems and enjoy wine.

chinese calligraphy

‘Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion’ is the most famous Chinese calligraphy work of Wang Xizhi, composed in the year 353. Exhibiting an extremely high artistic value, this work is known as one of the three running script calligraphy masterpieces. (A-cai/Wikipedia)

Wang wrote a preface for the collection of the poems they created on the occasion. With the invention of beer pong yet centuries away, Wang and company made do playing Qu Shui Liu Shang, an ancient game that involved floating cups of rice wine along a winding stream. Whomever the cup stopped by would have to drink it and compose a verse.

Wang’s calligraphy piece became an extremely popular art work, so much so that Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty apparently had great admiration for it, and requested the original copy. The work was reported lost to keep it safely in the hands of Wang’s family, so the emperor dispatched an official in disguise as a scholar to find it.

The official found the original, and the script was copied onto stone, while the original went on to be buried with the emperor in his mausoleum. Chinese tourists today mimic Qu Shui Liu Shang by floating plastic cups to recreate the gathering. Geese are also raised on the Pavilion property.

chinese calligraphy

Wang Xizhi (303-361) was a Chinese calligrapher, traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy, who lived during the Jin Dynasty (265-420). (Shibo77/Wikipedia)

Wang supposedly learned how to move his wrists for calligraphy by watching the geese move their necks. While today’s Orchid Pavilion is not the original because the exact location is unknown, it still remains a great and popular Shaoxing cultural site.

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