Xi Jian was a high-ranking official during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), the pillar of the country. His daughter, Xi Xuan, was beautiful and talented. Xi Jian heard that the sons of Prime Minister Wang Dao were outstanding. He planned to marry his daughter into the Wang family. Prime Minister Wang was also satisfied with this arrangement. One day, Xi Jian sent his messenger to the Wang family to choose a son-in-law. Wang Dao said that his sons were all in the east wing and that the messenger could go there and choose one. The sons of Prime Minister Wang learned that Xi’s family had come to pick a son-in-law, so they all dressed up carefully, each wishing to be selected.
The messenger later reported back that the Wang family had handsome young men. They all competed to perform and wished to be selected. However, there was only one person who seemed not to care about this. He lay on the couch on the east side, eating cake with his belly hanging out. How strange! Xi Jian was very happy when he heard this. He said: “This is the son-in-law that I am looking for!” He sent someone to find out who that person was. He was Wang Xizhi. Xi Jian married his daughter to him.
Xi Jian made the right choice. Wang Xizhi later became a general. He was also one of the best calligraphers in Chinese history. He was known as the “Calligraphy Saint.” His work Preface for the Orchid Pavilion Gathering is the classic calligraphy work left for later generations.
Perhaps it was Wang Xizhi’s superb and unconventional abilities that made his calligraphy extraordinary. No one could match him. Phrases derived from this later on were “Exposing one’s belly on the bed of the East” and “the son-in-law of the bed of the East.” These terms were used to refer to sons-in-law.
Translated by Sharon Koumans, edited by Chenn Huaizhan