Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lanting Xu: The Best Walking Script in the World 兰亭序:天下第一行书

Lanting Xu, reputed as ‘the best walking script in the world (China)’, was a famous work by Wang Xizhi (303-361), the celebrated calligrapher of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420).
Lanting is the most beautiful and picturesque place at Shanyin and the famous Lanting Xu was a narrative prose composed when he and his literary friends gathered together at Lanting in the year 353. The gentlemen had engaged in a drinking contest: wine cups were floated down a small winding creek as the men sat along its banks; whenever a cup stopped, the man closest to the cup was required to empty it and write a poem. In the end, twenty-six of the participants composed thirty-seven poems.
The word ‘lan’ means orchids, and "ting" means pavilion; so Lanting means the ‘Orchard Pavilion.’ Lanting Xu in Chinese refers to ‘Preface to the Lanting Collection of Poems’. The preface consists of 324 Chinese characters in 28 lines.
The emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty loved Wang's calligraphy so much that he collected as many of Wang's original scrolls as he could and ordered them buried with him. The authentic works of Wang Xizhi, including Lanting Xu, are no longer in existence now. They are only preserved on stone engravings or as replica copies by other calligraphy masters.
The best reproduction of Lanting Xu seen so far is by Feng Chengsu. It is stamped with a seal of Emperor Zhongzong of the Tang Dynasty on it. As the words - divine-dragon were engraved on the seal, this reproduction is therefore known as the Divine Dragon Lanting. It is now kept in the Palace Museum in Taibei (Taipei).
Its powerful and vigorous strokes and its natural and elegant structure have remained a perfect example to be modelled after by later generations for almost two thousand years till today. In this calligraphy work, Wang Xizhi completely cast away the heavy and reserved style and created a new calligraphy style of elegance, vigour, and smoothness.

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