Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sun Guoting on Wang Xianzhi 孙过庭谈王献之

In Chinese calligraphy history, the Wang family of the Jin Dynasty was famous for producing a large number of outstanding calligraphers. Accordingly to historical records, of nearly 100 famous calligraphers of the Jin Dynasty, 20 were from the Wang clan.
Of all the Wang calligraphers, Wang Xizhi and his son Wang Xianzhi are most famous and are jointly known as Two Wangs. For two centuries after Wang Xizhi’s death, his son was regarded as a better calligrapher than him. But their reputations were decisively reversed by the judgment of the second emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Until today, Wang Xizhi is continuously revered for more than 1600 years, while Wang Xianzhi’s popularity shifts depending on which scholars became advocates of his style.
One of the scholars who thought that the father is a better calligrapher is Sun Guoting (646-691). Below are extracted from his Treatise on Calligraphy:
Xie An (320-385) liked letter-form of calligraphy and looked down on Xianzhi’s calligraphy. Once Xianzhi gave his masterpiece to Xie An, thinking that Xie would treasure and keep the calligraphy. However, Xie just wrote his reflections behind the calligraphy and returned it to Xianzhi. Xianzhi was very unhappy about it.
One day, Xie An asked Wang Xianzhi, “In comparison with your father’s calligraphy, what do you think of your own?”
Wang answered, “Certainly, my writing is better than my father’s.”
“But the critics do not think so,” said Xie An.
“They do not understand,” said Wang Xianzhi. While Xianzhi gave such an answer in order to rebut Xie An, it was indeed too much for a son to claim that he was better than his own father. As a son, he should have set a good role model so as to bring honours to his family. In ancient time, Zeng Zi (505-435 BC) refused to enter a village called ‘Better-Than-Mother Village’ as he thought the name was inappropriate. Xianzhi learned the techniques of calligraphy from his father. He may have mastered the principles of writing calligraphy, but he probably only touched upon superficies of his father’s profundity.
Xianzhi had claimed that he obtained the brush techniques from the Devine. This attitude of refusing to associate his calligraphy with the family tradition is really no different from that of someone who faces the beautiful words on the wall but does not wish to see them.
Once Xizhi wrote some words on a wall before he left for Capitol. Wang Xianzhi secretly touched up his father’s calligraphy, thinking the touch up was really not bad. His father returned home and saw the touch up, believed it to be his own work, and sighed, ‘I must have been drunk when I wrote it.’
Now Xianzhi was shameful for what he had done.
在王家的书法家中,以王羲之与王献之父子最出名,合称‘二王’。王羲之去世的两百年间,他的儿子王献之被认为是较好的书法家。可是唐朝 (618-907) 的第二个皇帝太宗的评论却完全颠倒了他们的名声地位。此后的千六百年,王羲之一直为世人所尊敬,而王献之的声望却视学者对他的书体的喜好而定。

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