Thursday, March 11, 2010

Zhi Yong Popularised the Thousand-Character Essay 智永推广《千字文》

Zhi Yong’s famous calligraphic work is ‘The Thousand-Character Essay in Regular and Cursive Scripts’ (Zhencao Qianziwen). As the title implied, it was written in both regular and cursive scripts. A copy of it is now kept in Japan. The copy is said to be an authentic copy. However, some suggested that it was actually written by someone in the Tang dynasty. Another rubbing copy is now collected by Beijing Palace Museum.
The ‘Thousand Character Essay’ was reportedly composed on the order of the Liang dynasty emperor Wudi (464-549) as a form of instruction in calligraphy for his princes. Rubbings were made from works by the master calligrapher Wang Xizhi in the imperial collection to compile a list of one thousand non-repeating characters. Zhou Xingsi (?-521) was then ordered to put them to rhyme, creating lines of four characters each. The contents of the essay touch on a variety of subjects, including nature, society, history, and ethics.
Since all the characters are unique and of appropriate length (as well as familiar and popular among readers), the Qianziwen became a primary choice of text among learners of calligraphy and this turn motivated calligraphers to create model books for study, resulted in many great transcriptions of this text.
Copied and written in various calligraphic forms innumerable times through the ages, the Qianziwen became an important part of mainstream calligraphy. Consequently, almost all renowned calligraphers through the centuries made transcriptions, turning the text into a unique cultural phenomenon in the history of Chinese calligraphy.
The Qianziwen calligraphic textbook was originally intended for the exclusive use of the imperial family. It was Zhiyong who made it available to the common people. Zhi Yong spent more than 30 years to write more than thousand copies of the essay in calligraphy and selected 800 copies for distributing to all the Buddhist temples and monasteries in eastern China. Before long, recitations of the textbook could be heard throughout China.
Some were passed to Korea and Japan and had a significant influence on the development of calligraphy in these countries. In the 19 century, copies of the essay even made their way to Europe in the hands of French and English visitors to China.
This has ensured that Zhi Yong is remembered in the Chinese calligraphy history.

No comments:

Post a Comment