Thursday, April 8, 2010

Li Shimin 李世民

In Chinese history, two emperors had special love of calligraphy and thus contributed significantly to the development of Chinese calligraphy: one was XiaoYan, Emperor Wu of Liang of the Southern Dynasties (420-589), and the other was Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Both happened to be the devotees of Wang Xizhi, which may explain why Wang’s style of calligraphy dominates the Chinese calligraphy history.
Li Shimin is said to be among the most admired emperors in the Chinese history who was a skilled politician, a master strategist and even an excellent calligrapher. It is said that he ruled the country in an open minded and humane manner. He was ambitious, intelligent, adroit and diligent. He ruled China from 629 to 649.
All forms of Chinese calligraphy blossomed in the Tang Dynasty and many famous calligraphers came to the fore during this period. While the emperors of Tang followed the lead of Li Shimin and actively promoted calligraphy, there are other reasons that led to the development of calligraphy in Tang dynasty. The open political policy, the prosperous economy and the development of literature and other art forms during the period all stimulated the development of calligraphy. In addition, calligraphy was set as a subject for imperial examinations during the Tang Dynasty.
Li Shimin held Wang Xizhi's calligraphy in great esteem. In order that more people could appreciate Wang’s famous ‘Preface to the Orchid Pavilion’ (Lanting Xu), he ordered his officials to make some elaborate copies of the original so that he could give them away to his imperial family members and favoured officials.
As the developing of calligraphy, the theories of calligraphy boomed at this time too. Li Shimin himself had a good grasp and understanding of the nature of calligraphy. This is what he had to say about calligraphy, ‘The spirit is the soul of calligraphy, for without an enlightened spirit, the beautiful appearance of words cannot be expressed; and mind is the muscle of calligraphy, for without a strong mind, the energetic strength of words cannot be shown.’ He even personally wrote the biography of Wang, in which he declared Wang the greatest calligrapher of all time, ‘I examined all calligraphy works with tiny details of ink from ancient times until now. I only find Wang as the most perfect calligrapher.’ He therefore fixed the style of Wang as the imperial signature with such finality that it was maintained as such through the Tang dynasty and beyond.
His own calligraphy was very much influenced by Wang and is commented as having achieved the standard of professional calligraphers.

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