Friday, May 21, 2010

Wang Xizhi: Postscript of Battle Formation of Brushstroke 王羲之《题笔阵图后》

The Chinese calligraphy is said to be an art of movement, concentrating and timing are of paramount importance. In one of the earliest texts on calligraphy, Wang Xizhi’s postscript to ‘Battle Formation of the Brushstroke’ by his teacher, Lady Wei, Wang illustrated an important point: just like in war or a fight, where every move may result in winning or losing, living or dying, in calligraphy also, every stroke counts.
The following is the text which is said to be written by Wang:

Paper is the battlefield; brush is the sword; ink is the helmet and armour; ink stone is the castle; conception is the commander; skill is his assistant; structure is the strategy. To move a brush is to take a risk; to start a stroke is to issue an order; to draw a turning stroke is to kill.
Before start writing, one must first get ready the ink, be in a calm mood, and then visualize the character size, stroke warp, direction, rhythm and coherence between characters, this would lead to a well-thought-out plan and you are now ready to write. Don't write different strokes the same way, nor trim a character square as an abacus. This is not writing calligraphy, rather, it is only writing strokes. Song Yi used to do so, for which he was once severely criticized by his teacher Zhong You (a calligrapher in Three Kingdoms period). Dare not to see Zhong in next three years, he practiced hard to mend his way.
One must write a waving stroke with three moves, start a stroke with the tip of the brush hidden. Write a horizontal stroke in the shape of cirrus cloud, a curved stroke in the shape of crossbow, a dot stroke in the shape of a falling rock, a turning-stroke in the shape of a steel hook, a vertical stroke in the shape of a ten thousand years old rattan, and a right-falling stroke as a hiker quickens his steps.
Song Yi at first could not master the art of calligraphy. During the Taikang (280-290) period of Jin, someone stole famous essay from Zhong Yao’s grave which was obtained by Song Yi. He studied and followed the methods to practice his calligraphy. He became very famous. The methods could be used for learning regular (kai) and walking (xing) scripts.
Cursive script is governed by other rules. Start a character slow and finish it fast with strokes flowing continuously and twisting in the shape of dragon. In this way, the stroke will be cursive and have uneven thickness. If the character has a dot stroke, do other strokes first, and then place it with a single throw. The way of executing the dot is as though the brush is coming from the sky. This style should consult other styles such as seal and clerical script for techniques. Besides, except occasions like draft-cursive script and urgent official use, do not write too fast, otherwise paper will not suck up enough ink, resulting in a shallow taste.
As a child I was tutored by Lady Wei. When I grew up I travelled famous mountains in the north, where I saw calligraphies by Li Si, Cao Xi, Zhong You, Liang Gu, Cai Yong and Zhang Chang. Realizing that I had frittered away my time in vain by sticking to one teacher, I changed my example to stone inscriptions. Considering that I am already fifty-three like a candle guttering in the wind, it is a relief to me to put these words down to my children.


1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    thank you for introducing and translating such a text. It helps a lot to understand the theory of Chinese calligraphy.

    I have noticed that the first entries of the blog are written both in Chinese and English. I am not myself a Chinese speaker - I am at a beginner level in Chinese - so the writing in English is very helpful to me.

    I am wondering if in the future, you plan to write new entries also in English ? I would be delighted to hear that.

    Thanks a lot for reading. And good continuation to the blog.