Friday, June 18, 2010

Empress Wu Zetian 武则天

Empress Wu Zetian (623-705) is the only female Emperor in the history of China. Just as other emperors of the Tang dynasty, the Empress was a patron of arts, a great admirer of calligraphy and, one may say, an accomplished calligrapher herself. She lived to be 82, and held power for 50 years.
She entered the palace at the age of 14 and was initially conferred the title of ‘Cairen’ (concubine of medium rank), but was unable to win much favour with Emperor Taizong. Emperor Taizong's son, Li Zhi, however, was deeply infatuated with her. After the death of Taizong in 649, Li Zhi was enthroned as Gaozong and Wu Zetian became empress in 655. Since Li Zhi had poor health, Wu Zetian was the actual ruler of the country. When Li Zhi died, Wu Zetian managed to stabilize the political situation based on her abundant experience of political intrigue. In 690, Wu Zetian ascended the throne and changed the name of the dynasty to Zhou.
Emperor Wu was influenced by Taizong on his love of calligraphy. The court official Wang Fangqing, who was the 10th generation descendent of Wang Xizhi’s family, kept a large collection of calligraphic works at his mansion. Wu Zetian requested that his ancestors' calligraphy be passed to her. Empress Wu treasured the calligraphy very much and was so attached to them that she would look at them every day. She also displayed the calligraphy to the officials for them to view. In addition to using the calligraphy as model books to practice her calligraphic skill, she also ordered that the calligraphy be carved and the rubbings made into a collection known as ‘Wansui Tongtian Calligraphy’ (Wangsui means emperor, long life and Tongtian means as high as sky. Wansui Tongtian was one of the era names of Empress Wu). The rubbings of the collection were distributed to officials and the original calligraphy returned to Wang Fangqing. The rubbing method of producing ‘Wansui Tongtian Calligraphy’ started a new way of producing and preserving calligraphic works. This had contributed much to the development of calligraphy.
She is said to be good in Xing Shu and the Flying White style, a type of scripts that incorporated the images of birds and flowers into the characters. However, there are few materials on Empress Wu’s calligraphy available today. The texts and calligraphy of the ‘Ascension of a Prince to the Immortal Realm’ stele is said to be written by her.
The stele was carved in the sixth lunar month in the year 699 and is currently kept in the Deity Temple at the Gou Mountain in Yanshi City, Henan Province. It comprises 34 lines with 66 words per line. The stele’s title, which comprises 6 bigger words, was written in Flying White (feibai) style. The Flying White style is said to be created by Zhong Yao (151-230). However, there was no calligraphy of Flying White survived today. These six words in Flying White style were the only survived work today.
这块碑刻于699年六月,现存于河南省偃师县缑山仙君庙。共有行草书三十四行,每行六十六字。有飞白书碑额书‘升仙太子之碑’六大字。飞白书据说为钟繇 (151-230) 所创,但并无墨迹传世,这六个字是目前所知仅有的飞白体墨迹。

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