Friday, June 4, 2010
Pingfu Tie: The Earliest Authentic Chinese Calligraphy 平复帖: 最早的传世书法墨迹
The Pingfu Tie (A Consoling Letter) has a special position in the history of Chinese calligraphy as it is recognised as the earliest surviving Chinese calligraphic work written on paper and is often referred to as the ‘father of all calligraphic examplers’. It was originally a letter written by a great literature master Lu Ji (261-303) to one of his friends who was very ill.
Lu Ji’s grandfather and father were famous generals of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. After Eastern Wu was subjugated by the Western Jin in 280, Lu Ji moved to the imperial capital, Luoyang, where he became prominent in both literature and politics. However, he was too scintillating for the comfort of his jealous contemporaries; in 303 he, along with his two brothers and two sons, was put to death on a false charge of high treason.
Lu Ji wrote much lyric poetry but is better known for writing fu, a mixture of prose and poetry. He is best remembered for the Wenfu (‘On Literature’), a piece of literary criticism that discourses on the principles of composition.
Lu Ji also became famous because of his calligraphic work ‘Pingfu Tie’. The script is a transitional form between early cursive script Zhang Cao and current cursive script. Some scholars believe it was a cursive form of official script.
Its brushwork, done with a ‘dry’ brush and characterised by a simple and vivid style, exhibits a stocky roundness that brims with latent energy. Because it was written on paper, nature has left its mark on the piece, blurring and fading caused by repeated folding, handling and moisture stains have added to the feel of antiquity. Age-induced coarseness of the paper support also makes the lines appear grave and remote.
This piece has, as it were, re-created by the hand of nature. It was donated by Zhang Boju to the Chinese government in July 1956.