Treatise on Calligraphy (Extract)
By Sun Guoting
From time immemorial the skilled penmen have been Zhang Zhi of the Han, Zhong You of the Wei, Wang Xizhi and his son Wang Xianzhi of the Jin. On one in the past is worth mentioning except Zhang and Zhong, Wang Xizhi once said. My regular script is equally good as Zhong, or a little better; my cursive script is second only to Zhang. Zhang got his mastery by his diligence - he worked so hard that the pond near his home was inked black. If I had been as engrossed as he was, I might have surpassed him.
People say that Wang Xizhi and his son Wang Xianzhi were short of Zhang and Zhong, because their style is flowery, lacking of modesty. New styles supersede the old as time goes on. Handwriting, a trade merely meant to record things, is no exception. Isn't it absurd to abandon a richly-ornamented palace for cave dwelling, or give up a finely-finished carriage for a rude hackery? Modesty and floweriness blends in a gentleman, as Confucius said.
People say that Wang Xianzhi was without question inferior to his father. I think so, too. Xie An, for example, a skilled penman, did not appreciate Wang Xianzhi much. Once Xianzhi gave him one of his best works, expecting to be collected, but it was inscribed with a comment and sent back. What do you think of yourself comparing to your father? Xie asked Xianzhi later. I should be better, Xianzhi answered. Well, others think otherwise, said Xie. Because they can't tell, said Xianzhi. Wasn't Xianzhi away too far? One's success is to honor his parents, besides which, Xianzhi studied under his father, though, knowing as we do, he touched only superficies of his father's profundity. The story goes that Wang Xizhi later had a trip to the capital. Before his departure he scrawled a few words on a wall. After his father left, Xianzhi erased the words and put in the place his handwriting which he felt not bad. Seeing the duplicate the day came back home, Xizhi sighed, I must be blind drunk the day I left. Until then Xianzhi felt ashamed of himself.
Sun Guoting (648 - 703)
Treatise on Calligraphy, 687
ink on rice paper
The Palace Museum, Taipei
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