Grace and resilience

Calligraphy of consolation and endurance

An elegiac quality is also found in the text that WANG Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361 wrote as the Orchid Pavilion Preface (蘭亭集序) on the occasion of a court outing in 353. Long regarded as one of the prime works of the calligraphic tradition, its style is considered to epitomise literati dignity and grace. It is also interesting to consider the words themselves; follows an excerpt as translated by LIN Yutang 林語堂in the 1930's:

  • Here are gathered all the illustrious persons and assembled both the old and the young. Here are tall mountains and majestic peaks, trees with thick foliage and tall bamboos. Here are also clear streams and gurgling rapids, catching one's eye from the right and left. We group ourselves in order, sitting by the waterside, and drink in succession from a cup floating down the curving stream
  • In the twinkling of an eye, the objects of our former pleasures have become things of the past, still compelling in us moods of regretful memory. Furthermore, although our lives may be long or short, eventually we all end in nothingness
  • Alas! As we of the present look upon those of the past, so will posterity look upon our present selves. Therefore, have I put down a sketch of these contemporaries and their sayings at this feast, and although time and circumstances may change, the way they will evoke our moods of happiness and regret will remain the same. What will future readers feel when they cast their eyes upon this writing! (LIN Yutang 林語堂, The Importance of Living, (1937), pp 156-7)

Wang's original is long-lost and only known through much later copies and ink rubbings of engravings. While these copies bear a family resemblance, they also reflect later interpretations and later desires. The Orchid Pavilion Preface is also a common object for artists to copy, a reference point for stylistic grace - as in the example here by the contemporary painter TSENG Yuho 曾幼荷. It is also the object that most clearly represents canonisation per se. Reflecting on this latter aspect, QIU Zhijie 邱志傑 recently copied the text one thousand times, each over the next, blackening the paper.
 TSENG Yuho 曾幼荷(b. 1923)
Copy of the Orchid Pavilion Preface
(dated 2008)
Ink on paper
Artist's collection

 QIU Zhijie, 邱志傑; (b. 1969)
Copying a thousand times the Orchid Pavilion
Ink on paper
Courtesy of Hanart TZ gallery Preface (1990-1995)