Details & Cataloguing

Qianlong – Scholar and Calligrapher

Hong Kong

one side meticulously modelled after Wang Xianzhi's Zhongqiu tie (Mid Autumn manuscript), skilfully worked and gilt-inscribed to imitate the swift and powerful brushwork of the original manuscript, beginning with Jin Wang Xianzhi shu followed by the twenty-two characters in cursive script divided into four columns, interspersed with thirteen seal marks, including Shenpin, Xuanhe, YushuGuangrendian and two reading Sanxitang and another two Shaoxing, the left side of the screen inscribed with an imperial poem by the Qianlong Emperor in praise of the manuscript, dated to the bingyin year of the Qianlong reign (in accordance with 1746), and followed by two seal marks reading Qian and Long respectively, the reverse with an excerpt from Luoshen fu (Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River) by Cao Zhi from the Three Kingdoms period, each side framed within a shaped border enclosing angular scrollwork intertwined with scrolling foliage, the lustrous substantial stone of a pale celadon colour mottled with icy inclusions
30.7 cm, 12 in.
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Catalogue Note

An Appreciation of the Jade Screen Engraved with Wang Xianzhi’s Mid-Autumn Manuscript and Thirteen Lines of the Goddess of the Luo River
Xu Lin

Among Chinese emperors of the past, Hongli, Emperor Gaozong of the Qing dynasty, was the most passionate about Chinese art and exerted the most profound influence in subsequent history. Best known as the Qianlong Emperor, he wrote some forty-thousand poems during his lifetime, many of them appreciations of paintings, calligraphic works and jade. There is no better example of Qianlong’s fusion of literature and visual art than the present jade screen engraved with Wang Xianzhi’s Mid-Autumn Manuscript and Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Luo River.

The screen is carved from Khotan green jade, and its inscriptions are filled with gold. Bearing inscriptions in the calligraphic style of the Emperor, it is a large piece measuring 30.7 cm in length, 29.6 cm in width, and 1.7 cm in thickness. The green jade features white dots recalling snowflakes on cloth, indicating that it contains miscellaneous substances like tremolite, calcite, zoisite, or pyxoxene. The exact chemical constitution can be analysed through Raman spectroscopy. These other substances do not affect the carving and aesthetic effect of jade, and are often utilised deliberately by jade craftsmen as parts of natural compositions.

There is text inscribed and filled with gold on both sides of the screen. On one side is Wang Xianzhi’s calligraphic work Mid-Autumn Manuscript as presented in Sanxitang fatie (Calligraphic Models of the Hall of Three Rarities), including even the seal impressions on the original. On the left is an inscription by calligrapher and theorist Zhang Huaiguan reading shenyun duchao, tianzi duxiu (‘surpassing in spirit resonance, unique in natural beauty’) and an impression of a square imperial seal incised in seal script with Qianlong chenhan (Qianlong’s imperial brush traces). Further left is Qianlong’s colophon to the Mid-Autumn Festival in running script: “The brush traces attributed to the Elder Secretariat Director (i.e. Wang Xianzhi) in the imperial collection are mostly Tang-dynasty copies done in the outline-and-ink-fill method. The only exception is this authentic brush trace of twenty-two characters. Here the author’s spirit is as if vividly present. It is truly a world-class treasure. It was originally housed in the imperial study. Now it has been moved to the Hall of Three Rarities. Imperially inscribed in the 2nd month of the bingyin year of Qianlong (1746)”. Beneath this are a round and a square seal reading Qian and Long respectively. On the other side of the screen is an engraving of the surviving partial text of Wang Xianzhi’s calligraphic rendition of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River, known as the Thirteen Lines.

The four edges of the screen are incised with decorative patterns of guaizi dragons and floral scrolls. The floral scrolls are incised in thin lines, and the guaizi dragons in thicker lines that interweave with the floral scrolls. Since the patterns were to be filled with gold powder, the thicker lines of the dragons were further roughened in short strokes to minimise the falling out of the gold powder. The large characters on the front side of the screen (the side of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript) were incised in a similar manner. Unfortunately, the current state of the screen indicates that this method did not completely prevent the loss of gold powder, although such loss grants us insight into craft techniques of the past.

In engraving style and decorative pattern, this table screen is firmly traceable to the Qing court. This green jade table screen is notable above all because of the fame of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript engraved on it. Also known as Shieryue tie (fig. 1), it is reputedly an authentic brush trace in cursive script by the Eastern Jin master calligrapher Wang Xianzhi. In its present form, the work retains only twenty-two characters. It entered the imperial collection during the Qianlong Emperor’s reign. The Mid-Autumn Manuscript, Kuaixue shiqing tie (Timely Clearing After Snowfall) and Boyuan tie (Boyuan Manuscript) were together celebrated as Three Rarities by Qianlong, who dedicated a special hall on the west side of Yangxin Palace to them (fig. 2).1 The Mid-Autumn Manuscript later appeared in Hong Kong. In 1951, under the auspices of Premier Zhou Enlai, the PRC government bought it for a high price and returned it to the Palace Museum.

In the 12th year of his reign (1747), the Qianlong Emperor ordered Liang Shizheng and others to compile, reproduce, and engrave the calligraphic works in the imperial collection as Sanxitang fatie. This catalogue includes a total of 103 calligraphers, from Zhong You of the Wei dynasty to Dong Qichang of the Ming. The Mid-Autumn Manuscript reproduced in Sanxitang fatie is slightly different from the original in composition: the former consists of twenty-two characters in four lines, whereas the latter consists of twenty-two characters in three lines, although there is no loss of coherence or continuity in either case. The version of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript on this screen shares the composition of the original (figs 3 and 4).2 It was engraved on the jade, along with the seal impressions—the embossed seals were incised, and the intaglio seals were carved in reserve. Even more remarkable is that, because jade carving is a subtractive process, the engraving of the calligraphy and the seals had to be meticulously coordinated and articulated in order to represent their temporal sequence and spatial relations properly, especially in the areas where calligraphy and seal impression overlap (see pp. 64-65). This indicates the extreme care that the jade craftsmen took in their preparations and treatment of the relationship between positive and subtractive carving—all in order to represent the original calligraphy faithfully. The inscriptions by Zhang Huaiguan and Qianlong on the left were also taken from Sanxitang fatie, although technically these parts were not as difficult as the Mid-Autumn Manuscript proper, where calligraphy and seals overlap often.

In fact the Thirteen Lines is itself a monumental work of calligraphy, no less renowned than the Mid-Autumn Manuscript. The Thirteen Lines is a fragment of Wang Xianzhi’s calligraphic rendition in small regular script of the famous Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River by Cao Zhi of the Three Kingdom period. According to legend, Wang Xianzhi was especially fond of writing this text. The original work in question, written on hemp stationary paper, became fragmentary already in the Tang dynasty, retaining only thirteen lines and 250 characters. During the Song dynasty, the bibliography Baoke leibian first referred to the work as Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River, but other publications tended to refer to it as the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River. Since the Ming dynasty, Thirteen Lines has been the common title.

The original, autographically brushed Thirteen Lines was probably in the imperial collection of the Northern Song court. Later this was lost, although it was preserved in copies in some model book catalogues. In such a situation, engravings and tracing copies close to the original – known as “one grade below authentic trace” (zhenji xia yideng) – became very precious. According to popular understanding, during the Wanli reign of the Ming dynasty, a stone plaque engraved with the Thirteen Lines was discovered near West Lake in Hangzhou. Because the plaque had a dark colour and fine texture, it was euphemistically called green jade, and the work as a whole the Jade Plaque of the Thirteen Lines. This work passed through many hands. Reputedly it was acquired by Weng Songnian, Superintendent of Guangdong, in the 42nd year of the Kangxi reign (1703). Weng invited calligrapher and epigraphy specialist Yang Bin to research this object and write a colophon on it. Subsequently the Thirteen Lines on Jade gained widespread renown, and may have been sent as a tribute to the imperial court in the 54th year of the Kangxi reign (1715). After the Xianfeng reign, however, it left the court and entered private hands. Reputedly, a young person acquired it in Anhui in 1962 and subsequently sold it to Duoyuxuan, which then transferred it to the Shanghai Museum, which however returned it later on the seller’s request. In 1981, the collector brought it to Beijing, and Qin Gong, General Manager of the Beijing Cultural Artefacts Company, purchased it at the price of 18000 yuan, and then transferred it to the Capital Museum.3

I had the good fortune to study the Thirteen Lines on Jade (fig. 5) in person at the Capital Museum.4 The material does not appear to be green jade, but a dark and fine-textured rock. It is unclear when and by whom the Thirteen Lines was engraved on it. Some say it was during the Tang dynasty, some say that it was done by the Northern Song court, or by Jia Sidao of the Southern Song, or by Zhao Mengfu of the Yuan. Some say that it was copied from the calligraphic model catalogue Baojinzhai fatie, which itself was engraved by Cao Zhige in the 4th year of the Xianchun reign of the Southern Song dynasty (1268).5 The Thirteen Lines on Jade is currently dated to the Song dynasty.

There was also a Thirteen Lines on White Jade with an identical inscription. The scholarly consensus on White Jade is that its calligraphy was slightly thinner compared to the version in the Capital Museum, and its stone surface showed knife marks, suggesting that it was a later copy. Reputedly Thirteen Lines on White Jade was destroyed in a fire in the Qianqing Palace during the 3rd year of the Jiaqing reign (1798). Since the work no longer exists, I do not wish to speculate about it, but it seems reasonable to assume that it was also an engraving on rock – possibly white marble – rather than true jade.

To summarise: Thirteen Lines on Jade was once in the Qing imperial court collection, and was appreciated in person by emperors from Kangxi to Qianlong. Otherwise there would not be so many rubbings of it at the Palace Museum. The Palace Museum also contains some Song, Yuan and Ming dynasty rubbings. However, it was the Qianlong Emperor who ultimately decided to create a version of Thirteen Lines on true jade.

The calligraphy on the present jade screen engraved with Thirteen Lines is similar in style to the Capital Museum work. However, some characters on the latter are damaged or missing, whereas their counterparts on the jade screen are intact. It is likely that court artisans drew the missing or damaged characters from other rubbing copies in the court, or else directly reproduced one of these rubbings.

A lover of jade, the Qianlong Emperor often had his favourite calligraphic works engraved on jade. The textual content of the present jade screen can be found also on the outer perimeter of a round jade brush washer that bears Qianlong’s own inscription in running and regular scripts, which is followed by two imperial seals reading Qian and Long. Currently in the Palace Museum, this jade washer was once housed in Soufangzhai and used by Qianlong himself, as documented in a report by the Palace Museum (fig. 6).

The Qianlong Emperor himself copied Thirteen Lines many times, and often had his calligraphic copies reproduced as jade album leaves, as documented in an entry dated to the 7th month of the 14th year of his reign (1749) in the records of the palace workshop. This entry mentions in particular a white jade album of four leaves engraved with Qianlong’s copy the Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River.6

A few days later, Qianlong ordered the palace workshops to fill the engraving with gold powder and make a box for the album.

This was not the only example. The Palace Museum contains also an album of six jade leaves engraved with Qianlong’s copy of Thirteen Lines.

All “Three Rarities” were engraved on jade by Qianlong’s order. Sotheby’s 30th Anniversary Auctions of 2003 featured a white jade table screen engraved with Wang Xizhi’s Timely Clearing after Snowfall (fig. 7). The front of this screen is not engraved with the seals found in the version in Sanxitang fatie, but rather only the three imperial seals of Sanxitang, Qianlong yuwan, and Neifu tushu. There is no overlapping of seal and calligraphy, resulting in a technically much simpler work. The white jade screen, however, shares the interweaving guaizi dragons and floral scrolls on the edges of the present green jade screen, as well as the same technique of filling the engravings with gold powder. The engraving on both works is stylistically consistent and may have been executed by the same hand.

Qianlong made the following annotation to Zhao Mengfu’s colophon to Timely Clearing After Snowfall: “After snow in the 12th month of the year jisi (1750), I followed my excitement and made a reduced copy of this model. I ordered Zhu Cai to engrave it on a jade with a scene of Wang Xizhi playing with geese made by Yao Zongren. This made for a good memory” (fig. 8). This must have been the same white jade screen sold at Sotheby’s in 2003, which indeed depicts a scene of Wang Xizhi playing with geese on the reverse.

The white jade screen, engraved with Qianlong’s reduced copy of Timely Clearing After Snowfall, is surprisingly no smaller than the green jade screen on offer. The latter reproduces the original Mid-Autumn Manuscript in Sanxitang fatie to a higher degree of faithfulness, incorporating all the seals and retaining the textual composition. The two screens were likely produced around the same time, and stylistically they both suggest the hand of Zhu Cai.

Zhu Cai was a famous engraver of calligraphy in the court workshops during the early Qianlong reign. He was summoned to the court from the Suzhou Manufactory. Between 1738 and 1757, the records of the court workshops frequently referred to Zhu Cai’s engraving, and some Qing court jades even include his name. The last leaf of an album of green jade leaves engraved with nine short texts by the Emperor, for example, includes a signature reading “respectfully engraved on order by Zhu Cai, a humble servant” (fig. 9). His authorship is corroborated by the corresponding entry in the records of the court workshops, dated to the 5th intercalary month of the 16th year of the Qianlong reign (1751).7

During the Qianlong reign, jade engravers were the only jade craftsmen allowed to sign their creations. First there was Zhu Cai. Later came Zhu Yongtai, Zhu Shiyun, and others. By contrast, other jade craftsmen like Yao Zongren, despite their evident skill and frequent appearance in the court records, did not leave their names on their works. This indicates to us the high regard in which Qianlong held jade engravers.

Above we have discussed jade screens engraved with the Mid-Autumn Manuscript and Timely Clearing after Snowfall. Given Qianlong’s love of both calligraphy and jade, there must exist a jade screen from his time engraved with the third of the Three Rarities—the Boyuan Manuscript. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find such a screen in the Palace Museum collection. But the National Palace Museum in Taipei contains an album, entitled Sanxi wenhan ce, of pale celadon jade leaves engraved with Qianlong’s copy of the Boyuan Manuscript. The text proper is followed by a dated signature of “imperially copied during the 12th month of the year wuchen (1748)in running cursive script and two imperial seals reading Shufangrun and Qianlong chenhan. Like the jade screen engraved with Timely Clearing after Snowfall, this album reproduces Qianlong’s copy of a work of calligraphy, and its creation did not involve the challenge of reconciling seals and calligraphy. Relative to the present jade screen engraved with the Mid-Autumn Manuscript, both works are technically simpler.

Throughout his life, Qianlong wanted to immortalise painting and calligraphy through jade carving. For him, paper lasted a thousand years, but jade, as the crystallised essence of heaven and earth, was indestructible. During the early part of his reign, when raw jade was in limited supply, Qianlong mostly had calligraphic masterpieces reproduced on jade. Aside from the works in Sanxitang fatie and Thirteen Lines, these included also Inscription on the Sweet Spring of Jiuchenggong Palace, the Jade Pillow version of the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Anthology, and the masterpieces in the Chunhuage Compendium of Calligaphic Models. As the supply of raw jade became ample and stable during the middle and late parts of Qianlong’s reign, his court began to produce larger jades, including jade carvings based on paintings. Among the most famous of these is the Jade Mountain with Great Yu Controlling the Waters, which was based on a Song painting of the same subject. In the 46th year of Qianlong’s reign (1781), four sketches were made from the original painting, and then transferred to the raw jade by Jia Quanzhao. A wax model was made in the same year. The Lianghuai Salt Administration created a wood model based on this and, after receiving approval, embarked on carving the jade. Six years later, the finished jade carving was sent back to Beijing and housed in Leshoutang. In the 53rd year of the Qianlong reign (1788), the Emperor ordered Zhu Yongtai to engrave on it a long text composed by himself on the jade carving. Here Qianlong expresses explicitly his view that “paintings may disappear as time passes; heavy vessels [i.e. jades] are difficult to destroy even after a thousand years”. This was also the reason for his many orders to transform paintings into jade carvings.

Another example is the Jade Mountain with Travels Amidst Autumn Mountains, a jade carving based on court painter Jin Tingbiao’s painting, which was itself based on the Five Dynasties-period landscape painting Travels Amidst Mountains. The work began in the 31st year of the Qianlong reign (1766) in the imperial workshops and ended in Yangzhou, taking four years in total. Qianlong was extremely fond of this jade carving, writing poems in praise of it twice, including the lines “a painting has only one dimension, and this has eight; viewing the scene from multiple perspectives is pleasing and transports the spirit”. To transform a two-dimensional painting into a three-dimensional scenery was another important reason behind Qianlong’s jade mountains.

Qianlong’s jade mountains represent paintings in three-dimensional form, and transported the actual mountains and rivers of nature into interior spaces. They were consonant in thought and aesthetic orientation with Qianlong’s calligraphic engravings on jade. Both embody Qianlong’s majestic vision for the inheritance and perpetuation of the Chinese calligraphic and fine arts.

1 Entry Chen 641, dated to the 11th month of the 7th year of the Jiaqing reign, in the records of the objects on display in Xinuange, Yangxin Palace.
2 Yuti Sanxitang Shiqu baoji fatie, vol. 2, engraved in 1750, rubbing dated to 1914.
3 Qin Gong, ‘Shougou guobao Shisan hang [Purchasing the national treasure Thirteen Lines]’, Zhongguo shufa, 2000, no. 6.
4 Gems of Beijing Cultural Relics Series. Jades, Beijing, 2002, pl. 91.
5 Ye Du, a researcher at the Capital Museum, has done much research on the Jade Plaque of the Thirteen Lines. Here I draw abundantly from his work.
6 Gugong wupin diancha baogao [Palace Museum Inventory], 3rd ed., vol. 3, section on Soufangzhai, no. 05879, reprint 1929. The First Historical Archives of China, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, eds, Qinggong neiwufu zaobanchu dang’an zonghui [General collection of archival records from the Qing imperial household department workshop], Beijing, 2005, vol. 16, Ruyiguan, p. 592, muzuo.
7 Ibid., vol. 18, Ruyiguan, pp. 343-344.

The Mid-Autumn Manuscript and the Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River in Engraved Calligraphic Models of the Past
Qin Ming

The Zhongqiu tie (Mid-Autumn Manuscript), also called Shieryue tie (Manuscript of the Twelfth Month) and Shieryue ge tie (Manuscript of the Middle of the Twelfth Month), has been transmitted in history as an authentic work of cursive calligraphy by Wang Xianzhi of the Eastern Jin dynasty. The original work consisted of thirty-two characters in five columns, two of which were later removed, leaving behind twenty-two characters in three columns that read “zhong qiu bu fu bu de xiang huan hai ji shen xing ru he ran sheng ren he qing deng jun” (fig. 1). During the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, the Mid-Autumn Manuscript entered the Qing imperial collection, where it has been known as the Three Rarities (sanxi) along with the two other calligraphic works Kuaixue shiqing tie and Boyuan tie. The calligraphy on the Mid-Autumn Manuscript is bold and expressive, resembling traces left by a burning torch. The characters, written continuously and with extremely high artistry, have been lauded as “calligraphy of a single stroke”. Indeed, as Shuduan describes it, “the characters’ formations are as if realised in a single stroke. Occasionally they are discontinuous, but the pulse is not discontinuous. And the continuity carries in breath across the columns”. Many scholars hold the view that the Mid-Autumn Manuscript is a partial traced copy of Shieryue ge tie included in the model book Baojinzhai fatie (the original includes the six additional characters “shi er yue ge zhi bu” before “zhong qiu”), and that its style resembles Mi Fu’s.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is documented in many catalogues of calligraphy models, including Mi Fu’s Shushi and the Song imperial court’s Xuanhe shupu (fascicle 16) of the Song dynasty; Wu Kuan’s Paoweng jiacang ji (fascicle 55), Wang Keyu’s Shanhuwang (fascicle 1), Zhang Chou’s Qinghe shuhua fang (fascicle 2, volume 2) of the Ming dynasty; Gu Fu’s Pingsheng zhuangguan (fascicle 1), Bian Yongyu’s Shigutang shuhua huikao (fascicle 6, calligraphy section 6), Wu Sheng’s Daguanlu (fascicle 1 of Wei-Jin calligraphy section), and the Qing imperial court’s Shiqu baoji chubian of the Qing dynasty.

A. Documentation of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript in Shiqu baoji chubian

The documentation of the Mid-Autumn Festival in the Xuanhe shupu is the briefest, consisting only of the four characters “shi er yue tie”. By contrast, the Qing court’s Shiqu baoji chubian contains the most substantial documentation on the work, encompassing almost 2000 characters in three paragraphs (including an index):

1. Appendix on Works housed in the Sanxitang (Hall of the Three Rarities), Changchun shuwu, Suian shi, Youyu zhai, chapter on calligraphic albums by masters of past dynasties in the upper class in the Sanxitang (fig. 10):

Calligraphy fascicle, “upper class” (shangdeng) chapter

Mid-Autumn Manuscript, one scroll, by Wang Xianzhi of the Jin Dynasty
(upper class, originally stored in the imperial study, now housed in the Hall of the Three Rarities)

The front silk border has a preface by His Majesty: “the brush traces attributed by the Elder Secretariat Director [Wang Xianzhi] in the imperial collection are mostly Tang-dynasty copies done in the outline-and-ink-fill method. The only exception is this authentic brush trace of twenty-two characters. Here the author’s spirit is as if vividly present. It is truly a world-class treasure. It was originally housed in the imperial study. Now it has been moved to the Hall of the Three Rarities. Imperially inscribed in the second month of the year bingshen of the Qianlong reign”. The inscription is followed by two seals Qian and Long. The rear silk border has an inscription by His Majesty reading shenyun duchao, tianzi texiu ('surpassing in spirit resonance, unique in natural beauty'), followed by an imperial seal reading Qianlong chenhan. There is also a monochrome ink painting of a plum branch by His Majesty, signed Sanxitang zhi and bearing the seals Qianlong yushang and Jixia yiqing. The postface by His Majesty reads “A lyric poem composed on the Mid-Autumn Manuscript, with a preface: The Gold God governs the affairs of autumn; Suhao manages the time. Cicadas sing in the autumn wind. Beyond the terrace opens the Heavenly Gate. Magpies fly towards the morning moon. In front of a tower, a mirror reflects moonlight. The harvest, bountiful beyond measure, forms a scene of beauty without end. The moon is perfectly round on the fifteenth night. Dewdrops fill the lingzhi plate. The magpies soar above as the stars cast their light down. In the brisk air, orchids grow between rocks; mandarin ducks luxuriate in the drifting fragrance of sweet Osmanthus—no need for music from string and wind instruments to disperse it. I go through this pleasing writing. It is a beautiful piece appropriate for New Year, its form unlike Su’s style. Throughout the days I read these golden words. Remembering Han, I have thus composed four quatrains, all with seven-character lines: ‘The winds and moonlight of this night are not ordinary; ordinary winds and moonlight must be forgotten. The six stars of the Southern Dipper approach the Northern Gate; The Western Flower hangs, mirror-like, over Eastern Mountain. Ultimately I prefer this autumn scenery, with the fragrance of flowers weaving through the shadows of Osmanthus leaves. Think the scenery of the Toad Palace of yesterday—the subtleties of the autumn hair, perfect as it is. The festive goods of the streets test the craftsman, who must carve the round moon into a good poem. On Taiye Lake, autumn winds wash over the golden threads. There is no need to reexcavate Ying’e Pond. The jade-like skies and pearl-like dews adorn the Five Cloud Terrace, telling us that spring has given way to autumn. I have tried to create a new story about the Jade Hall, cutting paper to rush this poem on the moon.’ Composed by Qianlong in the eighth month of the year bingyin. We then ordered the officials of the inner court to compose poems after the same rhymes so as to celebrate the Elder Secretariat Director’s Mid-Autumn Manuscript, and so we have recorded these activities after the work. It was an opportune moment, and the work truly captivated our heart, and so we have made this inscription to commemorate our lingering pleasure. Imperially inscribed at the Hall of the Three Rarities”. Following this are the three imperial seals Weijing weiyi, Qianlong chenhan and Xiebiliu yunzao. At the end of the scroll is a painting by Ding Guanpeng, who records, ‘In spring of the bingyin year of the Qianlong reign, I was bestowed the opportunity to view the authentic Mid-Autumn Manuscript by Wang Xianzhi. His Majesty ordered the servant Guanpeng to make a painting to append to the scroll. ‘The autumn colours evenly divided; above the branches of the Wutong tree hangs the moon’. The servant proposed this poem in deep reverence for the miraculous work by the ancient master. The servant climbs towards Upper Purity, his feet lost in the clouds and mist. He looks up towards the Langyuan Paradise, his eyes dazzled by the constellations. He is ashamed for his incompetent painting, which is truly a ‘ferret’s tail’. Respectfully inscribed by the servant Ding Guanpeng”.1

2. Fascicle three, volume one, “upper-class works of calligraphy by masters of past dynasties housed in the imperial study” (fig. 11):
Fascicle three of Shiqu baoji
Holdings of the imperial study
Index of paintings and calligraphy by masters of past dynasties
Calligraphy fascicle, upper class chapter:
Erxietie by Wang Xizhi of the Jin dynasty (tian one)
Mid-Autumn Manuscript by Wang Xianzhi of the Jin dynasty (di one)
Feiniaotie by Wang Xianzhi, copied by Chu Suiliang of the Tang dynasty (yuan one)
Encomium of Ni Kuan’s Biography by Chu Suiliang of the Tang dynasty (yuan two) 2

3. Fascicle three, volume one, “upper-class works of calligraphy by masters of past dynasties housed in the imperial study” (fig. 12):
Mid-Autumn Manuscript by Wang Xianzhi of the Jin dynasty, one scroll (upper class, di one), housed in the Hall of the Three Rarities

On plain stationery paper. Running-cursive script, totalling twenty-two characters. With a postface in small regular script of the two characters junqing. With four imperial seals reading qiankun, yushu, Shaoxing, and Guangrendian. Also with two imperial seals Xuanhe and Shaoxing, both missing halves. Also with various seals reading shenpin, Hongwen zhi yin, Xianzhi zhuren, Molin, Xiang Yuanbian yin, and so on. Also with three seals faded and undecipherable. Also with half of a seal reading yin. The right seam bears the seam-riding seals Zijing suocang, Molin miwan, and zisun yongbao. The left seam bears the seam-riding seals Tuimi, Pingsheng zhenshang, Xiang Zijing jia zhencang, and Xiang Molin jianshang zhang. The right spacing silk bears the seven characters Jin Wang Xianzhi Zhongqiu tie (note: this was written by Emperor Gaozong of the Song dynasty), with half a seal impression reading Xuanhe. Also with seal impressions reading Molin lansou, Yanyuan huchang, shenqi, and Molin yanpi, and two additional faded impressions, of which only the four characters zhenji zhi yin are decipherable. The seam bears seal impressions reading Xiang Molin fu miji zhi yin, Gongbao shijia, and Miao wuyi jia. The left spacing silk bears the imperial seal Neifu tushu zhi yin, and also the other seals Dilu, Zijing zhenmi, Xiang Shuzi, Juli Xiangzhi shijia baowan, Renzhe siyin, Pingsheng zhenshang, Shen Yudeng yin, Shengwu zhi yin, Wang Yanshi yin, Molin Xiang Jizi zhang, and Gongbao shijia, and an undecipherable half of a seal. The seam bears the seals Tuimi, Molin shanren, shenyou xinshang, Xiang Zijing jia zhencang, Bu Qujiang yin, Tianlaige, Boyatang baowan yin, Xiang Molin fu miji zhi yin, Xiang Zijing shi, Wu Ting siyin, Zisun shichang, and tianchou gengru. There is a postface by Dong Qichang: “This calligraphic model by the Elder Secretariat Director [Daling] Old Mi [Fu] regarded as the best calligraphic work by Zijing under Heaven. It is also called the ‘single-stroke manuscript’. It began with the characters “shi’er yue ge” and so on; these are now lost. The characters “qingdeng dajun” and those following are also missing. I have now supplemented [the lost characters] with [the Qingdeng tie from the] Chunhuage Compendium—a tremendously pleasing affair. Old Mi once said that, when people obtained a work of calligraphy by the Elder Secretariat Director, they would cut out a character or two to sell to aficionados, and for this reason the classical calligraphic works are often unreadable. Those who insist on rejoining [the fragments] are laughable indeed. In the sixth month of the year jiachen, viewed at Xihu sengshe. Inscribed by Dong Qichang”. Dong also noted, “The Chunhuage [copy of the Qingdeng tie] contains the characters ‘yi zhi ye’ and ‘fen zhang key an’—these should follow this work [the Mid-Autumn Manuscript], but are now separate from it. I am the first to rectify this by engraving Xihongtang tie”. There is also a colophon by Xiang Yuanbian: “Wang Xianzhi of the Jin dynasty, zi Zijing, was the seventh son of Xizhi. He rose to the position of Secretariat Director. He was renowned for his elegant beauty, and he was lofty and untrammeled. His literary talent was unsurpassed in his time. When he first began practising calligraphy, Xizhi secretly tried to restrain his brush from behind and failed, and then Xizhi realised that Xianzhi would become a famous calligrapher. Indeed Xianzhi would become Xizhi’s peer. When Xianzhi first married Xi Tan’s daughter, Xizhi said to Tan of the marriage certificate that Xianzhi wrote: ‘Xianzhi’s proficiency in clerical script is intimidating’. Xizhi also wrote an essay entitled Yueyi lun, which he intended as a lesson for Xianzhi, and inscribed it ‘to be bestowed upon Guannu’, which was Xianzhi’s childhood name. This is why Xianzhi obtained all the magic of Xizhi’s brushwork. Commentators described Xianzhi’s work as like a phoenix dancing in a cinnabar cave, a dragon soaring from a pure spring, its intricacy and profound ingenuity issuing from a divine intelligence. Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty commented on Xianzhi’s calligraphy that it was miraculous beyond all the rest and unreachable by anyone; that, like youths by a river, filled with pleasure as they raised their bodies on waterwheels, irresistible. Although Xianzhi is known for his clerical script, he created many works of cursive calligraphy. The Shieryue tie is missing the first lines for reasons unknown, and is recorded in Mi Yuanzhang’s Baozhanglu and others. Now only have these few characters survived, but they count as a masterpiece by the Greater Secretariat Director. A treasure that has been passed down the generations, it is now dispersed across north and south. Who knows among how many collections the fragments are divided? Seeing this, I believe that the most precious treasures of the world must be blessed with divine protection. I, Bian, have also purchased this at a high price to maintain it as a calligraphic model forever. Although it has an imposing reputation, it is not to be feared but to be taught, which also accords with my preference. My descendants are not to take it lightly, but must guard it throughout their lifetimes. Respectfully inscribed by Molin Xiang Yuanbian”. Between the colophons are the seam-riding seals Ji’ao, Molin miwan, Xiang Zijing jia zhencang. The scroll [of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript proper] measures eight cun and four fen in height, three cun and six fen in width. On its top left are the four characters ru yin yin ni (like a seal impressing on seal paste) written by His Majesty, and over it an imperial seal reading Qianlong yushang. The frontispiece consists of the two characters Zhibao (utmost treasure) written by His Majesty, and over it an imperial seal reading Qianlong chenhan. Over the label inscribed by His Majesty is the same seal reading Qianlong chenhan.3

Aside from textual documentation, famous calligraphic works were reproduced and circulated through engraving, rubbing and printing beginning in the Song dynasty. These close copies are known as “one grade below authentic brush traces”. Dong Qichang identifies the situation in his colophon: Dong also noted, “The Chunhuage [copy of the Qingdeng tie] contains the characters ‘yi zhi ye’ and ‘fen zhang key an’—these should follow this work [the Mid-Autumn Manuscript], but are now separate from it. I am the first to rectify this by engraving Xihongtang tie” (fig. 13). But due to the variations in the source, tracing copy, design, engraving, rubbing and mounting, the same calligraphic work can vary in different copies.

B. Documentation of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript in other historical engraved calligraphy model books

Below I excerpt the documentations of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript (and the Shieryuege tie) from Mr. Rong Geng’s four-volume Congtie mu (published between 1980 and 1986 by Zhonghua Bookstore of Hong Kong):4

1) Chunxi mige xutie (10 fascicles)
2) Baojinzhai fatie (10 fascicles) *
3) Dongshutang jigu fatie (10 fascicles) *
4) Yuqingzhai tie (8 fascicles extant) *
5) Xihongtang fashu (16 fascicles) *
6) Yuyantang tie (24 fascicles) *
7) Tianyishandie tie (6 fascicles)
8) Hanxiangguan fashu (10 fascicles with supplement of 10 fascicles) *
9) Sanxitang shiqubaoji fatie (32 fascicles)
10) Fajutang fatie (8 fascicles) *
11) Sanxitang fatie moben (6 fascicles)
12) Xiaoqing mige tie (12 fascicles)
13) Linsuyuan fatie (8 fascicles)
14) Zhuangtaige xutie (12 fascicles with a supplement of 1 fascicle)
15) Yinyitang fatie (8 fascicles)
16) Baojinzhai fatie (10 fascicles) *

In the preceding catalogues, the Mid-Autumn Manuscript appears in different forms. The vicissitudes that this work endured during its lifetime are both harrowing and exciting. This above listing provides an excellent reference for artistic creation and connoisseurship of calligraphy. An example is a jade table screen from the Qing dynasty sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. It is inscribed in gold ink with the version of the Mid-Autumn Manuscript from Sanxitang fatie (The Hall of Three Rarities Compendium of Calligraphic Models) on one side, and Wang Xizhi’s Thirteen Lines on the other. The date of the compilation of Sanxitang fatie thus allows us to date this screen.5

C. Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River in historical engraved calligraphic models

Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River is Wang Xianzhi’s calligraphic rendition in small regular script of the eponymous ode by Cao Zhi. In this renowned work, Wang Xianzhi’s brush strokes are elegant and robust, his characters varying in density and position with rhythmic beauty. It is known as the “ultimate work of small regular script”. Yang Bin in his Tiehanzhai shuba praises it as follows: “in the elegant robustness and luxuriant roundness of its characters, it surpasses all extant works in small regular script”. Already during the Southern Song dynasty, Thirteen Lines was a fragment, retaining only the characters between xi and fei, hence its name. The text is translated as follows: “…diversion. To the left planting her coloured pennants, to the right spreading the shade of cassia flags, she dips pale wrists into the holy river’s brink, plucks dark iris from the rippling shallows. My fancy is charmed by her modest beauty, but my heart, uneasy, stirs with distress: without a skilled go-between to join us in bliss, I must trust these little waves to bear my message. Desiring that my sincerity first of all be known, I undo a girdle-jade to offer as pledge. Ah, the pure trust of that lovely lady, trained in ritual, acquainted with the Songs; she holds up a garnet stone to match my gift... pointing down into the depths to show where we should meet! Clinging to a lover’s passionate faith, yet I fear that this spirit may deceive me; warned by tales of how Jiaofu was abandoned, I pause, uncertain and despairing; then, stilling such thoughts, I turn a gentler face toward her, signalling that for my part I abide by the rules of ritual. The spirit of the Luo, moved by my action, paces to and fro uncertainly, the holy light deserting her, then reappearing. Now darkening, now shining again: she lifts her light body in the posture of a crane, as though about to fly but not yet taking wing. She walks the heady perfume of pepper-scented roads, strides through clumps of spikenard, scattering their fragrance, wailing distractedly, a sign of endless longing, her voice, sharp with sorrow, growing more prolonged. Then a swarm of milling spirits appears, calling companions, whistling to their mates, some sporting in the clear current, some hovering over sacred isles, some searching for bright pearls, some collecting kingfisher plumes. The goddess attends the two queens of Xiang in the south, joins hands with Wandering Girl from the banks of the Han, sighs that the Gourd Star has no spouse, laments that the Herdboy must live alone. Lifting the rare fabric of her thin jacket, she makes a shield of her long sleeve, pausing in hesitation, body nimbler than a winging…”6

It is generally thought that two brushed versions of Thirteen Lines circulated during the Song and Yuan periods. One, on hemp-fibre paper from the Jin dynasty, was acquired by calligrapher Zhao Mengfu during the early Yuan and determined to be an authentic work. The other, on hard yellow paper from the Tang dynasty and bearing colophons by Liu Gongquan and others, was determined by Zhao to be a Tang-dynasty copy, possibly a copy by Liu Gongquan himself. During the Song dynasty, both versions were engraved and reproduced as printed model books, which were themselves recarved and reproduced during the Ming and Qing dynasties, although virtually all later copies can be traced to the two original brushed versions. Among the extant copies of the version without Liu Gongquan’s colophon, the so-called Green Jade version is the finest. This version is engraved on a stone slab discovered buried underground at Geling near West Lake in Hangzhou during the Wanli period of the Ming dynasty. Because of its dark colour, the stone slab is euphemistically called Green Jade. The Green Jade copy of Thirteen Lines was carved early. Most of the characters on it are intact, and the blemishes of the rock appear natural. Because the location of its discovery was the site of Jia Sidao’s Banxiantang study, people believed that it was carved by Jia and subsequently was owned by Lu Menghe and Weng Songnian. During the Kangxi period, the Green Jade version entered the imperial court, and after the Eight-Nation Alliance occupied Beijing, it began to circulate among the common people. After 1949, it was acquired by the PRC Government. Before the Cultural Revolution, it was housed in the Shanghai Museum, and currently it is in the Capital Museum in Beijing (fig. 5). There exists another stone engraving based on the same source as the Green Jade version, known as the White Jade version. The strokes in the White Jade version are slightly thinner, and some of the blemishes on the stone appear to have been carved. The White Jade version was destroyed in a fire in the Qing court in the third year of the Jiaqing reign.

At present, the original autographic Thirteen Lines by Wang Xianzhi is no longer extant. Thus the engraved reproductions that are “one grade below authentic brush trace” are very valuable and important. Below I excerpt the documentation of Wang Xianzhi’s Thirteen Lines included in Mr. Rong Geng’s Congtiemu:7

1) Bogutang tie (1 fascicle extant)
2) Baojinzhai fatie (10 fascicles) *
3) Dongshutangjigu fatie (10 fascicles) *
4) Tingyunguan tie (12 fascicles)
5) Yuqingzhai tie (8 fascicles extant) *
6) Xihongtang fashu (16 fascicles) *
7) Mochitang xuantie (5 fascicles)
8) Yuyantang tie (24 fascicles) *
9) Pomozhai fashu (10 fascicles)
10) Haining Chenshi cangzhen tie (8 fascicles)
11) Kuaixuetang fashu (5 fascicles)
12) Shigutang fashu (10 fascicles)
13) Xiucanxuan tie (4 fascicles)
14) Hanxiangguan fashu (10 fascicles with a supplement of 2 fascicles) *
15) Mouqindian fatie (24 fascicles)
16) Lishulouzhengzi tie (8 fascicles)
17) Zihuitang mobao (8 fascicles)
18) Renjutang fatie (8 fascicles) *
19) Yuhong jianzhen tie (13 fascicles)
20) Qilantang fatie (8 fascicles)
21) Xiejingtang tie (8 fascicles)
22) Canxiage fatie (5 fascicles)
23) Yunqingguan fatie (6 fascicles)
24) Haishan xianguan mogu (12 fascicles)
25) Gengxia xiguan fatie (4 fascicles)
26) Rangliguan lidai mingren fashu (8 fascicles)
27) Erwang tiexuan (2 fascicles)
28) Jukuitang ji Jin Tang Song Yuan Ming minghan zhenji (5 fascicles)
29) Youmingtang tie (12 fascicles)
30) Yaoshan fatie (6 fascicles)
31) Erwang tie (7 fascicles)
32) Jiang tie (12 fascicles)
33) Xiyutang tie (10 fascicles)
34) Xingfenglou tie (12 fascicles)
35) Chunxi mige xufatie (10 fascicles)
36) Baojinzhai fatie (10 fascicles) *

Among the above catalogues, eight record both Mid-Autumn Manuscript (Shieryuege tie) and Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River: Baojinzhai fatie, Dongshutang jigu fatie, Yuqingzhai tie, Xihongtang fashu, Yuyangtang tie, Hanxiangguan fashu, Renjutang fatie and Baojinzhai fatie (Qing forgery). These are marked with asterisks.

D. Further remarks

Research on the Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River continues. Scholars of the past were of course passionate about it, but those working today remain equally so. In 1986, soon after the Green Jade version entered the collection of the Capital Museum, Mr Ye Du of the museum wrote the article “On the Green Jade version of the Thirteen Lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River”, examining five aspects of its history before making a conclusion:8 Wang Xianzhi’s original and authentic Thirteen Lines and the circulation of its Tang-dynasty copies; the origins of the Green Jade version; the identification of the Green Jade version with the version in Baojinzhai fatie; the re-engravings of the Green Jade version; and speculations on the origins of the Baojinzhai fatie version of the Thirteen Lines.9 In the past three decades, there have been many other studies on the Thirteen Lines, which I shall not detail here. The interested reader will be able to find them on the internet. In short, the Thirteen Lines is an important and rewarding topic of research that accommodates many different viewpoints.

Aside from its inclusion in various model books and calligraphic compendia, copies of Wang Xianzhi’s Thirteen Lines also circulated individually, largely thanks to the efforts of aficionados. For example, the Palace Museum collection contains seventeen individual copies of the work, including rubbing copies from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. They were transferred from other institutions, purchased, or donated (see table 1). The Complete Collection of Calligraphic Works by Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi (published by the Palace Museum Press in November, 2015) include all of them. Among them, Mingta shisanhang jijin (Highlights of Ming-dynasty Rubbing Copies of the Thirteen Lines) is most remarkable (fig. 14). On its cover is a label by Wujuan: “Appreciating the collected lines of the Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River”. Wujuan also wrote an inscription on the cloth cover: “Collected lines of the Goddess of the Luo River. Between the winters of the years of guiwei and jiashen, remounted several times in a season”. The volume opens and ends with laudatory inscriptions by Jin Nong and Fei Shujian. Between these are inscriptions by Yang Bin, Weng Fanggang, and others praising the work and presenting evidential research on it. This shows that copies of the Thirteen Lines were a source of pleasure for the literati. The Qianlong Emperor, who regarded himself as a great synthesiser of Han Chinese culture, of course could not pass up the opportunity to own the Thirteen Lines.

1 Shiqu baoji chubian, Appendix on Works housed in the Sanxitang (Hall of the Three Rarities), Changchun shuwu, Suian shi, Youyu zhai, chapter on calligraphic albums by masters of past dynasties in the upper class in the Sanxitang (Sanxitang, 10th year of the Qianlong reign), Palace Museum, Beijing, 2018.
2 Shiqu baoji chubian, Fascicle three, volume one, “upper-class works of calligraphy by masters of past dynasties housed in the imperial study” (Imperial Study, 10th year of the Qianlong reign), Palace Museum, Beijing, 2018.
3 Shiqu baoji chubian, Fascicle three, volume one, “upper-class works of calligraphy by masters of past dynasties housed in the imperial study” (Imperial Study, 10th year of the Qianlong reign), Palace Museum, Beijing, 2018.
4 Geng Rong, Cong tie mu, vol. 1, Hong Kong, 1980, p. 134, 148, 185, 254, 264, 304, 345, 373, 430; vol. 2, 1981, p. 466, 533, 581, 854, 886; Cong tie mu, vol. 4, 1986, p. 1574, 1809.
5 For more on Sanxitang fatie (Calligraphic Models of the Hall of Three Rarities), please refer to Wan Yisheng, Gugong Cidian, revised edition, Beijing, 2016, pp. 794-795.
6 Excerpted from Burton Watson’s translation in Burton Watson, ed., The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century, Columbia University Press, 1984, pp. 116-122.
7 Geng Rong, ibid., vol. 1, pp. 120, 154, 185, 221, 255, 262, 273, 304, 314, 323, 348, 358, 364, 374, 393, 407; vol. 2, p. 463, 466, 480, 547, 586, 619, 678, 777, 793, 847; vol. 3, p. 1135; vol. 4, pp. 1557, 1561, 1581, 1619, 1772, 1783, 1788, 1804, 1809.
Please refer to Shoudou bowuguan congkan/A collection of essays about Capital Museum of China, 3rd ed., October 1986, pp. 65-70.
9 See Hu Dijun’s blog http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_9886f93e0102xdtj.html
10 See Ho Chuanxin, ed, The All Complete Qianlong: a Special Exhibition on the Aesthetic Tastes of the Qing Emperor Gaozong, Taipei, 2013.

Qianlong – Scholar and Calligrapher

Hong Kong