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Wang Xizhi Biography


When we mention the history of Chinese calligraphy and the calligraphists of different dynasties, we may be always deeply captivated by its great culture and philosophy concerned social interaction and self cultivation released from the back of so many great masterpieces and stories. A man is always unavoidably involved. He was Wang Xizhi, the greatest soul shaped the great tradition, culture and philosophy of Chinese calligraphy. Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303-361), with a courtesy name Yishao(逸少) and an alternative name Danzhai(澹斋), was the greatest calligraphist of ancient China. Traditionally known as the sage of calligraphy(书圣), Wang Xizhi was also a great litterateur living in East Jin Dynasty (317-420). His great prose named Lanting Xu or Preface to Orchid Pavilion (兰亭序) was a fantastic classic literary works apart from his greatest calligraphic masterpiece titled Lanting Xu as well. He together with his son Wang Xianzhi (王献之) were extraordinarily renowned as Er Wang or Double Wangs(二王) in history of Chinese calligraphy. The representative of his students was Xie An(谢安).

Learning Period of Wang Xizhi Anecdotes of Wang Xizhi
Calligraphy Masterpieces of Wang Xizhi Selected Picture of Lanting Xu
Background of Lanting Xu Original of Lanting Xu
Culture of Lanting Xu Five Copies of Lanting Xu
Music Video of Lanting Xu Portrait of Wang Xizhi

The Learning Period of Wang Xizhi

In childhood, Wang Xizhi firstly learnt calligraphy with his father Wang Kuang(王旷) and his uncle Wang Yi(王廙). At the age of 7, he specialized in calligraphy. He secretly studied a mysterious theory classics named Bi Lun (笔论, On Handwriting Brush) , which he found under his father’s pillow, when he was 12. Wang Kuang was talented in cursive and official calligraphic styles, and his uncle was specialized in calligraphy and painting. Especially Wang Yi, who used to be a painting teacher of Emperor Mingdi of East Jin Dynasty, mostly influenced Wang Xinzhi in thought and techniques of calligraphy. Objectively, he got a better family pre-school education of calligraphy.

Later, he learnt from Wei Shuo(卫烁), historically known as Lady Wei and the student of Zhong You(钟繇, the greatest calligraphist before Wang Xizhi contributed to the successful transformation of calligraphy from the official type to the regular type). Moved by his painstaking efforts and the considerable achievements in calligraphy, Lady Wei shed tears. Wang Xizhi practiced calligrapher every day, and washed his brush after practice in a pool nearby his residence. Day after day, this pool turned to be black, even could used as the ink. After he acted as a governor in today’s Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, he also blacked a pool for learning calligraphy, which is available in front of the municipal official building, Lucheng District, Wenzhou. By the way, Zeng Gong’s(曾巩) Mochi Ji(墨池记, a historically famous essay depicting the inked pool) is closely connected with his stories.

Up to adulthood, he took several times of grand tour to different regions to learn something new or inspire himself by historic calligraphic works created ancient people like the remained inscriptions of Li Si(李斯, the most famous calligraphist of Qin), Cao Xi(曹喜, the famous calligrapher in East Han Dynasty), Zhong Jue(钟爵, a leading calligrapher in East Han Dynasty), Liang Hong(梁鹄, an authoritative calligrapher in Wei Kingdom of Three Kingdoms Period and highly respected by Cao Cao), Cai Yong(蔡邕, a calligraphic master and study scholar left his calligraphic writing named Shi Jing, just a series of stele inscriptions themed with the classics of Confucianism) and Zhang Chang(张昶, who was a famous calligrapher left his stele inscription named Hua Yue Bei)

The Portrait of Wang Xizhi, The Sage of Calligraphy

The Anecdotes of Wang Xizhi

Shuchenghuanbaie – (书成换白鹅, Writing Huangting Taoist Classic to Exchange the White Geese) In regard to the goose, Wang Xizhi preferred to raise it. He thought the gestures and motions of goose palms could give me the endless inspiration to improve the ways to handling and running the writing brush. A Taoist lived in Shanyin, today’s Shaoxing, were eager to get a handwritten Huang Ting Jing(黄庭经, a famous classic of Taoism), but he did not dare to offer this request casually. When heard of Wang Wangzhi’s preference, he raised a group of white geese to wait for Wang Xizhi’s arrival. One day, Wang Xizhi with Wang Xianzhi took a boat trip to view the great landscape of Shaoxing. He found of a group of quite beautiful white geese when he reached Xianrang Village (县禳村). Wang Xizhi liked them very much. He wanted to purchase them, and inquired the Taoist, and Taoist told what he wanted as the condition of presenting him the geese. Wang Xizhi agreed to write the classic for him without hesitation. The calligraphy of Huang Ting Jing was considered as the second classic works of Wang Xizhi’s regular script. Also named Huane Tie(换鹅帖, the calligraphic copy of goose exchange), it is currently reserved in Beijing Imperial Palace Museum.

Dongchuang Kuaixu – (东床快婿, the excellent son-in-law lying on the east couch) it is a famous anecdote recorded a story how Wang Xizhi became the satisfying son-of-law of Xi Jian(郗鉴, a superior official of early East Jin). Xi Jian had a daughter named Xi Xuan(郗璿), who grew up to an age for marriage. Xi Jian in Nanjing heard that the sons and nephews of Wang Family in Shaoxing were all handsome and talented. So he sent message to Wang Dao, the leader of Wang Family, to express his thought of selecting a son-of -law from his next generation. Wang Dao guided the messenger to choose in the back garden. As returned, the messenger informed Xi Jian that all of the young people deserved acclaiming. Once hearing of selecting the son-of-law, they were all well prepared and kept a very great look, except one, a youngster revealed the belly and ate cakes on couch, and he seemed not to care about this. Hearing this, Xi Jian said happily “He is the man I search for my daughter”. This youngster was Wang Xizhi. And this story became a popular idiom to praise other people’ sons-in-law.

Rumu Sanfen – (入木三分, three inches into the wood) At one time, he wrote the characters on the wood board, and asked to carve them out. The carver cut the board and found his scripts printed into the wood for three inches. This becomes an idiom as well.

The Calligraphy Masterpieces of Wang Xizhi

Up to early Tang Dynasty, there were over 3000 pieces of calligraphic works left, but to early Song Dynasty, only 160 remained. Today, throughout the world, there are only 20 pieces including the copies.

  • - Kuaixue Shiqing Tie 【快雪时晴帖, together with two other works respectively named Zhognqiue Tie and Boyuan Tie are called Sanxi (三希, three rarities, and in history of Chinese calligraphy, there is a quite famous calligraphic copy named Sanxitang Fatie, or the calligraphic models of Three Rarities) . It is collected in Taipei National Palace Museum】
  • - Lanting Xue 【兰亭序, the details as below, known as the No.1 cursive script of calligraphy, the copy is Shennong edition collected in Beijing Imperial Palace Museum】
  • - Huangting Jing 【黄庭经, It is a script of rubbings collected in Beijing Imperial Palace Museum】
  • - Pingan Tie, Heru Tie and Fengju Tie【平安帖/何如帖/奉橘帖, three scripts are collected in Taipei National Palace Museum】
  • - Yue Yi Lun(乐毅论, a rarely seen rubbing of Liang period)
  • - Sangluan Tie, Er’xie Tie and Deshi Tie 【丧乱/二谢/得示帖, three scripts were all the copied of Tang and currently collected in royal household of Japan】
  • - Youxuan Tie (忧悬帖, no record on where it is)
  • - Hanqie Tie (寒切帖, also named Nianqi Tie or Xie Sima Tie, today collected in Tianjin Museum)
  • - Kongsizhong Tie and Pianyouaihuo Tie (孔侍中帖/频有哀祸帖, two calligraphic scripts were integrated into a paper, and collected in Japan)
  • - Yuanhuan Tie(远宦帖, also named Xingbie Tie, a letter of his seventeen copies, collected in Taipei National Palace Museum)
  • - Yimu Tie(姨母帖, a copy of Tang Dynasty collected in Liaoning Provincial Museum)
  • - Chuyue Tie (初月帖, a copy of Tang Dynasty collected in Liaoning Provincial Museum)
  • - Xingrang Tie (行穰帖, collected in art museum of Princeton University)
  • - Qiyue Duxia Tie (七月都下帖, a copy of Tang Dynasty collected in Taipei National Palace Museum)
  • - Shangyu Tie (上虞帖, a copy of Tang Dynasty collected in Shanghai Museum)
  • - Youmu Tie (游目帖, collected in Japan, but destroyed in the atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima during WW TWO)
  • - Dadao Tie (大道帖, also named Yibi Shu, collected in Taipei National Palace Museum)
  • - Qishu Tie (其书贴, no record on where it is)
  • - Meizhi Tie (妹至帖, a copy of Tang Dynasty privately collected in Japan)
  • - Dongfang Shuo Xiangzan (東方朔像讚, a copy of Tang Dynasty collected in Taipei National Palace Museum)
  • - Xiaonv Caoe Bei (孝女曹娥碑, no record on where it is)
  • - Xingfusi Duanbei (兴福寺断碑, no record on where it is)
  • - Chunhuage Tie (淳化阁帖, a series of calligraphic copies comprised of 10 volumes, and the 6th , 7th and 8th volumes were the works of Wang Xizhi collecting more than 160 copies of Wang Xizhi, and it is collected in Shanghai Museum)
  • - Chengqing Tang Tie (澄清堂帖, a collection of copies created follow the characters of Wang Xizhi)
  • - Datang Sanzang Shengjiao Xu (大唐三藏聖教序, a creation of Monk Huai Ren of Tang Dynasty, and it is created by gathering the calligraphic characters of Wang Xizhi)
  • - Dabao Tie (大报帖, a copy of Tang Dynasty private collected in Japan)

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