Newsletter No. 55 (January 2010)


A note on the research materials in the University of Melbourne Library

Dr. Pietro De Laurentis (畢羅)

Sinology PhD, Università di Napoli "L'Orientale


            To those acquainted with the Chinese world, it is natural to acknowledge how calligraphy is  considered as the highest expression of art, and the written word in general has always occupied a prominent position in her cultural world. This is not only for historical reasons, but also, if not mainly, for the aesthetic richness that the Chinese writing system possesses. Nevertheless, the Western world has traditionally studied and accepted more widely Chinese painting rather than calligraphy. In spite of the undeniable charm that calligraphy brushwork has exerted upon Westeners, there are in fact not many Western works which specifically treat calligraphy as an independent discipline. As a consequence, people who would like to approach calligraphy both in academic and non-academic contexts are often led too quickly into the practice of brush writing, but are not always given the necessary research tools whereby to conduct serious study. Hence, we will try in this brief article  to outline some basic points related to the study of calligraphic sources and present the best available materials to those interested in Chinese calligraphy.

                                                            Classical Sources

Chinese collections of calligraphic treatises start during the Tang dynasty. In spite of the fact that literary collections have scattered records of a great number of texts which date from the Eastern Han 後漢 dynasty (25-221)[1], a systematic approach towards calligraphy seems to arise only with the Tang. Many texts produced during the Tang, in fact, are the principal sources for the understanding of the history and the study of calligraphy, and they exerted an enormous influence for the successive history of calligraphy and Chinese writing in general. The first work worthwhile mentioning, is the famous autograph in the cursive script, written and calligraphed by Sun Guoting (ca. 646-ca. 690) Manual of Calligraphy (Shu pu 書譜), completed in the year 687 (pl. 1 Nigensha fac-simile) [2]. This manuscript is at the same time one of the finest works in the cursive hand, and one of the most influential texts on the practice and the aesthetics of calligraphy. Since it has been preserved in its original form, not only is to be considered one of the few extant manuscripts dating from the Tang era, but, more importantly, it is the most ancient text on calligraphy which has been preserved until today.

Pl. 1
Plate 1

            Besides the Manual of Calligraphy, the most ancient edition of a text on calligraphy is the Southern Song edition of the collection of calligraphic texts Anthology of the Calligraphy Garden (Shu yuan jinghua 書苑菁華), by Chen Si 陳思 (fl. First half thirteenth century). (pl. 2) Besides the Anthology, all the earliest editions of other collections of calligraphic texts exist now only in their Ming editions.

Pl. 2
Plate 2

            This is the case of the first specific collection of texts on calligraphy, the Essential Records of Calligraphy (Fashu yaolu 法書要錄)[3], compiled by Zhang Yanyuan 張彥遠 (ca. 817-ca. 877) very likely prior to the year 847, when he finished his better known Records of Famous Painters from All Dynasties (Lidai minghua ji 歷代名畫記)[4].  The Essential Records on Calligraphy has been preserved only in the Jindai mishu 津逮秘書 edition, published by Mao Jin 毛晉 (1599-1659) between 1628 and 1644. In spite of many textual corruptions that occurred before the final edition by Mao Jin,  the Essential Records on Calligraphy is of extreme importance as it fully records many texts which are not registered elsewhere. These texts include both the early texts on calligraphy composed since the second century as well as many Tang milestones in calligraphic theory, such as the  extremely influential Judgements on Calligraphy (Shu duan 書斷) composed by Zhang Huaiguan 張懷瓘 (fl. first half eighth century) in 727 [5],   and the Rhapsody on the Discussion of Calligraphy (Shu shu fu 述書賦) (Fu Discussing Calligraphy), written by Dou Ji 竇臮  (fl. mid of the eight century) and annotated by his elder brother Dou Meng 竇蒙 (fl. mid of the eight century), postface dated March 7th 775 [6], as well as many accounts of imperial collections of calligraphy[7].

            The Essential Records on Calligraphy became so important that it was also widely used as a reference for the Collection of the Ink Pond (Mochi bian 墨池編), which, along with the above-mentioned Anthology of the Calligraphy Garden, is considered as the main source for pre-Song calligraphic texts. The Collection of the Ink Pond was compiled by the Song scholar Zhu Changwen 朱長文 (1039-1098) (preface dated April 4, 1066) and contains more texts than those recorded in the Essential Records. Moreover, differently from Zhang Yanyuan who edited the works in a merely chronological order, Zhu Changwen created for the first time specific categories under which he arranged the various texts according to their content [8].

            After the thirteenth century, works on calligraphy considerably increased in number and dimensions. Due also to the wide diffusion of printed books, collections of texts, records of calligraphies, didactic compendia, and various other works related to calligraphy and writing in general, were produced either privately by literati or under imperial edict. Just to mention a few of these sources, we note the concise but useful Essentials of the History of Calligraphy (Shu shi huiyao 書史會要), edited by Tao Zongyi 陶宗儀 (b. 1316, preface dated 1376)[9], (pl. 3) the massive compendium Collection of Calligraphy and Painting from the Peiwen Study (Peiwenzhai shuhua pu 佩文齋書畫譜) in 100 juan, compiled by Sun Yueban 孫岳頒 (1639-1708) and others (preface 1708)[10], and the Correct Accounts on the Technique of Calligraphy (Shufa zheng zhuan 書法正傳) by Feng Wu 馮武 (b. 1627) (published first half eighteenth century)[11].

Plate 3

Modern Sources

With the twentieth century, thanks also to the application of photography in the printing industry, many works of calligraphy and painting which were available only within the Imperial collection or in enclosed circles of literati, and which circulated as low-quality copies, could then be published and made accessible for the greater public. At the same time, works which dealt with the history and the study of calligraphy were produced with even greater intensity.  A very important work in this sense is the Explanations of Titles of Recorded Texts on Calligraphy and Painting (Shu hua shulu jieti 書畫書錄解題) by Yu Shaosong 余紹宋 (1882-1940), for it provides guidance on the bibliographic distinctions of texts on calligraphy and painting. Despite a somewhat arbitrary divisions of texts according to several categories created by Yu himself, the book is very important in order to trace the origin and the meaning of a great number of works on calligraphy and painting[12].

During the twentieth century many collections and reference books on calligraphy have also been published. A  pioneering work has been that of the Japanese series Complete Collection of Calligraphy (Shodō zenshū 書道全集)[13], which was followed by its recent Chinese counterpart Complete Collection of Chinese Calligraphy (Zhongguo shufa quanji 中國書法全集)[14]. Besides critical editions of the previously mentioned ancient texts on calligraphic theory published in recent decades, a special mention is deserved for the massive collection Complete Texts on Chinese Painting and Calligraphy (Zhongguo shuhua quanshu 中國書畫全書), which, although not lacking transcribing and editing mistakes, is still the most complete set of texts on Chinese painting and calligraphy[15]. The collection is arranged in chronological order, with a final index to the texts included. In 2005 a two volume index of names, texts, and technical terms quoted in the collection has also been published, which makes the use of the collection much easier[16].   

Regarding the reproducton of calligraphies, there are numerous reproduction of autographs and rubbings published in China.  Notable publishing houses are the Wenwu 文物 based in Beijing, and the Shanghai Shuhua 上海書畫  who produce good quality and affordable publications.  As for recently excavated inscriptions and other calligraphy surveys, a very useful tool is the journal Collected Publications on Calligraphy (Shufa congkan 書法叢刊) published by the Wenwu publishing house, which has also issued an annotated index to the articles published from 1981 to 2003[17].   In terms of high definition publications, an important role has been played by the publications issued by the Japanese publishing house Nigensha 二玄社, especially the fac-simile reproduction series of over four hundred Masterpieces of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy in the National Palace Museum, Taipei[18], and the series of Anthology of Authographs and Rubbings in Original colour (Genshoku hōjōsen 原色法帖選) in 49 volumes[19].

Moreover, in order to facilitate the study of calligraphy and palaeography, many collections of characters in the form of dictionaries have been published both in China and in Japan. Very important in this sense are the  Collections of Characters (Zi bian字編) published by the Wenwu publishing house for they include a very high number of images of characters excerpted from classical autographs and rubbings[20]. At the same time, many general compendia covering different aspects of the so-called “science of calligraphy” (shu xue 書學) have been produced as well, of which the most complete and by far most useful is the Great Dictionary of Chinese Calligraphy (Zhongguo shufa dacidian 中國書法大辭典)[21].

With the  spread of the Internet,  many websites and forums on calligraphy and art in general have been created. Some of these provide high definition digital scanned images of classical and modern calligraphies, as well as many useful research materials. They therefore consitute a “virtual space” for students, scholars and calligraphers to discuss calligraphy. Some popular websites are the Calligraphic Space (Shufa kongjian 書法空間, www.9610.com), and Calligraphy Wanderers (Shufa jianghu 書法江湖, http://www.sf108.com/bbs/index.php), both based in Mainland China.

Studies on Chinese Calligraphy in Western Languages

If we consider Chinese painting, there is already a considerable number of Western scholars who have conducted many studies on various topics. One of the most important and quoted works on Chinese painting is Some T’ang and pre-T’ang Texts on Chinese Painting, richly annotated and commentated by the American scholar William Acker (1907-1974) which consists in the English translation of the above-mentioned Zhang Yanyuan's Records of Famous Masters from All Dynasties and other treatises on Chinese painting. In this far-reaching work, Acker discusses many important problems related to painting and painting criticism. He also points out a very crucial question regarding the essence of Chinese painting and its direct link with Chinese calligraphy, which is useful to partly quote below:

[...] The appreciation of the beauty of the swift, strong “calligraphic line”, whether in writing or painting was natural to greater numbers of people than could ever have been the case elsewhere, and it was inevitable that the feeling for the sensitive brush line should become the chief means of judging works of art among a people so well trained to understand just this quality. [...] It seems to me that the early appearance in China of a literature on painting might be said to be in large part due to the existence of the great art of Chinese calligraphy practised by practically the whole of the intelligentsia of the country, and even more directly, to the prior development of a literature on the aesthetics and technique of writing[22].

In spite of this clarifying statement, the West has not produced as many works on Chinese calligraphy as William Acker himself perhaps was hoping for[23]. There are indeed some important works on Chinese grammatology, such as Léon Wieger's (1856-1933) Chinese Characters[24], and William Boltz's Origin and the Development of the Chinese Writing System[25], as well as the English translation of Qiu Xigui's influential Elements of Chinese Grammatology (Wenzixue gaiyao 文字學概要)[26];  nevertheless, these do not involve, except for Qiu Xigui's work, key linguistic issues which are related both to the Chinese writing system and the Chinese art of writing, such as the origin and transformation  of writing scripts.

Pioneering English publications of general introductions to Chinese calligraphy are by Chiang Yee (1903-1977) and Ch'en Chih-mai (1908-1978)[27].   Other notable mentions of publications are Lothar Ledderose's Mi Fu and the Classical Tradition of Chinese Calligraphy[28], the English translation of the eminent Japanese scholar Nakata Yūjirō's Chinese Calligraphy (1905-1998)[29], and Jean François Billeter's The Chinese Art of Writing[30]. In addition, Western studies in Chinese calligraphy have not yet seen the publication of a fundamental translation work similar to Acker's Some T'ang and pre-T'ang Texts on Chinese Painting, and this is slightly paradoxical, considering the fact that Zhang Yanyuan was the compiler of both the Essential Records on Calligraphy and the Records of Famous Painters from All Dynasties. Nevertheless, some classical texts on calligraphy have been translated into Western languages, such as the Diagram of the Arrangement of the Brush (Bizhen tu 筆陣圖) translated in English by Richard Barnhart[31], or the above-mentioned Manual of Calligraphy, translated into German by Roger Goepper[32], and into English by Chang Ch'ung-ho and Hans Frankel (1917-2003)[33]. For an overall discussion on calligraphy, Tseng Yu-ho's A History of Chinese Calligraphy seems to be considerably one of the most useful tools, because it provides many images of classical writing and also explains several aesthetic concepts by also including translations from original texts.

Calligraphy Research Materials at the University of Melbourne

            Since 2006 I have visited  the library faculties of the University of Melbourne several times. I have thus been able to intensively use both the sinological and not-sinological resources of the Bailleu, Eastern Resource Centre, and Old Quadrangle collections. In terms of Chinese and Japanese sources, I have been deeply impressed by the great importance that the East Asian section of the Bailleu Library in particular has given to classical sinological studies. The East Asian collection is rich in all the basic tools of classical Chinese scholarship. From Chinese history to Chinese literature and Chinese arts, the East Asian collection stores a considerable number of classic, modern and new items which permit the undertaking of serious research in nearly all the fields of classical sinology. But what has impressed me most has been the very rich catalogue concerning books on Chinese calligraphy and palaeography. All the books mentioned in this brief report, except a few cases, are in fact kept either in the East Asian collection or in the other sections of the University of Melbourne library. Especially worth mentioning are the very precious fac-simile reproductions of Chinese calligraphy published by the Nigensha publishing house for they provide students and researchers a faithful replica of classical Chinese artwork. Another important research material is the collection Complete Texts on Chinese Calligraphy and Painting which was fortunately purchased by the East Asian collection in its deluxe edition before it went out of print. Along with these  'classical' materials, the East Asian collection is also very attentive towards new publications in the field. For example, the collection includes exhibition catalogues and newly issued items, such as the Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Calligraphy, catalogue of the sino-japanese classical calligraphy exhibition held in Shanghai in 2006.[34]

The University of Melbourne does indeed possess very valuable items which allow academic research on Chinese calligraphy and palaoegraphy, as well as provides useful tools for those who just want to be introduced to the study of the Chinese art of writing in general.

 [1] The first text on Chinese calligraphy is the Description of the Cursive Script (Caoshu shi 草書勢), by Cui Yuan 崔瑗 (77-142) and included in Wei Heng's Description of the Four Scripts, contained in his biography, Book of the Jin (Jin shu 晉書, 265-420) compiled by Fang Xuanling  房玄齡 (578-648) and others and completed in 648, 130 juan, Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974, 36.1061. On pre-Tang texts on calligraphy in general, are the several very valuable articles published by the Chinese scholar Zhang Tiangong 張天弓, especially his ““Lüe lun Zhongguo gudai shufa lilun piping zijuede wenti ” 略論中國古代書法理論批評自覺的問題 [Brief Discussion on the Problem regarding the Conscious Criticism of Chinese Ancient Calligraphy Theory], pp. 60-65.

[2] Manuscript in 369 columns completed during the third year of the Chuigong 垂拱 period of reign of the Tang (corresponding to the period from January 19th, 687 to February 6th, 688), now kept in the National Palace Museum, Taibei. For a discussion on the main topics related to this work see, Bi Luo 畢羅 (Pietro De Laurentis), “Sun Guoting zhi zhiqi-Shu pu wenti kao” 孫過庭之志氣-書譜文體考 [Sun Guoting's Aspirations Through his Shu pu: A Study on the Literary Form of the Manuscript], in Yishushi yanjiu 藝術史研究 [The Study of Art History] 10, Guangzhou: Zhongshan University Press, 2008, pp. 101-130. For a biographical outline on Sun Guoting, see Bi Luo 畢羅 (Pietro De Laurentis), “Sun Guoting shengping kao” 孫過庭生平考 [A Study on the Life of Sun Guoting], in Shufa congkan 書法叢刊 [Collected Publications on Calligraphy], 2009-2, Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, pp. 73-81. For a reproduction of the scroll the see fac-simile reproduction of the Japanese publishing house Nigensha, edited and commentated by the Japanese scholar Tanimura Kisai 谷村憙齋, Tō Son Katei Sho hu – Shakubun kaisetsu 唐孫過庭書譜-釋文 解説 [Transcription and Study of the Shu pu by Sun Guoting of the Tang], Tokyo, 1979. Text first recorded in Shuyuan jinghua,preface by Wei Liaoweng 魏了翁 (1178-1237), published in the Reproductions of Chinese Rare Editions series (Zhonghua zaizao shanben 中華再造善本), Beijing: Beijing tushuguan chubanshe, 2003, juan 7.

[3] Ten juan, text recorded in the Monograph on Classics and Books (Jingji zhi 經籍志) of the New Book of the Tang (618-907) Xin Tang shu 新唐書, compiled by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 and others (1007-1072) in 1061, 225 juan, 20 voll., Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975, juan 57, p. 1451. Critical edition by Fan Xiangyong 范祥雍, Beijing: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 2003 (first published 1964). On this text see the introductory essay by Amy McNair, “Fa shu yao lu, a Ninth-Century Compendium of Texts on Calligraphy”, in T'ang Studies 5 (1987), pp. 69-86.

[4] Collection of texts on Chinese painting fully translated in English by William Acker (1904-1974), Some T'ang and pre-T'ang Texts on Chinese Painting, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1954-1974.

[5] In Fashu yaolu, juan 7-9.

[6] In Fashu yaolu, juan 5-6.

[7] Such as the Accounted Record of the Calligraphies of the Tang Imperial Collection (Tang chao xu shu lu 唐朝敘書錄), in juan 4, and the Record of the Calligraphies by Youjun [i.e. Wang Xizhi 303-361] (Youjun shu ji 右軍書記), juan 10.

[8] Namely, “the study of characters” (zixue 字學), “methods of brush” bifa 筆法 “miscellaneous discussions” (zayi 雜議), “evaluations” (pinzao 品藻), “praising narrations” (zanshu 贊述), “treasures” (baozang 寶藏), “inscriptions” (beike 碑刻), and “tools” (qiyong 器用). Earliest extant edition in twenty juan dating from 1568, now kept at the National Library of China, Beijing. 1580 re-print of the 1568 edition in six juan published by the National Library of China, Taibei, 1970.

[9] Shanghai: Shanghai guji shudian, 1979.

[10] Siku quanshu edition repr., Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1991.

 [11] Earliest extant edition dating from the Qing dynasty Kangxi 康熙 period of reign (1662-1723), annotated edition by Cui Erping 崔爾平, Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1985.

[12] Reprint of the 1932 edition with addenda published by Beijing tushuguan chubanshe, 2003.

 [13] Edited by Kanda Kīchirō 神田喜一朗 and Tanaka Yoshimi 田中親美, 28 voll. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1954-1968.

 [14] 108 voll., Beijing: Rongbaozhai chubanshe, 1991-.

 [15] Edited by Lu Fusheng 廬輔聖, 14 voll., Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 2000.

 [16] Lu Fusheng (ed.), Zhongguo shuhua wenxian suoyin 中國書畫文獻索引 [Index to Texts on Chinese Calligraphy and Painting], 2 voll., Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 2005.

 [17] Qi Zhengying 齊正英 (ed.), Shufa congkan: 1981-2003 nian zongmulu 書法叢刊: 1981-2003年總目錄[Shufa congkan: general index 1981-2003], Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2005.

[18] For the calligraphy section thirty-four works dating from the fourth to the eighteenth century are reproduced. Tokyo: Nigensha, 1979-1998.

[19] Tokyo: Nigensha, 1984-1990.

 [20] Edited by Hong Juntao 洪鈞陶 and others according to the different writing scripts. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1984-2004.

[21] Edited by Liang Piyun 梁披雲, 2 voll., Hong Kong: Shu pu chubanshe, 1984.

[22] Some T’ang and pre-T’ang Texts on Chinese Painting, v. 1, Leiden: Brill, 1954, pp. xiii-xiv.

 [23]  While speaking of the Essential Records on Calligraphy, Acker writes: “It is my hope, later, to translate in full a numner of the texts contained in the Fa Shu Yao Lu”, p. 215, note 1.

 [24] Translated from the French by L. Davrout, Chinese Characters, Ho-kien-fu: Catholic Mission Press, 1915.

 [25] New Haven, Conn. : American Oriental Society, 1994.

[26]  Chinese Writing, translated by Gilbert L. Mattos and Jerry Norman, Berkeley, Calif.: Society for the Study of Early China : Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2000.

[27] Chinese Calligraphy: an Introduction to its Aesthetics and Technique, London: Methuen, 1938; Chinese Calligraphers and their Art, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1966.

 [28] Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

 [29] Translated and adapted from the Japanese by Jeffrey Hunter, New York: Weatherhil/Tankosha, 1983.

 [30] Translated from the French by Jean-Marie Clarke and Michael Taylor, New York: Skira/Rizzoli, 1990.

 [31]  “Wei Fu-jen's Pi-chen t'u and the Early Texts on Calligraphy”, in Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America XVIII (1964), pp. 13-25.

 [32] Shu-p’u: Der Traktat zur Schriftkunst des Sun Kuo-t’ing, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1974.

[33] Two Chinese Treatises on Calligraphy, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

 [34] Shanghai: Shanghai bowuguan; Tokyo: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan, 2006.



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