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Art Collecting in the Life of Northern Song Literati: Shared Awareness, Beliefs, and Aesthetic Values

KEDAO TONG, University of Toronto


This paper examines the fashion of art collecting in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) among the literati through a close reading of colophons, poems, letters and biographies written by a few elite literati collectors/connoisseurs. During the Song, art collecting and connoisseurship consolidated their position as part of the literati culture along with the burgeoning of the scholar-official class. Elite literati, such as Ouyang Xiu and Su Shi, actively participated in art collecting and left a large number of writings about their activities as art collectors and connoisseurs. What these writings suggest are that art collecting plays a vital role in the lives of these literati collectors; that they shared some common awareness, beliefs, and aesthetic values towards art collecting and connoisseurship; that they have a belief in the “spiritual functions” of art collecting; that they intend to use a moralistic approach in art evaluation along with an stress on novelty. These shared ideas, I believe, could at least reveal some popular thoughts about art collecting during this period as an integral part of the literati culture.


In the Northern Song Dynasty, art collecting, as in preceding dynasties, continued to be avidly practiced by different groups of people for various reasons but at an unprecedented level of engagement and universality. Among the different classes, the expanding literati class has played a key role in promoting the activity, and thanks in part to the introduction of the movable type printing system in this period, far more accounts and documents about their activities were preserved and passed down to us today. This innovation opens possibilities for modern day scholars to approach the tradition of art collecting in a close and comprehensive fashion based on textual analysis. Despite having distinct and sometimes hugely divergent views, I wish to argue that the literati collectors/connoisseurs shared some strikingly similar thoughts, more precisely, some shared awareness, beliefs, and aesthetic values in art collecting and connoisseurship. These writings not only contribute to show their identification as “elite” literati collectors but also reveal to us the worldly and vulgar side of their keen hobby of art collecting, which made them no different from the philistine folk collectors they despise, as manifested in their thoughts and practice.[1]


Destiny: the Sense of Disillusionment


Literati from this period left voluminous writings about art collecting in forms of prose, poetry, autobiography, colophon, and even letter, and one interesting similarly revealed in them is particularly noteworthy. The literati collectors are revealed to be occasionally caught in a sense of disillusionment, especially in the late years of their lives, bred by the vast collections they had obtained over the years. The sense of disillusionment derives from a clear awareness over the fate of their art collection that would eventually break up and lose. Indeed, this is a repeatedly discussed theme in the writings of a series of prominent literati collectors, including primarily Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072)[2] and Su Shi (1037-1101)[3] – perhaps the two most prominent cultural figures for the entire Northern Song, and the renowned woman poet Li Qingzhao (1084-ca.1155)[4] whose writings offers a rare female voice, all of which, I surmise, could shed considerable light on at least the mainstream thoughts on this theme.


Ouyang Xiu, in his preface to colophons on Collection of Antiquity, explicitly addressed his concern of eventual loss. At one time, he writes: “When material things are accumulated in such quantity, it is difficult to keep the collection intact, and that sooner or later it will inevitably be broken up and scattered about. [1][5] His awareness over the destiny of his loved collection is certainly evident. Evidence for this is that in this quite brief preface Ouyang repeatedly comments on this theme, for three times in total, thus making his idea even apparent. In the same text, he writes: “Knowing that a collection as large as this is bound eventually to be broken up”. [2][6] In another case, he comments again: “Are not accumulations of ivory…gold and jade also bound to be scattered about eventually?” [3][7] Ouyang’s comment about his awareness over the “doomed” destiny of his collections of rubbings is a rather straightforward one if we compare them with that of Su Shi, the celebrated writer a generation after Ouyang. Su Shi develops a more sophisticated theory on this theme that often contains acute criticism seen through the various admonitory inscriptions (ji 记) and critical poems he has written to his friends like Mi Fu[8], the fanatic collector, towards their sick obsession.


The example below from his Ink Marvels Pavilion, an inscription he wrote to Sun Xinlao, typifies Su’s view, where he makes the point that things, like the collected art works, are bound to be lost: “When there are accomplished things there are also incomplete ones, like that of people’ life and death, state’s rise and fall…this is called understating destiny.” [4][9] On another occasion, he wrote Mi Fu a poem, saying: “Don’t you see: in Chang’an’s Yongning Ward, does anyone bother to repair the Wang’s broken walls?” [5][10] Here he makes reference to a certain Wang Ya during the Tang Dynasty who stored his collection in the space between the walls of his house which was subsequently ruined during warfare. It is the wording and diction filled with sorrow and taunt in the form of rhetorical question used here that reveals a trace of disillusionment as well as admonition. There is little doubt that here Su intends to use the story of Wang Ya to warn Mi Fu, yet we cannot deny the sense of regret at the destruction of the precious art works by warfare from the perspective of an avid collector.


One point worth noting in Su Shi’s comments as to why he writes so critically, where an awareness over the destiny of collection is also evident, is that he has so clear and strong an awareness that he could not help delivering criticism to those close friends he thinks to be overly obsessed with art collecting. Nevertheless, it appears to me that Su is not so much an expansive and open-minded person who really “understands destiny” (zhi ming 知命) as he claimed himself to be; Instead he remains somewhat attached to the fancy of art collecting. Mi Fu records that Su Shi, in the last days of his life, has enjoined his son to bury with him after death a precious Purple Golden Ink stone he had borrowed from Mi, a worldly practice vulgar people often exercise. That which Su himself used to despise.[11]
In the case of Li Qingzhao, as Stephen Owen points out, we see a “‘consolation philosophy’ of alternating gain and loss” at work,[12] besides the similar awareness over the destiny of her extensive collection. In the epilogue to The Records on Metal and Stone, she writes: “When there is possession, there must be loss of possession; when there is a gathering together, there must be a scattering – this is the constant principle in things”. [6][13] This is a generally similar (compared to Ouyang and Su) but slightly variant claim in that Li, while acknowledging the principle of eventual loss, endeavors to come up with a consolatory interpretation that can help her accept the cruel reality that only a tiny fraction of the once-enormous collection survived when she finally settled down in Zhejiang. [7][14] All the valuable ones were forever lost, and the ones left were incomplete. The story of obtaining a great collection and eventually losing it is just like, as she puts it: “someone loses a bow; another person finds a bow. There is nothing special in that”. [8][15] At this stage of life (about fifty years old), it seems that Li Qingzhao has become disillusioned with art collecting, and come to realize how illusory and pointless it could be, after going through so many calamities especially the heartbroken death of her husband in the war period.
Spiritual Significance: Spiritual Enjoyment and Aesthetic Attraction
Being fully aware of the destiny of the collection, then, why are the scholars still so fond of art collecting? Besides, as mentioned earlier, attachment and crazed obsession in art collecting is a topic constantly discussed by literati collectors. Ouyang is particularly concerned about being labeled as a “vulgar” collector who loves gathering things like gold and ivoryfor the sole purpose of ostentation or as a fad – a theme Su Shi went deep into.[16] This is not to suggest, however, that art collecting serves as a mere avocation to them, instead, the hobby of art collecting and the collection that they gathered often mean something of great spiritual importance. I attempt to show that what incurred their interests, converted them to enthusiastic collectors, and more importantly sustained their interests throughout the years with a clear awareness of eventual scattering in mind, was indeed a kind of “spiritual” enjoyment (as well as aesthetic attractions) they found in doing so. Art collecting not only help them dispel worries of worldly affairs for a moment but illuminate them in the realm of self-cultivation.


To counter the query on why bother collecting these steles and rubbings with an awareness that they are bound to be lost, Ouyang writes, “I can only say, by way of reply, that doing so supplies me with what I enjoy” [9][17] It appears that, to Ouyang, the true happiness derived from it is the most fundamental. Elsewhere, he writes with plenty of emotion and affectionateness:
“Oh, how could I ever describe it to you! When I am enjoying myself with my five possessions, Mt. T’ai could loom up in front of me and I would not notice it, thunderclaps could shatter pillars beside me and I would not flinch. To perform the nine kinds of music in the wilds around Tung-t’ing Lake, to watch a great battle on the Cho-lu Plain – even those pastimes would not yield such joy and pleasure as I derive from my five possessions.” [10][18]


Such an expressive statement is indeed not frequently seen in Ouyang’s writings. His deep fondness for art collecting is made clear through the metaphors and hyperboles, which calls into question his defense of the motives for collecting (i.e. the historiographical and didactic purpose and the idea of “loving antiquity”[19]). It is true that Ouyang himself is an outstanding historian, yet given such an intense level of emotion, feeling and delight as seen in the above quote, it’s hard to assume that the exhilaration is purely derived from, for example, correcting an historical fact thanks to a certain rubbing as a historian. Also, we have evidence that this level of cheerfulness and devotion is not occasional but long-lasting, since the very first day he started his collection. In a letter he wrote to his friend, the distinguish calligrapher Cai Xiang[20], he admits that: “Whether I was beset by worries and grief or overcome by a sense of helplessness and pressing demands, never for a single day did I forget my collection. [11][21] This last statement reveals to us the “spiritual” function of art collecting, especially taking into account the fact this piece was written late in his life after retirement. Art collecting becomes a relief for Ouyang, the ill-fortuned scholar. Not simply a pastime, art collecting is also a thing that he always turns to so as to disencumber worldly concerns as a sort of spiritual comfort.


Art collecting plays a strikingly similar role in Su Shi’s life. Su, like his mentor, is a dejected officer who has experienced numerous ups and downs in his career. Su’s deep bond to art collection is best seen through his peculiar fondness for the Qiu Pool stones, the two jade-like miniature stones. As natural as stones, the Qiu Pool stones contain no aesthetic value in the sense that they are not produced by artists like that of painting and calligraphy. Moreover, these stone contain virtually no ethical, historiographical value or practical value. On the aesthetic level, it seems that attractions only come from their lovely and intricate appearance:“One of them is green, which (has a texture) like the meandering hills and mountain ranges, with a cave extending to the back; one of them is as white as a jade that reflect a gleam…” [12][22] Is this the only reason why they were so cherished by Su? What’s the difference between the two stones and other naturally-formed and beautiful-looking stones? Like many other scholars, we may find a hint from its name: the Qiu Pool Stone. Qiu Pool, a legendary place he dreamt of one night, is considered to be a blessed place like Peach Blossom Spring in Tao Qian’s famous prose[23]. Su writes: “I really hope I can live in Qiu Pool after I turn old.” [13][24] The implication is that he really wants to escape the present world and find a place where he can free himself from worldly concerns, leading a simple and carefree life. The stones perhaps are able to help Su attain this goal, at least temporarily, by immersing himself into a marvelous world of imagination; that’s why he placed the stones in a basin filled with water so that they can be viewed conveniently. By simply taking a look at them, he confessed that he was already besotted by their beauty [14].[25]A special and exclusive meaning is attached to the stones in that they become a symbol of a paradise like Peach Blossom Spring. Su pins his hope to obtain spiritual freedom extravagantly on the two little stones.


On a deeper level, art collecting may contribute to one’s self-cultivation and refinement of mind. Two ideas need to be introduced first. First, art collecting is essentially an activity. In this sense, it is no different from calligraphy and painting that are deemed as “high” arts. All these activities require interactions with certain “things”: art works to be collected (i.e. works of calligraphy and painting). Thus, the problems of art collecting are often associated with “things”. The second point is that practicing calligraphy and painting has long been associated with learning of the Way – the Ultimate Reality in many Chinese philosophical traditions.[26] The underlying philosophy behind this line of thinking has been reviewed by Ronald Egan and Peter K Bol. The idea is that what’s transcendent like the Way is also immanent, substantial and experiential. Some kinds of personal involvement in certain activities such as painting and calligraphy are required in the attainment of the Way. It is wrong headed to pursue the Way “to the neglect of worldly knowledge and action.”[27] Thus we observe a dialectical relationship of involving/experiencing and transcending in the attainment of spiritual enlightenment (I will discuss a similar dialectical relationship in the next section). What I want to emphasize therefore is that art collecting, as a kind of activity, may (lead to or) be conducive to one’s self-cultivation. Su Shi once writes: “Who can be as worthy as this gentleman from Puyang (Wu Deren)? /drinking wine and eating meat, he naturally becomes a transcendent. All his life has lodged in things but never dwell in them, /residing at home he has mastered the meditation of forgetting home”. [15][28] The first couplet where the reference to “meditation” is made makes it clear that Su Shi is referring to a kind of self-cultivation and it is the second couplet that fits the involving-transcending dialectics. The ideal mind state of “lodging in things (i.e. involving) yet never dwelling in them (i.e. transcending)”, a fundamental principle in art collecting to Su,[29] is much like practicing the seemingly paradoxical forgetting-home meditation at home. In other words, art collecting can play a similar role like that of meditation on the spiritual level, since both activities share a similar ideal state of mind.



Aesthetic Values in Connoisseurship and Art Collecting


In the Song, emerging literati culture contributed to foster more refined theories on the aesthetics in terms of art collecting and connoisseurship. Among them, two aesthetic values or fundamental principles are worth special treatment.


The first major aesthetic value or principle that becomes commonplace during this time was a peculiar emphasis on the moral claim, associating assessment of art works with the artists’ moral excellence. This moralistic approach creates correspondence in scholar-collectors’ minds between the value of the art works such as calligraphy and painting and the artists’’ personality or moral integrity (not necessarily the artists’ deeds as exemplified in early art criticism as argued by Ronald Egan) of the artists, unavoidable, the latter of which was believed to be identifiable in the art works. We see in Ouyang Xiu’s colophons numerous such statements towards the outstanding Tang calligrapher Yan Zhenqing[30], who developed a rugged and forceful style, which is thought to represent his unyielding and upright character. Fondness for Yan’s calligraphy is pretty obvious as reflected in Ouyang’s collection, for colophons on Yan’s works occupied one of the total ten volumes of his Collection of Antiquities. Here I do not intend to discuss the conventional case of Yan, since too many scholars have written on this; I would turn to Ouyang’s Bi shuo where he conveys a similar argument, much like a summary of his ethic-aesthetic approach. He indicates that “all men of the old ages were capable of calligraphy, however, only those of the men of the worthies were passed down. Even if Master Yan has a bad writing, people see his calligraphy in posterity will treasure it…Loving someone’s (this refers to Li Jianzhong[31]) calligraphy because of his manner and character.”[16][32] Here Ouyang emphasizes the deciding role played by the artist’s personality in art evaluation by making a bold statement that even if calligraphy of Yan Zhenqing is not good, it will still be treasured simply because it was written by a noble man.


Su Shi has made similar statements. The colophon below on a work of calligraphy of Ouyang Xiu typifies Su’s moralistic view: “Respecting the man, loving his characters, the worthiness of master Wenzhong (i.e. Ouyang Xiu) is well-known to the World”. [17][33] The similarity between Su and Ouyang’s thought on this topic is evident. On another occasion, Su comments on a painting by Li Boshi,[34] linking the marvelousness of the brushstroke that fits naturally (upon seeing it) with the artist’s character, or in this case his cultivated nature and moral, spiritual accomplishment.[18][35] More explicit examples describing how Su Shi was reminded of the characters of artists in appreciating art works could be found in his poems and colophons addressed to Wen Tong[36] or Li Gonglin, as master of bamboo and horse respectively, which are meaningful and typical subject matters in the traditions of shi ren (literati 士人) painting (a term coined by Su) that embody certain moral and cultural associations. Both Ouyang and Su justified their ethic-aesthetic approach and the logic of self-revelation in art on the ground that there exists “something” in the presented art works beyond the superficial brushwork that cannot be consciously elaborated or replicated but is related to the artists’ inner qualities, excellence of mind as well as knowledge resulting from self-cultivation. From Ouyang Xiu to Su and Su’s disciple Huang Tingjian[37], the exact terms used by each individual scholar to refer to that elusive and impalpable “something” varied, ranging from qi 气 (vital force/energy, according to Ouyang Xiu), qu 趣 (interest/taste), shen cai 神采 (spiritual vividness/character, according to Su Shi), and yun 韵 (artistic conception/spiritual resonance, according to Huang Tingjian). Nevertheless, the continuity in terms of the way of thinking on that “mystical something” is identifiable. From the point of view of a scholar collector/connoisseur, later Huang Tingjian went further to assert that “the ultimate effect of the painting depends on the artist’s insights”, the quality of which is valued in connoisseurship as well.[38] Susan Bush even argues that Huang is indeed more a moralist collector/connoisseur than his mentor Su Shi. Despite fondness for the moralistic approach, they were also well aware of the defects and danger of such ways of thinking. However, the limited scope of this paper does not permit a discussion of these dangers.


The second essential characteristic of North Song aesthetic values on connoisseurship and art collecting is the stress on the virtue of novelty, or “yielding new meanings”(chu xin yi 出新意) in Su Shi’s own words.[39] Ouyang Xiu, perhaps partly influenced by the values of the Guwen (Ancient Prose 古文)Movement[40], has expressed concerns about simply coping and imitating ancient calligraphic models, especially the Two Wangs[41], encouraged by the canonization project promoted by the Song court. Ouyang and other guwen scholars considered Yan Zhenqing’s block style as a welcome alternative (not exactly as an innovation[42]) to the prevailing elegant, cursive Two Wang style. Although his call for novelty in the field of calligraphy remains somewhat vague compared to the generation of Su Shi, the theoretical tendency is not hard to see. In fact, Ouyang Xiu did make a few explicit pronouncements. “Calligraphers should develop their own style, those works that imitated others’ are called slavish calligraphy”, he argued. [19][43] He harshly criticizes the so-called slavish calligraphers who do not know how to innovate but simply imitate.


When it comes to the generation of Su Shi, increasingly aware of the centrality of “novelty”, Su even puts his theory into practice and develops his own “fat” style of calligraphy, apart from writings extensively which mainly took the form of colophons like previous collectors. His style is different from both the Yan’s style and the Two Wangs style, and it does not go uncriticized even in his own lifetime.[44] What we see from the slogan “yielding new meanings,” as mentioned earlier, is more than a simple accent on “novelty.” Instead, what I want to stress is a refined dialectics between studying the ancient models and creating the new, which can also be found in Ouyang Xiu’s writings, who, as an adamant supporter of the Tang calligraphy, never denies the importance of studying. Su Shi writes:


The wise men create things, the capable men transmit…Thereupon Du Zimei (Du Fu)[45] marks the acme of poetry, Han Tuizhi (Han Yu) marks the acme of literature, Yan Lugong marks the acme of calligraphy, Wu Daozi[46] marks the acme of painting…Yielding new meanings beyond laws and regulations, entrusting marvelous principles beyond the bold and unfettered…For other people’s paintings, I may not be able to tell. As for Daozi, I can simply tell the authenticity by looking at it.” [20][47]


According to the above passage, first of all, Su Shi approves the virtue of novelty or creativity, which accounts for the supreme status of Du, Han, Yan, and Wu held in each field. This emphasis is also shown by the allusion to the Analects at the beginning.[48] Elsewhere, Su seems to echo this piece and offers an explanation to the above passage himself, he writes: “The calligraphy of Yan Lugong is powerful and special which transformed the ancient model, as the poems of Du Zimei having pattern and strength received from heaven…The calligraphy of Liu Shaoshi (Gongquan)[49] originates from Yan’s work, yet they yield new meanings”. [21][50] From these two passages, we observe that Su has put an emphasis on the dialectical relationship between studying and innovating. The implication is that innovation relies upon “the laws”;[51] Innovation is important, yet study is essential. The basic models and the fundamental laws have to be studied first. This is what Su Shi called “transforming early models” (bian gu fa 变古法).[52] It is a “transformation”, not a conception. This illuminates Su Shi harsh criticism on the “wild” style of the Tang calligraphers Huai Su[53] and Zhang Xu[54] who ridiculed and subverted the early models and created new ways of writing. [22][55] Nevertheless, we see in Su’s mind a balance between studying and innovating like Ouyang Xiu. Su’s disciple Huang Tingjian holds the same view that study is crucial, which partly explains why he is so fond of collecting ancient rubbings as well.[56]


In the North Song Dynasty, as part of the emerging literati culture, art collecting played a key role in life of the literati on both social and personal level. Numerous elite scholar-officials participated in this activity and wrote extensively about their collection and the fashion of art collecting. Their views and attitudes toward art collecting are made manifest through these writings, including colophons, poems, biographies, and letters. By analyzing these accounts, I attempt to show that there are some shared some awareness, beliefs, and aesthetic values in terms of art collecting. First, they have a clear awareness accompanied by a sense of disillusionment that their collection would eventually break up. Second, art collecting usually means something of spiritual significance. It could function as a source of comfort and relief, helping the scholars to get rid of worldly concerns; it can even contribute to self-cultivation. Also we see fondness for moralistic approach and stress on novelty in the evaluation of art works. In conclusion the case of art collecting in the North Song Dynasty begs us to ask, what forces dictate our aesthetic preferences?


Chinese Texts

  1. 物多则其势难聚,聚久而无不散
  2. 又以谓聚多而终必散
  3. 象犀金玉之聚,其能果不散乎
  4. 物之有成必有坏,譬如人之有生必有死,而国之有兴必有亡也…此之谓知命。
  5. 君不见长安永宁里,王家破垣谁复修
  6. 足吾所好,玩而老焉可也
  7. 吾之乐可胜道哉!方其得意于五物也,泰山在前而不见,疾雷破柱而不惊;虽响九奏于洞庭之野,阅大战于涿鹿之原,未足喻其乐且适也
  8. 中间虽罪戾摈斥,水陆奔走,颠危困踣,兼之人事吉凶,忧患悲愁,无聊仓卒,未尝一日忘也
  9. 其一绿色,冈峦迤逦,有穴达于背;其一玉白可鉴
  10. 老人真欲住仇池
  11. 汲水埋盆故自痴
  12. 谁似濮阳公子贤,饮酒食肉自得仙。平生寓物不留物,在家学得忘家禅
  13. 古之人皆能书,独其人之贤者传遂远…使颜公书虽不佳,后世见者必宝也…爱其书者兼取其为人也
  14. 敬其人,爱其字,文忠公之贤,天下皆知
  15. 非有道之士不能为
  16. 书当自成一家之体,其模仿他人谓之奴书
  17. 智者创物,能者述焉…故诗至于杜子美,文至于韩退之,书至于颜鲁公,画至于吴道子…出新意于法度之中,寄妙理于豪放之外…余于他画,或不能必其主名,至于道子,望而知其真伪也
  18. 颜鲁公书,雄秀独出,一变古法,如杜子美诗,格力天纵…柳少师书,本出于颜,而能自出新意
  19. 真生行,行生草,真如立,行如行,草如走,未有未能行立而能走者也。



Bol, Peter Kees.“This Culture of Ours”: Intellectual Transitions in Tʼang and Sung China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.


Bush, Susan. “The Views of North Sung Literati.” InThe Chinese Literati on Painting; Su Shih (1037-1101) to Tung Ch’i-ch’ang (1555-1636), 29-51. Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1971.


Egan, Ronald C. “Calligraphy and Painting.” InWord, Image, and Deed in the Life of Su Shi, 261-309. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1994.


Egan, Ronald C.The Literary Works of Ou-yang Hsiu (1007-72). Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: New York : Cambridge University Press, 1984.


Egan, Ronald C. “Ou-yang Hsiu and Su Shih on Calligraphy.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies49, no. 2 (December 1989): 365-419. http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/2719258.


Egan, Ronald.The Problem of Beauty: Aesthetic Thought and Pursuits in Northern Song Dynasty China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006. 7-236.


Li, Fushun.Su Shi Yu Shu Hua Wen Xian Ji. Beijing: Rong Bao Zhai Chu Ban She, 2007.


Ouyang, Xiu.Ouyang Wen Zhong Gong Wen Ji. Si Bu Cong Kan ed. Shanghai: Shang Wu Ying Shu Guan, 1958.


Owen, Stephen.An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.


Owen, Stephen. Remembrances: The Experience of the past in Classical Chinese Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.


Su, Shi. Su Shi Shi Ji. Compiled by Wengao Wang. Edited by Fanli Kong and Yingliu Feng. Beijing: Zhong Hua Shu Ju, 1982.


Su, Shi.Su Shi Wen Ji. Compiled by Wei Mao. Edited by Fanli Kong. Beijing: Zhong Hua Shu Ju, 1986.


“米芾的書畫世界 The Calligraphic World of Mi Fu’s Art.” National Palace Museum, Taipei. http://tech2.npm.gov.tw/mifu/zh-tw/a/index.aspx?content=a_7_21.





[1] Unless otherwise stated, the version of Ouyang Xiu’s writings cited in this paper is based on The Complete works of Ouyang Xiu(Ouyang wen zhong gong wen ji欧阳文忠公文集): Ouyang, Xiu.Ouyang Wen Zhong Gong Wen Ji. Si Bu Cong Kan ed. Shanghai: Shang Wu Ying Shu Guan. For this part, the volume numbers are provided in footnotes.Most of Su Shi’s colophons cited in this paper are that contained in The Complete Works of Su Shi (Su Shi wen ji苏轼文集): Su, Shi.Su Shi Wen Ji. Edited by Fanli Kong. Compiled by Wei Mao. Beijing: Zhong Hua Shu Ju, 1986. The volume numbers and exact item numbers are offered in footnotes. I also look at a collection of Su Shi’s writings on painting and calligraphy (Su Shi yu shu hua wen xian ji苏轼与书画文献集): Li, Fushun. Su Shi Yu Shu Hua Wen Xian Ji. Beijing: Rong Bao Zhai Chu Ban She, 2007. For this part, the exact page numbers are given in footnotes. The a few poems of Su Shi cited here are from The Complete Poems of Su Shi(Su Shi shi ji苏轼诗集):Su, Shi.Su Shi Shi Ji. Compiled by Wengao Wang. Edited by Fanli Kong and Yingliu Feng. Beijing: Zhong Hua Shu Ju, 1982. The volume numbers and exact item numbers are provided in footnotes.

[2] Ouyang Xiu欧阳修(courtesy name Yongshu永叔, Wenzhong文忠 is his posthumous name), a statement, historian, reputable writer best known for his prose and poetry, was also a leader of the Ancient/Classical Prose Movement (see footnote 37) and is recognized as one of the so-called Eight Masters of the Tang and the Song Dynasty (Tang Song ba da jia唐宋八大家) since the late Ming Dynasty.

[3] Su Shi苏轼(courtesy name Zizhan子瞻, pseudonym Dongpo东坡), an all-around talented writer best famed as a great essayist and poet, was also an outstanding calligrapher and painter. His works enjoyed great popularity in China and was also listed as one of the Eight Masters. As a political figure, he sides with the conservatist Sima Guang and strongly opposes the New Policies of Wang Anshi.

[4] Li Qingzhao李清照, one of the most famed women writers in the history of Chinese literature best known for her lyrical poems (ci poetry). Her husband, Zhao Mingcheng赵明诚(1081-1129), an official and scholar, was also a great art collector and connoisseur and the author of The Record of Metal and Stone (Jin shi lu金石录) which is a complete record of his collection on ancient bronze vessels and stone inscriptions.

[5] Here I am following the translation of Ronald Egan, so do the following quotes from the preface集古录目序. For a complete translation of the text, see Ronald Egan, The Problem of Beauty: Aesthetic Thought and Pursuits in Northern Song Dynasty China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006), pp. 11-13.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Mi Fu米芾(1051-1107), was a great Northern Song calligrapher and painter. He is best known as a calligrapher and is commonly recognized as one of Four Masters of the Song. He was a close friend of Su Shi, and was often considered as a man of eccentric personality and a fanatic art collector.

[9]Su Shi, “Mo miao ting ji” 墨妙亭记, Su Shi Yu Shu Hua Wen Xian Ji, pp. 61.

[10]. Su Shi, Ci yun mi fu er wang shu ba wei(qi er) 次韵米芾二王书跋尾(其二), Su Shi Yu Shu Hua Wen Xian Ji p.91. The translation used here is from: Ronald Egan, Problem of Beauty, pp. 203.

[11] For the complete account, see “The Calligraphic World of Mi Fu’s Art,”米芾的書畫世界National Palace Museum, Taipei., Zi Jin Yan Tie 紫金研帖, http://tech2.npm.gov.tw/mifu/zh-tw/a/index.aspx?content=a_7_21.

[12] Stephen Owen,Remembrances: The Experience of the past in Classical Chinese Literature(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 95.

[13] Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911(New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), pp. 596.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] For an in-depth analysis on this point, see Ronald Egan,The Problem of Beauty: Aesthetic Thought and Pursuits in Northern Song Dynasty China(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006), pp. 174-178.

[17] See footnote 5, pp. 14.

[18] Ouyang Xiu, “Liu yi ju shi zhuan” 六一居士传, Ouyang Wen Zhong Gong Wen Ji,v. 44. I am following the translation of Ronald C. Egan in theThe Literary Works of Ou-yang Hsiu (1007-72)(Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 223. The five possessions mentioned here refer to his collection and other hobbies.

[19] On this topic, see the chapter 1 in Ronald Egan, The Problem of Beauty.

[20] Cai Xiang蔡襄(1012-1067), a renowned Northern Song calligrapher and official known for his elegant and delicate style, and is traditionally considered to be one of the Four Masters of the Song.

[21] Ouyang Xiu, “Yu Cai Junmo qiu shu ji gu lu mu xu shu” 与蔡君谟求书集古录目序书, Ouyang Wen Zhong Gong Wen Ji, v.70. The translation is from: Ronald Egan, Problem of Beauty, pp. 23.

[22] Su Shi “Shuang shi bing xu” 双石并序, Su Shi Shi Ji, v. 35.1880.

[23] This refers to Tao Qian’s “The Account on the Peach Blossom Spring”.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] For an example, see: Su Shi, “Ba Qin Shaoyou Shu” 跋秦少游书, Su Shi Wen Ji, v. 69.2194.

[27] Egan, Problem of Beauty, pp. 182. Also: Peter Kees. Bol, “This Culture of Ours”: Intellectual Transitions in Tʼang and Sung China(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 274-277.

[28] I translated the first couplet myself. For the second couplet I follow Ronald Egan’s translation. Ronald Egan, Problem of Beauty, pp. 181. Su Shi, “Ji Wu Deren Jian Jian Chen Jichang” 寄吴德仁兼简陈季常, Su Shi Shi Ji, v. 25.1341.

[29] For discussion on Su’s view on “things”, see Egan, Problem of Beauty, pp. 178-188.

[30] Yan Zhenqing颜真卿(709-785), a leading Tang Dynasty calligrapher and official known for his block, forceful style, as a parallel to the elegant style of the Two Wangs. For an introduction on the Two Wangs, see footnote 41.

[31] Li Jianzhong李建中(945-1013), was an early Northern Song official and calligrapher.

[32] Ouyang Xiu, “Shi ren zuo fei zi shuo” 世人作肥字说 in “Bi shuo”笔说(Bi shuo is that contained in Ouyang Wen Zhong Gong Wen Ji, v. 129.).

[33] Su Shi, “Ba Chen Yingzhong ti zhu biao chen Ougong tie” 跋陈莹中题朱表臣欧公帖, Su Shi Wen Ji, 69.2200.

[34] Li Boshi李伯时(1049-1106), also known as Li Gonglin(Gonglin公麟was his courtesy name), was a leading painter of the Song Dynasty and was particularly known for painting horses.

[35]Su Shi, “Ba Li Boshi Xiao jing tu” 跋李伯时孝经图, Su Shi Wen Ji, v.70. 2217.

[36] Wen Tong文同(1018-1079), a famous Northern Song poet and painter. He was indeed a relative of Su Shi and was known for painting bamboo.

[37] Huang Tingjian黄庭坚(1045-1105), an outstanding poet and calligrapher. Best known as a poet and one of the founding figures of the Jiangxi School of Poetry, he was thought to be one of the four greatest calligraphers of the Song.

[38] Susan Bush, “The Views of North Sung Literati,” inThe Chinese Literati on Painting; Su Shih (1037-1101) to Tung Ch’i-ch’ang (1555-1636)(Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 46.

[39] Su Shi, “Shu Wu Daozi hua hou” 书吴道子画后, Su Shi Wen Ji, v. 70.2210.

[40] The guwen Movement during the Song was led by a series of eminent writers of the time, including Ouyang Xiu, Wang Anshi, Su Shi and many others. Initiated by Han Yu韩愈(768-824) and Liu Zongyuan柳宗元(773-819) in the late Tang, the Movement calls for a return to the pre-Han (and Han) style of prose writing and advocates directness, clarity and preciseness, rather than the ornate and inane parallel prose style flourishing at the time.

[41] The Two Wangs refers to the great Eastern Jin calligrapher Wang Xizhi王羲之(303-361) and his son Wang Xianzhi王献之(344-386), both of whom are among the most outstanding figures in the tradition of Chinese calligraphy.

[42] See Ronald C. Egan, “Ou-yang Hsiu and Su Shih on Calligraphy,”Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies49, no. 2 (December 1989): pp. 413, http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/2719258.413

[43] Ouyang Xiu, “Xue Shu cheng zi jia shuo” 学书自成家说, Ouyang Wen Zhong Gong Wen Ji, v. 129

[44] See Ronald C. Egan, “Calligraphy and Painting,” inWord, Image, and Deed in the Life of Su Shi(Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1994), pp.273.

[45] Du Fu杜甫(712-770), the prominent Tang poet, was considered by some as the all-time greatest of the Classical Chinese poetry. His poetry is often a reflection of his compassion for the times and dynastic fortunes, his moral integrity and deep concerns for the ordinary people.

[46] Wu Daozi吴道子(680-ca.706), also known as Wu Daoxuan道玄, was a great Tang painter particularly known for religious themes and mural painting, and was given by some the honorific title “the Sage of Painting”.

[47] See footnote 39.

[48] This refers to the last sentence of the paragraph and the famous line in the Analects: “I transmit, but I do not create.” (shu er bu zuo述而不作, from The Analects, 7.1). Translation by the author.

[49] Namely Liu Gongquan柳公权(778-865), was an eminent late Tang calligrapher. Shaoshi少师is his nickname given his official title. As a master of the regular script, he is often juxtaposed with Yan Zhenqing.

[50] Su Shi, “Shu Tang hi liu jia shu hou” 书唐氏六家书后, Su Shi Wen Ji, v. 69.2206.

[51] “Yielding new meanings beyond laws and regulations” (chu xin yi yu fa du zhi zhong出新意于法度之中).

[52] Egan, Calligraphy, pp. 412

[53] Huai Su怀素(737-799), famous Tang calligrapher and Buddhist monk known for the rather informal “cursive” or “wild cursive” script characterized by roughness and boldness.

[54] Zhang Xu张旭(675-ca.750), famous Tang calligrapher known as a master of the “cursive script” and is often paired with Zhang Xu as two great masters of this script.

[55] For Su’s critique on “wild writings”, see Su Shi, “Shu Tang hi liu jia shu hou” 书唐氏六家书后, Su Shi Wen Ji, v. 69.2206.

[56] For a detailed discussion on Huang Tingjian’s view on this point, see Egan, Su shi, pp. 274.