Fatima WU

Wang Xianzhi created a unique style of calligraphy, yibishu, in which the characters were connected in one flowing brushstroke.

Wang Xianzhi ???, the youngest of Wang Xizhi’s ??? seven sons, was the only male in the family to follow in his father’s footsteps as a calligrapher. But the style Xianzhi created, called yibishu ???, or one-stroke writing, was unique and difficult to match, and it eventually elevated him beyond his father’s fame.

Wang Xianzhi (also known as “Wang Zijing”) was the seventh and youngest son of the master calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303?–379? CE); father and son are called the “two Wangs” of Chinese calligraphy. Xianzhi’s ancestors lived in Shangdong Province until his grandfather relocated to Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province, where Xianzhi was born. Unlike his father, who was adept in almost all calligraphic styles, such as standard (kai), running (xing), and cursive (cao), the junior Wang excelled at first only in cursive script.

Xianzhi was born when his father was forty-one. When his father died, Xianzhi was seventeen. Xianzhi then followed Zhangzhi (?–361 CE) as his teacher in the art of calligraphy. By combining running and cursive scripts Xianzhi created a style for which he became famous—later critics called it yibishu (one-stroke writing)—in which characters connect in one brushstroke in a free-flowing style. The yibishu became a model for calligraphic connoisseurs and practitioners who revered Wang Xianzhi’s accomplishments more than those of his father. Some of Wang Xianzhi’s famous works are available to us through traced copies, stone engravings, ink rubbings, and handwritten copies. Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322 CE), a later calligrapher, described Wang’s “Luoshenfu” (Song to the Goddess of the Riven Luo) in the standard script as “spirited and untrammeled, the tonality flows in motion” (Ecke, 1971). The thirteen-line fragment that survived shows a certain casualness and is less compact than the writing by Wang Xizhi.

Wang Xianzhi’s “Duck Head Pill Note” (yatouwantie, fifteen characters reproduced on silk in the Tang dynasty [618–907 CE]) and “Mid-Autumn Note” (zhongqiutie, twenty-two characters), both in the cursive-running style, were described by Mi Fu (1051–1107), the famous Song calligrapher, as “natural, true, transcendental, and untrammeled” (Harriet and Fong, 1999, 51). The Qing emperor Qianlong (reigned 1736–1795) included Wang’s works in his imperial collection and considered them a national treasure. The “Mad Cursive Script” (Kuangao) school, with Zhang Xu (flourished 713–740 CE) and Huaisu (737–798 CE) as its representatives, was also influenced by the work of Wang Xianzhi.

Wang Xianzhi served as secretary-general of the imperial court. Known for righteousness and integrity, Wang once refused an order by Xie An, the grand councilor, to write an inscription for a new hall. His reason was that the hall was built against the will of the people.

Legend tells that Wang had two wives and a concubine. His first wife was the daughter of his maternal uncle. They had a harmonious relationship until the Jin emperor selected Wang as his son-in-law; Wang was then compelled to divorce his wife and marry Princess Xinan. In his later years he took in a concubine, Taoye, with whom he had a meaningful relationship. Their love was the subject of a song he wrote for her entitled “Song of Taoye.”

Further Reading

Chen Tu. (2003). Chinese calligraphy: Cultural China series (R. Lingjuan, Trans.). Beijing: China International Press.

Ecke, T. Y. (1971). Chinese calligraphy. Boston: David R. Godine Publishers.

Harrist, R. E., Jr., & Fong, W. C. (1999). The embodied image: Chinese calligraphy from the John B. Elliott collection. Princeton, NJ: Art Museum, Princeton University.

Wang Xianzhi. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2008, from http://big5.cent.com.cn/China/surname/tribe/cw/wang-3.htm

Zhao Lengyue. (1993). Ten calligraphers. Taipei, Taiwan: World Cultures Publishers.

Source: Wu, Fatima. (2009). WANG Xianzhi. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2407–2408. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

WANG Xianzhi (Wáng Xiànzh? ???)|Wáng Xiànzh? ??? (WANG Xianzhi)

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