For the first time in roughly 40 years, a Tang dynasty (618-907) copy of original handwriting by Wang Xizhi has been found in Japan. Much thanks to the blog Heritage of Japan for re-posting the Japan Times article about it, and thus bringing it to my attention.
Right: The newly re-discovered work.
Wang Xizhi (303-361) remains today the most highly esteemed calligrapher in Chinese history. All calligraphers since then have either revered and emulated his style, or intentionally, purposefully, rejected it. In other words, his is the standard to aspire to, or to compare creative innovation against. His most famous work, and thus arguably, quite possibly, the most famous work in all of Chinese calligraphy, is the Orchid Pavilion Preface, composed in 353 at a now-famous gathering of scholars and artists at a garden / vacation villa called the Orchid Pavilion (蘭亭, C: Lanting). That piece of calligraphy was so treasured by the Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong (r. 626-649) that he had himself buried with it.
No original works by the hand of Wang Xizhi himself survive today, but numerous later copies, meticulously copied by later Chinese calligraphers, do survive. It is unclear from the Japan Times article whether the piece just discovered is the only known copy of this particular text, three lines of 24 characters total, but the article does indicate that this discovery could help contribute to our better understanding of Wang’s hand, and thus of Chinese calligraphy as a whole. The work, which likely came to Japan via the embassies sent to China by the Yamato (Japanese) Court, was long believed to have been an original composition by a Japanese calligrapher; experts at the Tokyo National Museum, re-discovering the work in a private collection in Japan, have determined that it is in fact by a Chinese calligrapher, and a copy of Wang Xizhi’s hand.
Exciting finds. It would be wonderful if this were to be exhibited in upcoming months, keeping museumgoers (i.e. the public) in the loop as to new discoveries, and perhaps encouraging their excitement about such discoveries. The article makes no mention of any such plans.
Detail of a copy of Wang Xizhi’s Orchid Pavilion Preface.