Apollo Magazine (UK)
The Unexpected Emergence of Li Bai’s Calligraphy Work Fu Shen, Famous Appraiser of Calligraphy and Paintings, Releases His Latest Research Result
Recently, Mr Fu Shen made public his latest research result on Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink. Mr Fu Shen, 83, is a famous Chinese art historian, appraiser of calligraphy and paintings, the former director of the Chinese Art Department of the Freer Gallery of Art, a steering committee member of Taipei Palace Museum, a concurrent professor of the Institute of Art History of Taiwan University, a visiting professor of Zhejiang University, and an honorary professor of Nanjing University.
Li Bai (701–762 AD) was a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. With the courtesy name of Taibai, as well as the pseudonyms of ‘Householder of Azure Lotus’ and ‘Banished Transcendent’, he was also regarded as the ‘Immortal Poet’ by later generations. When it comes to Li Bai’s calligraphy works, people are more familiar with the calligraphy scroll Going Up to Sun Terrace housed at the Palace Museum in Beijing. However, in Mr Fu Shen’s opinion, this calligraphy scroll, Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink by Li Bai, which has been lost overseas for many years, deserves more attention.
Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink is a piece of calligraphy work of the Tang Dynasty. The paper of the calligraphy scroll is 26.4cm in length and 67cm in width. There are 50 characters on the scroll in total, including the whole poem, saying ‘The ground is white, the wind is cold, and the snowflakes are as big as hands. Your refusal to drink wine in the cup will be laughable for Tao Yuanming. You are unworthy of the music played and the five willows planted. You let down your official title and make me feel that I mean nothing to you.’ The work was signed by Li Bai. In its material aspects, it has distinct characteristics of the Tang Dynasty: the paper used is probably hemp paper produced in Sichuan Province, which was mostly seen in the Tang Dynasty, and the writing was done with the deer hair brush of the Tang Dynasty. According to information from Japanese academic circles, Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink is inferred to have been be composed in the twelfth year of Tianbao in the Tang Dynasty (753 AD). It was held in the Purple Kwan-yin Temple in Dazaifu-shi, Fukuoka, Japan, for a long time. During the Edo Period, it became part of the private collection of the Hosokawa Family, which ruled the Kokura Domain. After several twists and turns since the Meiji Restoration, the calligraphy scroll was purchased by the Japanese ancient calligraphy collector Asuka Ninhwan and was stored in his library in Kyoto. In the 1980s, upon the request of the Japanese collector, many experts and scholars in the fields of ancient Chinese literature and museums, such as Qi Gong, Xie Zhiliu, Shi Zhuqing, Yan Shaodang, Sun Jing and Li Zhizhong conducted appraisals of, and research on, the work. They agreed that: ‘The calligraphic style of this work is unique, with complete form and spirit. All aspects embody the characteristics of the Tang Dynasty. The characteristics of the times are obvious, making it an extraordinary calligraphy work by a Tang calligrapher.’ After that, due to the onset of Japan’s economic crisis, the scroll was once again sold, to another collector, and faded out of the sight of Chinese scholars.
Now, invited by the Hong Kong Li Bai Poetry and Calligraphy Research Association, Mr Fu Shen has spent two years conducting in-depth research on Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink. According to him, this calligraphy scroll is extremely clean and pure in style. It has the skeleton of Ouyang Xun and Chu Suiliang, and has been somehow influenced by the Cao Zijian stele of the Wei Dynasty, as well as the writing styles of Sui and Northern Qi Dynasties. There are fifty characters in total on this calligraphy scroll, which was
likely written by Li Bai, in high spirits, while he was drinking with Magistrate Wang of Liyang County. The calligraphy is fluent and free. Li Bai expressed his feelings completely with every dip of the brush in ink. To write this poem, he dipped the brush in the ink six times. The size of each character varies and is unrestricted. Reading this work carefully is as exciting as watching a swordsman practicing with a sword. From the characters on the scroll, the talent of Li Bai as a genius and a swordsman of the generation was explicitly demonstrated, while the unique style of writing is exactly in line with his life as the Immortal Poet, Wine Immortal and swordsman. Through observation, the art of the composition of the scroll possesses the style of Jin and Tang Dynasties, which is exactly the same as Li Shimin’s inscriptions on the Jinci Tablet. When compared with Emperor Wu Zetian’s calligraphy on the stele of Prince Shengxian, both works, even in their subtle components like lift, press and so on, all demonstrate common features of the early Tang Dynasty calligraphy style, from the writing method to the characteristics.
According to Mr Fu Shen, in addition to the fact that the art of composition of Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink possesses the style of the Jin and Tang Dynasties, it also demonstrates the characters of calligraphy written with the short-tipped, hard-hair, paper-wrapped brush. The phenomenon that ‘the ink in the centre of the stroke is much thicker’ is extremely prominent in the characters ‘饮’ and ‘肯’ in the title of Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink. It can be seen that those ink lines in the centre of the strokes are not the traces of ink concentration caused by the centre stroke after the brush was fully dipped in ink. Instead, they are obviously scratches from a hard brush core. This confirms the presumption that the brush used was Jiju brush, a hard-core, paper-wrapped brush unique in the Tang Dynasty. The strokes are strong and firm. This characteristic is consistent with that of ink strokes written with Tang Dynasty hard-core brushes collected by the Shosoin in Japan. After the appearance of the Sanzhuo brush in the late Tang Dynasty, the hardcore, paper-wrapped brush became less and less popular, and was rarely seen in the Song Dynasty. This once again strongly proves that the style of calligraphy in this particular period was greatly influenced by the brush used, resulting in a writing style that was sharp, clumsy and naive yet natural. After several attempts, Mr Fu found out that only with the same hard-core brush of the Tang Dynasty can one reproduce the original style of the scroll.
Since the calligraphy scroll has been accessible for the last 30 years, Mr Fu and his research team, with a cautious attitude, have also tried to inspect this cultural relic using modern scientific and technological means. Through microscopic observation, it can be seen that the presentation of the ink and paper used for this calligraphy scroll is very similar to that of Volume VI of Sutra Explaining Undefiled Praise (c. 700 AD) and the lower part of the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra from the Sui Dynasty to early the Tang Dynasty. It can be concluded that the works were created in the same era. Through the carbon-14 test by the Comprehensive Research Institute of Geosciences of Japan Co., Ltd, it has been proved that the production time of the paper used is around 700 AD (± 30 years), which is basically consistent with the works of the Tang dynasty recorded in the literature.
After thorough research on the calligraphy scroll Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink, Mr Fu Shen and his research team have concluded that from the date of the paper and ink, the content of the poem, the firm strokes written with Tang brushes, the style of calligraphy and many other aspects, it can be asserted that the calligraphy scroll is Li Bai’s original work. Associated with the ‘Immortal Poet’ Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty, the calligraphy scroll is a treasure that has endured a long history. It is an important cultural relic for the study of the history, literature and art of the Tang Dynasty. It is also a witness to the long history of people-topeople exchanges between China and Japan in the Tang Dynasty and the significant influence of Chinese traditional culture on Japan for thousands of years. Bearing such historical and artistic values, it fully deserves the status of a national treasure and is important cultural heritage for all mankind.
Mr Fu Shen and his research team have compiled, organised and verified relevant materials and research results on this calligraphy and published two academic books, Textual Research on the Calligraphy Scroll ‘Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink’ by Li Bai and Masterpiece of Li Bai’s Era, and a thesis A Calligraphy Treasure by Tang Dynasty Poet Li Bai: ‘Taunting Magistrate Wang of Liyang County for Refusing to Drink’, which will be published in Chinese and English respectively in China and overseas. When it comes to the destination of this national treasure, Mr Fu Shen hopes now that large numbers of achievements have been made in rescuing lost Chinese cultural relics, relevant departments of China, on the basis of in-depth investigation and research, can promote the return of the scroll to China at an appropriate time and in an appropriate form, so as to safeguard this national treasure in China.