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Bu Shang Commenting on the Classics (Bu Shang dushu tie)

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Period: Tang dynasty (618–907)
Medium: Ink on paper
Format: Album leaf

Calligrapher(s): Ouyang Xun (557–641)

Dimensions: Height: 25.7 cm; width: 16.5 cm

Taken from The Great Commentary on the Book of Documents (Shangshu dazhuan), this composition describes a scene in which Bu Shang (act. fifth century BCE, courtesy name Zixia) discusses his reading of The Book of Documents (Shangshu, also known as The Classic of History) with his master Confucius (ca. 551–479 BCE). More commonly known by his courtesy name Zixia, Bu Shang was a disciple of Confucius and a man of the State of Wei (1040–209 BCE) during the Spring and Autumn period (770–475 BCE). The two often engaged in philosophical discourse on a variety of topics.

Believed to have been written by the calligrapher Ouyang Xun (557–641) during the Tang dynasty (618–907), it was included in “Miscellaneous Literature: Studying” (Zawen bu: dushu), the fifty-fifth chapter (juan) in a work called Literature (Yiwen leiju) that Ouyang himself edited. Some textual discrepancies are apparent when compared to the original passage. Written in regular script (kaishu), the work has fifty-three characters in six columns. With a lavish use of ink, it is a copy of the original produced using a technique in which the artist traced the characters before filling them with ink (called shuanggou kuotian). The calligraphy shows that the artist strictly adhered to certain conventions but not at the cost of the lively style manifested in the original. The slanting shapes and square turns in the beginnings and endings of the brush strokes were executed with extra vigor. In his later years, Ouyang Xun blended the brush techniques of the northern epigraphic style with that of the Two Wangs (the father and son, Wang Xizhi, 303–361; Wang Xianzhi, 344–386). His amalgamation of southern and northern techniques and stylistic elements became a unique feature of what became known as the Ou style (Ou ti). This work is a masterpiece of his running-regular script.

Housed in the imperial palace during the Xuanhe reign (1119–1125) of Huizong (r. 1100–1126) during the Song dynasty (960–1279), the work eventually passed through the collection of An Qi (act. early eighteenth century) in the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) and was finally acquired by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795), who had it listed it in Grand Spectacle of Calligraphy (Fashu daguan). It was also included in art catalogues such as Clouds and Mist Passing before the Eyes (Yun yan guoyan lu) by Zhou Mi (1232–1298) in the Song dynasty and Compilation of Writings on Calligraphy and Painting from Shigu Hall (Shigu tang shuhua huikao) and by Bian Yongyu (1645–1712), Catalogue of Great Sights (Daguan lu) by Wu Sheng (act. eighteenth century), and Ink Serendipity: Notes on Calligraphy and Painting (Moyuan huiguan) by An Qi in the Qing dynasty.

Author: Hua Ning
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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