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Poetic Exposition on Red Cliff

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Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644) or Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium: ink on paper
Date: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Calligrapher(s): Shen Du (1357–1434)

Dimensions: 24.8 cm × 12.4 cm

In the fifth year (1082) of the Yuanfeng reign (1078–1085), three years after being banished to Huangzhou for being implicated in the “Crow Terrace Poetry Case” (Wutai shian), Su Shi (1037–1101) and his friends traveled by boat to visit the Red Cliffs—the site of a battle at the end of the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE)—where Su was inspired to write his renowned Poetic Exposition on Red Cliff (Chibi fu) in an expression of his transformational process from depression to detachment.

This work in regular script (kai) calligraphy by Shen Du (1357–1434) preserves the piece in the artist’s elegant brushwork. The characters are constructed with a natural grace as each stroke contains aesthetic appeal while the composition is generously spaced in an orderly arrangement. It is a classic example of Shen’s calligraphic prowess.

Born in Huating (present-day Songjiang in Shanghai), Shen Du went by the courtesy name (zi) Minze and the style name (hao) Zile. His proficiency in calligraphy led to an appointment in the Hanlin Academy where he played a significant role in the development of the standardized official script (called taige ti) of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu


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