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“Cherishing the Past at the Red Cliffs” in Beautiful Niannu

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Period: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium: ink on paper
Format: hanging scroll

Date: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Calligrapher(s): Aisin Gioro Yinzhen (1678–1735, the Yongzheng Emperor, r. 1723–1735)

Dimensions: 161.5 cm × 65.8 cm

“Cherishing the Past at the Red Cliffs” (Chibi huaigu) in Beautiful Niannu (Niannu jiao) was written in the fifth year (1082) of the Yuanfeng reign (1078–1085) by Su Shi (1037–1101). The lyrics describe Su’s night tour of the Red Cliffs, recall historical events under moonlight, and lament prematurely gray hair and the difficulty of fulfilling his aspirations. The piece is one of Su’s quintessential works in the style of the heroic-abandon school (haofang pai) of lyric poetry.

These cursive characters are creatively constructed with an apparently random assortment of large and small features. The ink is applied generously with a dexterous robustness. Seemingly accomplished in one breath, the work is a classic example of the Yongzheng Emperor’s (r. 1723–1735) calligraphic style.

The emperor of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) known as Shizong had the given name Yinzhen. Like all Qing emperors, he was a member of the Aisin Gioro clan. Ruling as the fifth emperor of the dynasty, he had the reign name of Yongzheng. The Manchu rulers sought stability through governance while spending much of their private time studying Han-Chinese culture. They were especially enthusiastic in their appreciation of the poetry, calligraphy, and paintings of Su Shi.

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu


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