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Ink and Tea

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Period: 1730, Yongzheng reign (1723–1735), Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium: ink on paper
Format: album leaf

Calligrapher(s): Bian Shoumin (act. early-18th century)

Dimensions: 23.9 cm × 27.8 cm

Painted by the artist Bian Shoumin (act. early-eighteenth century), this work called Ink and Tea (Mocha tu) includes an anecdote from the life of Su Shi (1037–1101) excerpted from Various Records from the High Studio (Gaozhai manlu) by Zeng Zao (1091–1155) in which Su and Sima Guang (1019–1086) compare and contrast tea and ink. Su Shi had a fondness for tea and was proficient in the art of tea, which was the subject of many of his finest poems. He also had a thoroughly researched knowledge of ink, which he attempted to produce on his own during his demotion on Hainan. He utilized tea and ink as a figurative expression of his views on gentlemen seek harmony but not uniformity (junzi he er butong), that is through recognizing brilliance and maintaining elegance.

Born in Shanyang (present-day Huai’an, Jiangsu Province), Bian Shoumin was originally named Weiqi (with Bian being his surname). He was a talented painter of geese but is also known for his landscapes and flowers.

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Kang Xiaolu


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