An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Shujue 書訣

Mar 10, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Shujue 書訣 is a book on "formulas" for calligraphy written during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Feng Fang 豐坊 (1492-1563), also called Daosheng 道生, courtesy name Renshu 人叔, Cunli 存禮 or Renweng 人翁, style Nanyu Waishi 南禺外史, from Yin 鄞 close to Ningbo 寧波, Zhejiang. Feng was a secretary in the Office of Personnel Evaluation in the Ministry of Personnel (libu kaogong zhushi 吏部考功主事) in the southern capital Nanjing. He was famous for his own calligraphic arts.

The title leaf of the Shujue does not mention any author, but from several hints in the text, the author can be identified.

The short book is written in easy language and can thus be regarded as a kind of textbook. It is divided in various chapters discussing styles, modes and methods of calligraphy, the use of pens and ink-stones, methods of seal design, ancient characters (guwen 古文), large and small seal scripts and chancery script, and the method of using the pen in a relaxed way by holding it "hanging from the wrist" (xuanwan 懸腕). A great part of the book is a kind of catalogue of model calligraphies (fatie 法帖) which is important because quite a few of the models listed are now lost. The author lays emphasis on the large seal script which is quite extraordinary because it was a very antiquated form of the seal script. Concerning the use of the brush, Feng explains that it was the same for all writing styles, including the "perfect" standard script (zhenshu 真書), running script (xingshu 行書), or super-cursive "grass script" (caoshu 草書). Feng Fang's interpretation of writing calligraphies reflects the contemporary view, which saw the "central ridge" (zhengfeng 正鋒) of an individual brush stroke as the main part, while the edges had to give it beauty (cefeng qu yan 側鋒取妍).

Feng discerns five types of calligraphy, and nominates masters of these styles. The first one are stele or stone inscriptions (mingshi 銘石), in which Zhong Yao 鍾繇 (151-230) was a master. For the "lesser standard script" (xiaokai 小楷), the great paradigms were the works of Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303-361) and Wang Xianzhi 王獻之 (344-386), while the champions of the "mid-size standard script" (zhongkai 中楷) were Ouyang Xun 歐陽詢 (557-641), Yu Shinan 虞世南 (558-638), Chu Suiliang 褚遂良 (596-658), and Xue Ji 薛稷 (649-713). The enlargement of certain strokes to achieve harmony and uniformness (boke 擘窠) was applied in a perfect manner by Yan Zhenqing 顏真卿 (709-785) and Liu Gongquan 柳公權 (778-865). Yan Zhenqing was likewise a paragon in the writing of titles (tishu 題署), followed by Li Bai 李白 (701-762) and Cai Xiang 蔡襄 (1012-1067).

The book is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Meishu congshu 美術叢書.

Cui Erping 崔爾平, ed. (1990). Shufa zhuanke shuyu cidian 書法篆刻術語辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 74.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1808.
Li Yongzhong 李永忠 (2020). ”Shujue de yuanliu yu jiazhi 書訣的源流與價值", Shuhua shijie 書畫世界, 2020 (11): 33-34+38.
Qiu Zhenzhong 邱振中 (1992). "Shujue 書訣", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Meishu 美術 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 736.
Zheng Yupu 鄭玉浦 (1983). "Feng Fang ji qi Shujue 豐坊及其《書訣》", Ningbo Daxue xuebao (Jiaoyu kexue ban) 寧波大學學報(教育科學版), 1983 (2): 85-88.