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Chinese Literature
Shupu 書譜 "Notes on Calligraphy"


The Shupu 書譜 "Notes on calligraphy" is a treatise on calligraphy written by the Tang period 唐 (618-907) master Sun Guoting 孫過庭 that was finished in 687. Sun Guoting, courtesy name Sun Qianli 孫虔禮, came from Fuyang 富陽 (modern Fuyang, Zhejiang) and served as administrator of the helmet section of the right guard (youwei zhoucao canjun 右衛胄曹參軍). He was famous for his expertise in the three styles of standard script (zhenti 真), cursive script (xingti 行) and the super-cursive "grass script" (caoshu 草書). Sun rated all earlier books on calligraphy as too crude, unsystematic and dated (for instance, regarding the standard script zhang 章) and decided to write a theory on this kind of art. His book was 6 chapters long spread over 2 juan "scrolls". Unfortunately, only part of the text with no more than 3,500 characters has survived. The Song period 宋 (960-1279) book Xuanhe shupu 宣和書譜 says that the surviving text belonged to the preface, other expert think it was part of the first chapter. The Shupu described the styles and rules of the regular and the grass script and discussed the six styles of characters (liushu 六書) and the eight forms (bati 八體) in detail. He characterizes these styles and says that the seal script (zhuan 篆) is elegant yet clear (wan er tong 婉而通), the chancery script (li 隸) refined and dense (jing er mi 精而密), the grass script (cao) fluid and smooth (liu er chang 流而暢), and the standard script (zhang) grandiose yet convenient (xian er bian 險而便). All these writings styles were, he said, not new, but a perfect calligrapher would see his work as a kind of dedication in order to achieve elegant demeanour, he would warm his heart in order to create an enchanting result, he would agitate his brush so that he would "dry the shaft", and he would attune all words so that he would achieve an elegant ensemble.
The text of the Shupu was very refined and elegant, but not easy to understand. Zhang Huaiguan 張懷瓘, author of the book Shuduan 書斷, nevertheless criticised Sun Guoting's book as a comprehensive and deepgoing treatise on Chinese calligraphy.
Although the surviving part of Sun Guoting's book is in many parts quite obscure and hard to understand, it became one of the most influential texts on calligraphy in ancient China. Furthermore, the text that has survived both in calligraphic shape based on a stone inscription, and in printed form, was used by hundreds of calligraphers as a model to learn the art of calligraphy. Accordingly, the Shupu, text and its calligraphic shape, were often admired and commented on. The surviving part of the Shupu is included in the collectanea Baichuan xuehai 百川學海, Shuofu 說郛, Wangshi shuhua yuan 王氏書畫苑 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. In 1982 the Shanghai guji press 上海古籍出版社出版 published a critical study by Zhu Jianxin 朱建新. The Shupu has been translated by Chang Chʻung-ho and Hans H. Frankel (1995), Two Chinese Treatises on Calligraphy, New Haven : Yale University Press, together with Jiang Kui's Xu shupu 續書譜.
There is another book with the title Shupu (Sŏ-po) written by the Korean scholar An Qi (An Ki) 安歧 (1683-?), courtesy name An Yizhou (An Ŭi-chu) 安儀周, style Lucun (Lok-ch'on) 鹿村 or Songquan laoren (Song-ch'ŏn lo-in) 松泉老人. An Qi was a collector living in Tianjin 天津 during the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911). He has also written another book on calligraphy, the Moyuan huiguan (Muk-aen hoi-kwan) 墨緣匯觀. His 2 juan long book Shupu was intended as a commentary to Sun Guoting's book and was influenced by the commentator Chen Xiangquan 陳香泉 who had written on the surviving parts of Sun's Shupu that were transmitted together with Dou Xi's 竇息之 rhapsody Shushufu 述書賦.


Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 1795. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.

Chinese literature according to the four-category system

August 30, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail