An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Xu xuegubian 續學古編

Feb 25, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Xu xuegubian 續學古編 is a book on seal carving written during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by He Zhen 何震 (c. 1530-c. 1605), courtesy name Zhuchen 主臣 or Changqing 長卿, style Xueyu 雪漁, from Wuyuan 婺源, Jiangxi (at the time part of Anhui province). He lived for many years in the southern capital Nanjing, where he used to discuss the "lesser arts" with his friend Wen Peng 文彭 (1498-1573). Both were convinced that contemporary seal carvers had lost the ancient spirit of excellent carvings in seal-script style (zhuanke 篆刻), as it had flourished during the Qin 秦 (221-206 BCE) and Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) periods in antiquity. He Zhen's refined style was called the "School of Huizhou 徽州" (Wanpai 皖派, Huipai 徽派). Apart from the Xu xuegubian, he also wrote the books Yinxuan 印選 and He Xueyu yinhai 何雪漁印海.

The Xu xuegubian was planned as a complement of Wuqiu Yan's 吾丘衍 (1268-1311) Xuegubian 學古編. It consists of two fascicles. The first one consists of 25 brief chapters (Ershiwu ju 二十五舉) that introduce into the basics of conoisseurship of the seal script and explain that a creator of seals had to pay attention to the unconstraint handling of the brush out of a relaxed wrist (xu wan xuan bi 虚腕懸筆). He holds that, as the seal script was inspired by the regular script (zhuan you kai shu 篆有楷意), the latter should be based on the fundament of the seal script (kai dang you zhuan gu 楷當有篆骨). The book also explains excellent seals through the ages, and the rules of character composition on the surface of seals. It furthermore give advice on the preparation of the inscription on the surface (moyin 摹印) and the movements of brush and knife.

He Zhen explains the three great faults of seal-carving, namely no expertise and missing depth in the skill of the brush, second, dots beyond the area of characters leading to coalescence with the surrounding area, and third, negligence of density and wideness of the spaces between character parts. Concerning the cutting knives, there might be six dangers, namely that the hand was separated from the mind, that the spirits of Heaven were not revolving, that too much simplicity would overturn perfectness, that the imperfect sharpness of the edge would put too much stress on perfectness, that the refined spirits of the master—even if perfect—did not transform into the artwork, and finally, imbalanced flow and break. The art of design (moyin zhi fa 摹印之法) was characterized by four components, namely spirits (shen 神), delightfulness (qi 奇), craft (gong 工), and skill (qiao 巧).

The second fascicle of He's book presents condensed chapters of important reference works, namely eight entries on the small seal script, two on inscriptions on bells and tripods, one entry of old artworks, eight on stone slab inscriptions, eleven on inscriptions on vessels, ten critical books, eight texts on the chancery script (lishu 隸書), and seven on miscellaneous artworks.

The text is found in the series Zhuanxue suozhu 篆學瑣著 and Lidai yinxue lunwen xuan 歷代印學論文選.

Yan Ming 晏茗 (1996). "Xu xuegu bian 續學古編", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Yishu 藝術卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 512.
Wang Chongren 王崇人, ed. (2002). Zhongguo shuhua yishu cidian 中國書畫藝術辭典, Vol. Zhuanke 篆刻卷 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin meishu chubanshe), 48,207.