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"Lan Ting" Prologue - An Appreciation of Chinese Calligraphy

The original Lan Ting Prologue, allegedly written by Wang Xi Zhi at theprimeofhiscalligraphy career (51 year old, 353 A.D.), is universally recognized as the most important piece in the history of Chinese calligraphy. The elegant Wang style, as fully represented by the original piece, has profound influence on Asian calligraphy in China, Japan and Korea. Even to date, Japan holds a bi-annual meeting commemorating the event of the literati gathering at LanTing (original site in Zhejiang, China). The emperor Tang Taizong loved Wang's calligraphy somuch that he collected as many of Wang's original scrolls as he could and ordered them buriedwith himself. Thus, the existing calligraphy of Wang Xi Zhi including the Lan Ting Prologue are only preserved on stone engravings or as replica copies by other calligraphy masters of the Tang dynasty,

The ethical beauty of Chinese calligraphy, like music anddance,transgresseslanguagebarriers. One may appreciate the visual impact of the composition in its entirety, orfeelthecontinuous flow of "Qi" of the strokes in a balanced contrast of rhythmicmovements.Nevertheless,knowing the language may offer a better understanding. The following is a translation of the LanTing Prologue :

" It is the 9th year of Yong He, in the beginning of late spring. We, all the literati old and young, are gathering at Lan Ting (Orchid Pavilion) on the northern slope of the Kuai Ji Hill. Amidst the gorgeous mountains and hills, dense woods and slender bamboos, thesparkling winding stream is flowing by. Seated in the midst of this scenery, short of the company of good music, we regale every single toast and poem that put us in the mood of a freeandsubtle dialogue.

" It is a fine day with lovely breezes. Behold the magnificent universewithabundanceofmyriad beings. Stretch your sights and relax your minds. It is the supreme bliss the eyes and ears can achieve. How enjoyable!

" While experiencing the ups and downs in our lives, wemaybewakenedbythoughtswhilemeditating in a small chamber. Or, we may let go of ourselves intheopenNature.Choicesplenty,tranquility or activity as one prefers. I am contented with whatever happiness is brought forth, however short the moment is. I am satisfied, not knowing that I am aging nor where I am heading, I am tired.

" Things do change, only our feelings linger. What we used to be fond of will become thepast instantaneously. We can't help but to cheer ourselves by recollection. Life, long or short, always come to an end. An old saying has it that : 'Life and death are the ultimate things.' What a pain! Every time I read about the writings of people from the past, Ialwayssensetheir feeling reflects my own. I can only lament but not know how to verbalize. Life and death may be merely an illusion. Yet it is ridiculous to equalize longevity with short-lived.Thefuture generations will look upon us just like we doourpast.So,Idocumentthelivesofthecontemporaries and their works. Time has changed, yet the desire to express the feeling is the same. Those in the future shall get what I mean when they read this article. "

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