Poet, calligrapher, and Chan (Zen) Buddhist adept, Huang Tingjian believed that calligraphy should be spontaneous and self-expressive—“a picture of the mind.” Containing nearly twelve hundred characters, this handscroll is a masterpiece of cursive-script writing. It transcribes an account of a rivalry between two officials: Lian Po, a distinguished general; and Lin Xiangru, a skilled strategist. Huang’s transcription ends abruptly with Lin’s words: “When two tigers fight, one must perish. I behave as I do because I put our country’s fate before private feuds.” Read in the context of Song political infighting, Huang’s transcription becomes a powerful indictment of the partisanship that led to his own banishment in 1094.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
北宋 黃庭堅 草書廉頗藺相如傳 卷
Title:Biographies of Lian Po and Lin Xiangru
Calligrapher:Huang Tingjian (Chinese, 1045–1105)
Period:Northern Song dynasty (960–1127)
Medium:Handscroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 13 1/4 in. × 60 ft. 4 1/2 in. (33.7 × 1840.2 cm) Overall with mounting: 13 1/2 in. × 71 ft. 5 5/8 in. (34.3 × 2178.4 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988
Inscription: Artist's inscription (206 columns in semi-cursive and cursive scripts)
Lian Po was an able general of Zhao. In the sixteenth year of King Huiwen, he commanded the Zhao army against Qi and defeated its troops, taking the city of Jinyang. Then he was made a chief minister and was known for his prowess to all the states.
Lin Xiangru, a man of Zhao, was the steward of Miao Xian, the chief eunuch.
King Huiwen had come into possession of the jade of Bian He, a man of Chu. When King Zhao of Qin knew this he sent an envoy with a letter to the king of Zhao, offering fifteen cities in exchange for the jade, The king took counsel with General Lian Po and his chief ministers, who feared that if the jade were sent to Qin they might be cheated and get no cities in return, yet if they refused, the soldiers of Qin might attack. They could neither hit on a plan nor find an envoy to take their answers to Qin.
Then Miao Xian, the chief eunuch, said, “My steward Lin Xiangru would make a good envoy.”
“How do you know?” asked the king.
He replied, “Once I did something wrong and secretly planned to escape to Yan, but my steward stopped me, asking, ‘How can you be sure of the king of Yan?’ I answered, ‘I met him at the frontier with our king, and he privately grasped my hand and offered me his friendship. That is how I know, and why I mean to go there.’ Lin said, ‘Zhao is strong and Yan is weak, and because you stood well with our lord, the king of Yan desired your friendship. But if you now fly from Zhao to Yan, for fear of Zhao he will not dare to keep you and will have you sent back in chains. Your only possible way out is to bare your shoulder and prostrate yourself before the axe and block for punishment.’ I took his advice and Your Majesty pardoned me. To my mind he is a brave, resourceful man, well fitted to be our envoy.”
The king thereupon summoned Lin Xiangru and asked him, “Should I accept the king of Qin’s offer of fifteen cities in exchange for my jade?”
“Qin is strong. We are weak,” replied Lin Xiangru. “We cannot refuse.”
“What if he takes my jade but will not give me the cities?”
“If we refuse Qin’s offer of cities in exchange for the jade, that puts us in the wrong; but if we give up the jade and get no cities, that puts Qin in the wrong. Of these two courses, the better one is to agree and put Qin in the wrong.”
“Who can be our envoy?”
“If Your Majesty has no one else, I will gladly take the jade and go on this mission. If the cities are given to Zhao, the jade will remain in Qin. If no cities are given, I shall bring the jade back unscathed.”
So the king of Zhao sent Lin Xiangru with the jade west to Qin.
The king of Qin sat in his pleasure pavilion to receive Lin Xiangru, who presented the jade to him. The king, very pleased, had it shown to his ladies and attendants, and all his attendants cheered.
Seeing that the king had no intention of giving any cities to Zhao, Lin Xiangru stepped forward and said, “There is a blemish on the jade. Let me show it to you, sir.”
As soon as the king gave him the jade, Lin Xiangru retreated to stand with his back to a pillar. His hair bristling with fury, he said, “To get this jade, great king, you sent a letter to the king of Zhao. When our sovereign summoned his ministers to discuss the matter, they said, ‘Qin is greedy and, relying on its strength, hopes to get our jade in return for empty promises. We are not likely to receive the cities.’ They were against giving you the jade. It seemed to me, however, that if even fellows in homespun can trust each other, how much more can powerful states. Besides, how wrong it would be to offend mighty Qin for the sake of a piece of jade! So the king of Zhao, after fasting for five days, sent me with a letter and the jade to your court. Why? To show the respect and awe in which we hold your great country. Yet on my arrival you received me in a pleasure pavilion and treated me with contempt. You took the jade and passed it among your ladies to make a fool of me. I can see you have no intention of giving Zhao those cities in return, so I have taken back the jade. If you use force against me, I will smash my head and the jade against this pillar.”
With that, glancing at the pillar, he raised the jade and threatened to smash it.
To save the jade, the king of Qin apologized and begged him to stop, then ordered the officer in charge to look up the map and point out the boundaries of the fifteen cities to be given to Zhao.
Lin Xiangru, thinking this was a subterfuge and that Zhao would never really get the cities, declared, “The jade of Bian He is a treasure known throughout the world, but for the fear of Qin the king of Zhao dared not withhold it. Before parting with it he fasted for five days. So it is only right, great king, that you too should fast for five days and then prepare a grand court reception. Only then dare I hand it over.”
Since he could not seize the jade by force, the king agreed to fast for five days, during which time Lin Xiangru should be lodged in the Guangcheng Hostel.
Lin Xiangru suspected that despite his fast the king would not keep his promise to give the cities. So, dressing one of his followers in rags and concealing the jade on his person, he made him hurry back to Zhao by paths and byways.
When the king of Qin had fasted for five days, he prepared a grand reception for Zhao’s envoy.
Lin Xiangru, arriving, announced to the king, “Since the time of Duke Mu of Qin, not one of the twenty-odd princes of your state had kept faith. Fearful of being deceived by Your Majesty and letting my country down, I sent a man back with the jade. He should be in Zhao by now. Qin is strong and Zhao is weak. When you, great king, sent a single messenger to Zhao, we immediately brought the jade here. If your mighty state had first given us fifteen cities, we should not have dared offend you by keeping the jade. I know I deserve death for deceiving you and beg to be boiled in the cauldron. Consider this well with your ministers, great king!”
The king and all his ministers gaped at each other. Some attendants prepared to drag Lin Xiangru away, but the king said, “Killing him now will not get us the jade but would spoil our relations with Zhao. Better treat him handsomely and send him back. The king of Zhao dare not risk offending Qin for the sake of a piece of jade.”
Thereupon he entertained Lin Xiangru in his court, dismissing him when the ceremony was over.
The king of Zhao was so pleased with the skill with which Lin Xiangru had saved the state from disgrace that he made him a high councilor on his return. Neither did Qin give the cities to Zhao, nor Zhao give the jade to Qin.
After this, (Qin attacked Zhao and took Shicheng. The following year twenty thousand men of Zhao were killed in another attack. Then the king of Qin sent an envoy to the king of Zhao, proposing a friendly meeting at Mainchi, south of Xihe. The king of Zhao loathed to go, for fear of Qin. But Lian Po and Lin Xiangru reasoned with him saying, “Not to go, sir, would make our country appear weak and cowardly.” So the king went, accompanied by Lin Xiangru. Lian Po saw them to the frontier, where he bade the king farewell saying, “I reckon that Your Majesty’s journey there, the meeting and the journey back should not take more than thirty days. If you fail to return in that time, I suggest that we set up the crown prince as king, to thwart the designs of Qin.”
The king, having agreed,) went to meet the king of Qin at Mianchi.
(The king of Qin, merry after drinking, said, “I have heard that the king of Zhao is a good musician. Will you play zither for me?”
The king of Zhao did as he asked. Then the Qin chronicler stepped forward and recorded, “On such-and-such a day the king of Qin drank with the king of Zhao and ordered the king of Zhao to play the zither.” Lin Xiangru then advanced and said, “The king of Zhao has heard that the king of Qin is a good hand at Qin music. Will you entertain us with a tune on the pitcher?” The king of Qin angrily refused. But Lin Xiangru went forward to present a pitcher and, kneeling down, requested him to play. Still the king refused. “I am only five steps from you,” cried Lin Xiangru. “I can bespatter you, great king, with the blood from your throat!” The attendants wanted to kill him, but he glared and shouted so fiercely that they shrank back. Then the king of Qin sullenly beat once on the pitcher, whereupon Lin Xiangru turned to bid the Zhao chronicler record, “On such-and-such a date, the king of Qin played the pitcher for the king of Zhao.” Then the ministers of Qin said, “We hope Zhao will present fifteen cities to the king of Qin.” Lin Xiangru retorted, “We hope Qin will present Xianyang to the king of Zhao!” At this feast, then, the king of Qin was unable to get the better of Zhao. Nor dared he make any move because of the strong guard brought by the king of Zhao.)
Upon their return to Zhao after this meeting, Lin Xiangru was appointed a chief minister for his outstanding service, taking precedence over Lian Po.
Lian Po protested, “As a general of Zhao I have served the state well in the field and stormed many cities. All Lin Xiangru can do is wag his tongue, yet now he is above me. I’d think shame to work under such a base-born fellow.” He swore, “When I meet Lin Xiangru, I shall humiliate him!”
When Lin Xiangru got word of this, he kept out of Lian Po’s way and absented himself from court on grounds of illness, not wanting to compete for precedence. Once when he caught sight of Lian Po on the distance on the road, he drove his carriage another way.
His stewards reproached him saying, “We left our kingsmen to serve you because we admired your lofty character, sir. Now you have the same rank as Lian Po, but when he insults you in public, you try to avoid him and look abjectly afraid. This would disgrace even a common citizen, let alone generals and ministers! We are afraid we must beg to resign.”
Lin Xiangru stopped them, asking, “Is General Lian Po as powerful in your eyes as the king of Qin?”
“Of course not,” they replied.
“If, useless as I am, I lashed out at the mighty king of Qin in his court and insulted his ministers, why should I be afraid of General Lian Po? To my mind, however, were it not for the two of us, powerful Qin would not hesitate to invade Zhao. When two tigers fight, one must perish. I behave as I do because I put our country’s fate before private feuds.”
When word of this reached Lian Po, he bared his shoulders, fastened a switch of thorns to his back and had a protégé conduct him to Lin Xiangru’s gate. He apologized, “Contemptible boor that I am, I could not understand your magnanimity, sir!”
They became close friends, ready to die for each other.
Zhang Daqian 張大千 (1899–1983). 1 column in semi-cursive script, undated:
1. Xiang Yuanbian 項元汴 (1525–1590), 1 column in standard script, undated; 2 seals:
Biographies of Lian Po and Lin Xiangru, written in large cursive script by Huang Luzhi [Huang Tingjian] of the Song dynasty and treasured by Xiang Yuanbian of the Ming dynasty. It is worth one hundred [pieces of] gold. [Seals]: Zijing, Molin Shanren
On the Double Ninth Festival of the bingshen year [October 12, 1956] while residing in Tokyo, I took my calligraphies and paintings out of their cases in order to air them out. Regretfully I recalled that five years ago someone took from me [another calligraphy by Huang Tingjian,] the handscroll Shrine to the Queller of the Waves. When can [these two scrolls] ever come together again? Yuan [Seals]: Zhang Yuan zhi yinxin, Sanqian Daqian
Li Tingjing 李廷敬 (died 1806) Li Tingjing yin 李廷敬印 Pingyuan Shanfang 平遠山房
Li Meng’an 李夢安 (Qing dynasty?) Longxi shuzi Jingzhi 隴西叔子敬之
Tan Jing 譚敬 (1911–1991) Tan shi 譚氏 He An fu 和庵父 Tan Jing siyin 譚敬私印 Ou Zhai Zhuren 區齋主人 Danning Jushi 澹寧居士 Yueren Tan Jing yin 粵人譚敬印 He An jianding zhenji 龢庵鋻定真跡 Ou Zhai zhencang 區齋珍藏 Tan shi Ou Zhai shuhua zhi zhang 譚氏區齋書畫之章 He An 和庵 He An 龢庵 Ou Zhai 區齋 Ou Zhai 區齋 Tan Jing 譚敬 Ou Zhai fu yin 區齋父印 Tan 譚 Danning Tang 澹寧堂 Shuangjian Zhai 雙建齋 Shi kang 始康 Liu chuang 柳窗 Xuelang An 雪浪庵 Qiguan 奇觀 Song Liao 松寮 Pingyuan Shanfang 平遠山房
Liu Dingzhi 劉定之 (20th c.) Gouqu Liu Dingzhi Zhuang 句曲劉定之裝
 Translation from Szuma Chien (Sima Qian司馬遷), Records of the Historian (Shi ji史記), translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang. Hong Kong: The Commercial Press, 1974, pp. 139-44. Modified.  The punctuation of the text follows the one published by Zhonghua Shuju in 1975. The Chinese characters and corresponding English translations within the parentheses were left out of the original text by Huang Tingjian.
John M. Crawford Jr. American, New York (by 1971–d. 1988; bequeathed to MMA)
London. Victoria and Albert Museum. "Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Collection of John M. Crawford, Jr.," June 17, 1965–August 1, 1965.
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery. "Traces of the Brush: Studies in Chinese Calligraphy," April 6, 1977–June 27, 1977.
University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley. "Traces of the Brush: Studies in Chinese Calligraphy," September 20, 1977–November 27, 1977.
New York. China House Gallery. "Masterpieces of Song and Yuan Dynasty Calligraphy from the John M. Crawford Jr. Collection," October 21, 1981–January 31, 1982.
Lawrence. Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas. "Masterpieces of Song and Yuan Dynasty Calligraphy from the John M. Crawford Jr. Collection," March 14, 1982–May 2, 1982.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30–January 3, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection," September 15, 2000–January 7, 2001.
Osaka Municipal Museum of Art. "The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection," April 8, 2003–June 1, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of the Brush: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy," March 12–August 14, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Secular and Sacred: Scholars, Deities, and Immortals in Chinese Art," September 10, 2005–January 8, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Brush and Ink: The Chinese Art of Writing," September 2, 2006–January 21, 2007.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings," March 1–August 10, 2008.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009.
Shanghai Museum. "Masterpieces of Chinese Tang, Song and Yuan Paintings from America," November 3, 2012–January 3, 2013.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from The Met Collection (Rotation One)," October 31, 2015–October 11, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection (Rotation Two)," May 7–October 11, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Up Close," January 25, 2020–June 27, 2021.
Weng, Wan-go, and Thomas Lawton. Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: A Pictorial Survey: 69 Fine Examples from the John Crawford, Jr. Collection. New York: Dover Publications, 1978, pp. 15–17, cat. no. 5.
Nakata Yūjirō 中田勇次郎, and Fu C. Y. Shen 傅申. Ō-Bei shūzō Chūgoku hōsho meiseki shū 歐米收藏中國法書名蹟集 (Masterpieces of Chinese calligraphy in American and European collections) vol. 1, Tokyo: Chūōkōron-sha, 1981–82, pp. 44–58, pl. 11.
Shih Shou-ch'ien, Maxwell K. Hearn, and Alfreda Murck. The John M. Crawford, Jr., Collection of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Checklist. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, p. 12, cat. no. 5.
Shen Peng 沈鹏, ed. Zhongguo meishu quanji: Shufa zhuanke bian 4: Song Jin Yuan shufa 中國美術全集：書法篆刻編4: 宋金元書法 (Compendium of the arts of China, calligraphy and seal carving section 4: calligraphy of the Song, Jin, and Yuan dynasties). 7 vols. Beijing: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1986, vol. 4, p. 47, pl. 27.
Fong, Wen C. Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th–14th Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, pp. 118; 143–52, pls. 18a–c.
Gu Fu 顧復. Pingsheng zhuangguan 平生壯觀 (The Great Sights of My Life). Preface dated 1692, juan 2 of painting section. Reprinted in Zhongguo shuhua quanshu 中國書畫全書 (Compendium of Classical Publications on Chinese Painting and Calligraphy) Edited by Lu Fusheng 盧輔聖. Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1993–2000, vol. 4, p. 892.
Wu Sheng 吳升. Daguan lu 大觀錄 (Records from a grand view). Preface dated 1712, juan 6. Reprinted in Zhongguo shuhua quanshu 中國書畫全書 (Compendium of classical publications on Chinese painting and calligraphy) Edited by Lu Fusheng 盧輔聖. Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1993–2000, vol. 8, pp. 128, 235–36.
Wu Qizhen 吳其貞. Shuhua ji 書畫記 (On calligraphy and painting). Ca. 1677, juan 3. Reprinted in Zhongguo shuhua quanshu 中國書畫全書 (Compendium of classical publications on Chinese painting and calligraphy) Edited by Lu Fusheng 盧輔聖. Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1993–2000, vol. 8, p. 9.
Zhan Jinfeng 詹景鳳. Zhan Dongtu xuanlan bian 詹東圖玄覽編 (Book of my abstruse reading) Preface dated 1591. Reprinted in Zhongguo shuhua quanshu 中國書畫全書 (Compendium of classical publications on Chinese painting and calligraphy) Edited by Lu Fusheng 盧輔聖. vol. 4, Shanghai: Shanghai shuhua chubanshe, 1993–2000.
Bai, Qianshen. Fu Shan's World: The Transformation of Chinese Calligraphy in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003, p. 32, fig. 1.13.
Hearn, Maxwell K. How to Read Chinese Paintings. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008, pp. 48–55, cat. no. 8.
Ouyang Zhongshi et al. Chinese Calligraphy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 22, 441, figs. 29, 10.2.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, p. 93.
Hearn, Maxwell K. Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, , p. 14, fig. 1 (detail).
He Muwen 何慕文 (Hearn, Maxwell K.). Ruhe du Zhongguo hua: Daduhui Yishu Bowuguan cang Zhongguo shuhua jingpin daolan 如何读中国画 : 大都会艺术博物馆藏中国书画精品导览 (How to read Chinese paintings) Translated by Shi Jing 石静. Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2015, pp. 48–55, cat. no. 8.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.