Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering

Wang Yunwu Chinese

Not on view

Wang Yunwu made significant contributions to publishing, library science, and education reform in twentieth century China. He was also a capable calligrapher, as his transcription of Wang Xizhi's (303–361) "Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering" here demonstrates. Revered by calligraphers as the greatest work in running script, this legendary text was composed by Wang on the third day of the third lunar month in 353, when forty-one eminent men of letters gathered at the Orchid Pavilion, a scenic site near Wang's hometown of Shanyin in northern Zhejiang, to perform the customary purification ritual held on that day. During the celebration, all the participants composed poems, and Wang brushed his famous preface. Half inebriated, he created a calligraphic masterpiece so extraordinary that even he could never equal it.

Wang Xizhi's "Preface" has also been widely admired for its literary finesse and depth of feeling. Lin Yutang translated the entire text in his The Importance of Living (1937), praising it for embodying a very Chinese response to the "evanescence of life." Because Wang Yunwu's transcription makes no allusion to Wang Xizhi's style, he presumably shared Lin's appreciation of the philosophic import of the "Preface."

Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering, Wang Yunwu (Chinese, 1888–1979), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, China

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