Biographies of Lian Po and Lin Xiangru

Artist: Huang Tingjian (Chinese, 1045–1105)

Period: Northern Song dynasty (960–1127)

Date: ca. 1095

Culture: China

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)

Classification: Calligraphy

Credit Line: Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988

Accession Number: 1989.363.4


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.