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发布者: 书法在线 | 发布时间: 2019-7-30 15:07| 查看数: 191| 评论数: 1|帖子模式


Author: Zhengcheng LIU
Interpreter: Edward LUPER

Huai Su’s Autobiography


Yan Zhenqing had just been reinstated from Huzhou to the capital Chang’an and thence promoted by Emperor Daizong of the Tang, during the fall of the twelfth year of the Dali era (AD 777).

Although it was late autumn, the weather in Guanzhong was not very cold. Already hues of golden leaves had fallen and covered the imperial city thoroughfare leading to Zhuquemen. The Imperial city, once devastated by the Tibetan Empire’s invasion, had been rebuilt and rose once more with palaces shimmering in gold under the setting sun. Fish and bird-shaped brass bells dangled at the end of the roof ridges, swaying and tinkling in the autumn breeze. The metropolis of the great Tang empire, though on the wane, was still maintaining its unparalleled grandiosity.

Yan Zhenqing had been busy in the palace the entire day. Riding his horse, he went out by the Chengtian Gate. His long beard with traces of white hair blew in the wind. Although Yan Zhenqing was only one year from turning seventy, his broad square face was ruddy and bright, and his body was robust and sturdy. He was dressed in a purple brocade robe and sat bolt upright on his horse – he had not lost any of his charismatic power and majesty from twenty years ago when he was Governor of Pingyuan and commanded armies that turned the tide of insurrection. Early in morning, Zhang Zhengyan, the Deputy Minister of Rites, informed Yan in the reception room that the monk Huai Su, from Baiquan Temple at Zhongnan Mountain, had entered the capital yesterday. Yan Zhenqing had heard about this monk Huai Su for some time. In the second year of the Baoying era, when Yan Zhenqing passed through Dangtu County on his way to serve at Jiangling, Li Yangbing, the Magistrate of Dangtu County, had showed Yan the Cao Tang Ji (草堂集), the collection of Li Bai’s poetry which he edited. The collection contained the poem The Song of Huai Su’s Cursive Calligraphy (怀素上人草书歌), which paid the utmost compliment to the cursive calligraphy of this young monk from Lingling District. This stimulated Yan’s desire to see this young man. Although the name of Huai Su had been mentioned several time since by others, Yan never had the chance to personally see him, or his calligraphy. When Yan came back to Chang’an though, he had, by the by, heard that Huai Su was living in Baiquan Temple in Zhongnan Mountain. He wanted to pay a visit, but he could not just simply walk away from his governmental business. Now he was being told by Zhang Zhengyan that Huai Su had come into the city and was staying not too far from him. Yan Zhenqing was immediately filled with joy: “If what Li Bai described was true, I would finally find myself a worthy peer. Such young people are needed to wash off the banality of today’s literary world!” Yan Zhenqing could not help thinking of the irritation he suffered last night.

“The calligraphy of the Duke of Lu is really composed, elegant and peaceful. It could be rated as one of the best of all time! Nevertheless some young people nowadays are putting too much effort regardless of their incompetence, and creating their own so-called style in the name of innovation but are actually shallow and vulgar in essence! Well, alas, alas, the morals of society are declining day by day, and so with it the standards of literature!” So said the court calligrapher and the Deputy Minister of Personnel Administration, Xu Hao, who was favored by the emperor and perhaps the most spoiled. He was known for his great avarice. He looked fair and plump with his neatly shaved beard. Although he was around five to six years older than Yan, he co**arily, appeared a bit younger. Last night, he made a special visit to Yan. Seeing that Yan was writing an epitaph in vermilion by candlelight for Regional Military Governor Du

1Duke of Lu (鲁公): In 764, Emperor Daizong of Tang conferred the title of Duke of Lu on Yan Zhenqing

Gong of Dongchuan District, Xu shook his head and sighed. Yan was somewhat annoyed by Xu Hao’s visit. Less than a month after Yan returned to the capital, Yan’s calligraphic style became prevalent while Xu Hao and his peers felt left out. Meanwhile Luoyang paper was getting more expensive and began to affect their finances. Xu hid behind those so-called Academician Calligraphers-in-Waiting of the Hanlin Academy and those Erudites of Calligraphy of the Guozijian, and made up several derogatory statements. Hearing how Xu scolded the young generation, in the exact same words he used to insult him, Yan said “This is pushing me too far!” He suddenly slammed the ink stone with red vermilion ink and smeared the epitaph he had nearly finished with his brush. “What is the meaning of this!?” Xu Hao took half a step back in panic. “Hasn’t my Lord said that my script was ‘composed, elegant and peaceful’, this is exactly my failure, I have to smear it and write it again.” Right after Yan finished his sentence, Xu understood that this was not the right time and quickly left the scene with folded hands in front.

Yan thought to himself, “when Master Zhang Xu granted me The Twelve Concepts of the Brush Method (笔法十二意) in the fifth year of the Tianbao era, he had repeatedly cautioned me that this had been passed on from Cai Yong, Cai Wei, Zhong Yao, Lady Wei, Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi, Yang Xin, Wang Sengqian, Xiao Ziyun, Zhi Yong, Yu Shinan, Ouyang Xun, Lu Jianzhi, to Lu Yanyuan, from generation to generation through dictations and written documents, and it must be granted only to those chosen sages. So who would be the next sage?” While pondering this question, Yan could not help sighing gently. As he almost arrived home, Yan suddenly pulled on the reins and turned direction. He whipped his horse and galloped as fast as he could towards Zhang Zhengyan’s bureau at Jingfeng Gate.

2 Jiedushi (节度使) were regional military governors in China during the Tang dynasty. Originally i**oduced in 711 to counter external threats, the Jiedushi were posts authorized with the supervision of a defense command often encompassing several prefectures, the ability to maintain their own armies, collect taxes and promote and appoint subordinates.

3 Hanlin Academy (翰林院) was an academic and administrative institution founded in the eighth-century Tang China by Emperor Xuanzong in Chang’an. Membership in the academy was confined to an elite group of scholars, who performed secretarial and literary tasks for the court.

4Guozijian  (国子监) was the national ce**al institution of higher learning in Chinese dynasties after the Sui. It was the highest institution of academic research and learning in China’s traditional educational system, with the function of administration of education.


Huai Su opened his eyes, which were struck by a dazzling ray of sunlight. He quickly closed his eyes, took a moment to recover, and then languidly rose from the couch. He couldn’t immediately get up however, and had to prop himself up with one arm, leaning on the couch, while with the other hand he rubbed his eyes. After a while, he noticed the large pile of floral brocaded quilt. He recalled after he got drunk last night, that he stayed at the home of Zhang Gong, the Deputy Minister of Rites.

Huai Su had just turned forty this year. His face was swarthy and lean, but the muscles of his arms and legs beneath his black robe were supple after years of carrying his books in a satchel as a wandering monk. He had made arduous journeys crossing mountains and rivers, exposed to the sun and rain. His eyes were small and deeply sunken, while his gaze looked neurotic and volatile. At that moment, he was looking up and staring at the roof blankly. Suddenly he saw Minister Yan Shangshu [Zhenqing]. According to Zhang Gong, Yan was extremely appreciative of his wild cursive calligraphy, and he could not believe that perhaps this was true after all. He vaguely recalled the previous night, when Zhang Gong laid out the brush and paper on the table and invited him to write: he was drunk already – certainly his intoxication helped his mood. Zhang Gong and a boy attendant stretched the paper for him, he, in the spirit of inebriation, began to write wildly the Thousand Characters Classic (千字文) on a two-foot long piece of plain silk. He remembered hearing Zhang Gong talking to someone, which frustrated Huai Su. “If the person who stretches the paper does not cooperate well with the calligrapher, the rhythm of the cursive calligraphy will be destroyed!” He raised his bleary eyes unpleasantly and glimpsed at the stranger standing next to him. “Where does this long-bearded, red-faced old man come from!?” He was further exacerbated when he was close to finishing his copy of the classic when the plain silk was clearly not going to be enough. He was hugely discouraged, threw the

5 Shangshu (尚书): Minister. In AD 777, Yan Zhenqing served as Minister of Law and was later promoted to Minister of Personnel Administration.

brush to the ground, shouted and raged and then staggered and fell onto a hempen cot. He heard people chattering in the distance, and when he raised himself on the elbow and trying to see, it turned out to be Zhang Gong and the boy attendant who took his unfinished scroll of Thousand Characters Classic outside the window. That long-bearded red-faced old man, under the daylight outside, was studying his calligraphy while using hand gestures to make comments. Huai Su could not hear what he was saying, but only saw Zhang Gong nodding with a face full of smiles. “Who is so insensitive, judging my work in front of me!” He sank into a deep sulk and started to drink the wine on the table one by one. Zhang Gong sent the man away and returned in smiles. He told Huai Su that that red-faced old man was none other than Yan Zhenqing! “Ah? Then ... that was Minister Yan!?” “Minister Yan admires your calligraphy!” Huai Su ruminated “is it true?” He wanted to stand up and chase after him, but he could not move his body even with full strength... As for how he got to sleep on this couch, Huai Su could not remember anything at all. “Such bad luck to be drunk now of all times! Over the years, I could never have hoped to meet him and when the opportunity came, I missed it!” It was perhaps the first time in his life that Huai Su blamed himself for drinking too much.

The door opened and a small head squeezed in - it was the boy attendant who stretched the paper last night. The boy saw Huai Su sitting on the couch lost in thought, smiled a little, and walked in with a piece of paper in his hand. “Master, Minister Yan sent you this in the early morning. He said that this should be delivered as soon as you wake up.” Huai Su snatched the piece of paper from the boy– it was a vermilion invitation:

From Yan Zhenqing to Master Zangzhen [Huai Su] on the lotus throne: a fresh breeze comes to capital gates, while old dust sits. Vegetables and wines are cautiously prepared, and I earnestly wish you could come visit my humble house. Dali period Year Twelve, last third of the Ninth Month.

“Minister Yan invited me to dinner!” Huai Su almost screamed. His hand holding the invitation trembled a little and he read the few lines on the invitation again and again.
“What time is it now?” He suddenly remembered to ask.
“About noon, master Yan has been back from court for a long time.”
“It’s already noon! Where is he now?” Huai Su rolled over from the couch and jumped to the ground.
“Master is waiting for you in the Flower Hall right now!”
“Hurry up, let’s go and meet Minister Yan!” Huai Su shouted, holding the vermilion invitation he hastened out of the room. The boy attendant quickly picked up the shoes and kasaya that Huai Su had forgotten and ran after him.


In the living room, the gentlemen waiting to sit at the table suddenly began to whisper. This was because the master, Yan Zhenqing, just went out to welcome one special guest, and immediately the words revealed that today’s guest of honour was an extraordinary calligrapher. This information initially surprised everyone: which calligrapher would have such a great honour that Minister Yan had to come outside and greet personally? From the brief silence caused by the surprise, the topic turned to this upcoming calligrapher. At the beginning, everyone seemed to have great confidence in surmising who this calligrapher must be. In the end, everyone’s notions were quickly drawn between the former Secretary of Personnel Administration, Lu Xiang, and the Prefectural Governor of Yongzhou, Wang Yong.

Just by looking at his greying temples, it is obvious to tell that Lu Xiang is the most senior among the group. He once received the “pseudo-commission” from the treacherous An Lushan with Wang Wei and fellows. He had seen a lot and knew many people. He stated that this calligrapher must be a schoolmate from his hometown Wenshui. This person must be a distinguished jinshi scholar, who passed first at the highest level of imperial examinations, during the Kaiyuan period, and was also appointed as Academician Calligrapher-in-Waiting of the Hanlin Academy by Emperor Xuanzong. He kept waving a long pipe while he was talking and if anyone disagreed with his opinion, the pipe would fall on that person’s head; the plump nobleman Wang Yongzhou, who was playing with an exotic Korean folding fan, demurely insisted that the calligrapher must be a poet friend of his father, the second prince of so and so palace, and in the meantime he recited two verses of which his father had written to acclaim this calligrapher. Everyone was speechless, only noncommittally nodding in agreement with whoever was speaking. Who is willing to leave people an impression of ignorance on such an occasion?

“Please take a seat sir!” The literary gentlemen all threw their gazes towards the e**ance. The master and the guest of honour had walked in to the living room warmly holding hands. Suddenly the living room was in commotion: the guest was neither the former Secretary Lu’s schoolmate, that Academician Calligrapher-in-Waiting, nor the confidant of Wang Yongzhou’s father, that second prince of so and so palace, but rather a dark and thin young monk!

Huai Su had shaved his hair and beard completely and looked younger and more energetic. But what he wore was still the kasaya sewn with twenty-five pieces of cloth, possibly black, possibly red; so old and worn that you couldn’t really tell. Looking from afar, one could still notice a circle of black dirt around the neckline. The pair of monk’s shoes he was wearing had a small hole on his right foot, occasionally showing his toe. Among these extravagant robes and jade belts, Huai Su appeared extremely shabby.

Although the master was very enthusiastic, the ge**ies kept Huai Su at a polite distance. In the end it was the tall and thin Grand Secretary sitting next to Zhang Zhengyan, Dai Shulun, who also wrote poems on rural topics such as Women Plowing the Fields (女耕田行) and Song of the Village Fields (屯田词), who tried to break the ice with Huai Su: “It is said that Shangren planted ten thousand banana trees, diligently practicing with the brush, admirable indeed! admirable!”
“What, using banana leaves to practice calligraphy, can the words show on it?”
“How slippery the surface must be? ha!”
“Ha... Ten thousand banana trees, wouldn’t he become a banana farmer? ...” The ge**ies began to make noise, and clearly the words of Secretary Dai caused unanticipated counter-effects.

Huai Su’s dark face gradually turned pallid. He put the cup of wine he held next to his lips back on the table – he couldn’t stand the wild laughter of those mindless ge**y. Yan Zhenqing raised a large cup of wine and held it in front of him with a smile. Huai Su glanced at Yan Zhenqing’s face and out of courtesy had to raise the cup he just put down again. But he did not drink it all at once, instead staring at the clear, greenish bamboo leaf wine in his hand, preoccupied. “Alas, after climbing all these slopes and pits in life, I can truly taste the samadhi in this wine. It makes sense now why Li Taibai had such a strong affinity with wine!” Huai Su thought of his encounter with Li Taibai again. In the second year of the Qianyuan reign, when Li Taibai travelled to Lingling District with Jia Zhi, Commander of Yuezhou, Huai Su was still a novice who had not received full ordination at Kaiyuan temple. Li Taibai had invited him specially to drink, and wrote a poem to praise the wild cursive calligraphy he practiced on banana leaves. Ever since then, Li Taibai’s poem has doubtlessly made Huai Su proud for a lifetime, but what raptured him the most, was the unparalleled rhyme of “God of Wine”. It prompted Huai Su to establish an inextricable bond with wine. “If there was not this cup of wine, would Li Taibai deride Yang Guifei and Gao Lishi, and write down Letter to Daunt the Barbarians (吓蛮书); he had been through so much hardship, and endured so much suffering, how could he still create such beautiful poetry?” Thinking of this, Huai Su drank down the cup of bamboo leaf wine in his hand, and immediately passed the empty cup towards the servant for another.

“Gentlemen, in the spirit of merriment with this good wine, how about we ask Huai Su to perform with his brush on the spot!” Huai Su did not hear clearly what Yan Zhenqing had just said, but only heard some scattered applause following it. It was Zhang Gong who touched Huai Su’s elbow. Huai Su looked up and found that a plain white folding screen was carried to the living room. Suddenly, his small deep-set eyes were lightened. He slowly stood up, the armchair squeaking awkwardly. Write - an instinctive need rose from the bottom of his heart. Perhaps due to the passing thought of showing off his skills in front of these so called experts, or due to the soft lumbering legs, he stood there and hesitated for a minute. “The cursive calligraphy of master Su is unprecedented in history. Since all these elites are gathered around the table, why not just improvise a poem here to lighten the spirit?” He seemed to hear clearly enough what Yan Zhenqing said this time, and he heard another big round of applause – what artist does not want to present himself in such an exciting occasion – Huai Su suddenly stripped off his robe revealing only his undergarments. He then emptied a soup bowl on the table and poured in wine from a pot. He leaned back and and downed the entire bowl before striding to the white folding screen.
The folding screen was about the height of one man in an ebony frame. In the ce**e was stretched the finest plain silk from the Wu region, and the screen was embroidered by heavy brocade all around: it was a very fine screen. Huai Su stroked the surface with one hand; it was flat and smooth. A writing desk was already carried next to it, with a giant dragon-tailed golden speck She inkstone put on top, a full bowl of ground ink, and a Huizhou tribute ink stick in cloud-dragon pattern placed above. Huai Su randomly drew a pair of brushes from the brush pot; it was something he had only heard of but never used – the shaft was made of ivory, and the hair  was from the fur of the northern treeshrew of Shu. He could not help but feel full of rejoice. “Such a large piece of paper, such beautiful pen and ink, what a great pain to me!” He extended his brush towards the ce**e of the inkstone, soaked it fully with ink, and then gently scraped it along the edge of the inkstone to remove the excess. He raised the brush in front of his chest. Suddenly, his left leg went limp and his whole body stumbled. “This drunken monk cannot stand steadily, but he can still write!” “Puh!......” A burst of soft laughter came out from those around him. By now, the ge**y had only seen Huai Su belch softly, and begin to regain his balance. His small deep-set eyes were intense, staring at the plain folding screen. It now seemed rather daunting. Before anyone realised, Huai Su shook his right hand, and that brush was like an alarmed snake coming out of its cave, or like the wind rolling up scattering the clouds. No one could see clearly how those two lines of cursive script were swept on the screen:

“Everyone has gifted me wine as I never buy, a wine pot hanging all day long while roaming among the pines.”

The room was silent. The moment Huai Su dipped the brush in the ink a second time, the former Secretary Lu finally squeezed to the front of the plain folding screen, using his old dim-sighted eyes which almost stuck to the paper to identify those lively ink dances.
Huai Su bluntly pushed the former Secretary Lu away, and swept the last two sentences in the blink of an eye:

“The Saint of Cursive is desperate to be mad, like painted in the Drunken Monk!”

Huai Su did not dip in any more ink, but only gently scraped the brush on the edge of the inkstone, and smoothed the strokes. Then he turned back and signed at the end of the text with the brush moving up and down:

“Duke of Lu smiles, the crazy monk and the drunken cursive.”

“Ha...” Huai Su threw the brush towards the writing desk and laughed aloud. This laughter broke the silence that seemed to solidify in the living room. The scholars that had been witnessing this in frozen silence, as if from a magic spell, began to nod their heads and gave a burst of praise. Apart from the nearly blind former Secretary Lu who was still identifying the script on the folding screen, everyone else sat back to the table again. The aristocrat Wang Yongzhou, didn’t know when but had already moved his seat next to Huai Su, all the while toasting him.

That night, Huai Su stayed at Yan Zhenqing’s. Unfortunately, after Yan Zhenqing came back from court the next day, he abruptly received an assignment that required him to leave the capital. He hurriedly paid farewell to Huai Su and left. On departure, Yan Zhenqing emphasised to Huai Su that he must wait for him until he returned within the next day or so. “Yesterday I indeed felt a little sick from drinking, and it’s perfect for me to rest a bit here. Maybe when Master Yan comes back, he will teach me some of Zhang Xu’s secret passages!” Huai Su then decided to rest calmly at Yan Zhenqing’s for a few days. Unexpectedly, in the afternoon of the same day, right after Yan Zhenqing left, several people arrived with invitations for Huai Su. Apparently, the legendary story of “the crazy monk and the drunken grass” was spread by the scholars overnight. Another day passed, and the invitations from the princes, dukes, and ministers, writers and poets in the capital, all flew in like snowflakes. Huai Su was invited to this bureau banquet today, and was taken to another villa for amusement tomorrow, and there was no time for him to take a breath. Ren Hua, a poet from the Music Bureau, also quickly spread his poem referring to Huai Su’s calligraphy: “...the mad monk stirred the capital the day before, riding the horses of princes and minsters during the day, living at the palaces of princes and ministers at night. Who does not make a plain screen? Who does not paint the wall? The wall shines under the clear light, the morning frost condenses on the plain screen, and the master’s waving brush is never forgettable!......”

Huai Su did not even realise he had lived in the capital for more than ten days. He was tired, sick from drinking, and lack of sleep. He felt that his body could not support it anymore. Unfortunately Yan Zhenqing had not yet returned. Huai Su left a note to him indicating that he would come back again to await for his instruction some day, and then slipped back quietly to Zhongnan Mountain.

After Huai Su returned to Zhongnan Mountain, never had that ancient temple in a remote mountain been so crowded with people and admirers. The distance counting from Mingde Gate of Chang’an to Baiquan Temple at Zhongnan Mountain, including that section of mountain road, was around forty to fifty Li. People could make a return journey in one day. Those people sent by the princes and dukes to ask for calligraphy became more and more numerous, and they almost broke the doorsill. Huai Su was not one of those craftsmen who could effortlessly write the same word millions of times, no matter in what time, what environment, what mood, and

6 Li (里): the Chinese mile, a traditional Chinese unit of distance

what content. His neurotic character and the temperament that could only let him write when drunk made him want to burn all those verbose and cumbersome phrases of exaggerated flattery in the fire. “I won’t even bow in prostration if I see the emperor, who are your masters to dare ask me to write the character ‘Longevity’ for you?” In time though, those who sought his calligraphy learnt how to behave and so they no longer insisted on a specific content or phrase. As long as it was a scrap of calligraphy written by him, their business was done.

Huai Su though, after all, could not resist the temptation of invitations to drink and gifts of wine from seekers of his calligraphy.  He became busy and entangled with social networks. This caused him some trouble, as he intended to leave the mountain several times, but could not find an appropriate moment. “Although I have seen Yan Zhenqing twice, I have not been able to have a proper conversation with him even once!” Huai Su was anxious inside. Time flew by and it was already the end of October. After two days of snow, seekers of his calligraphy became less frequent and he finally found the opportunity to get up early and prepare to leave the mountain. The weather that day was not bad. Though the dark clouds were not yet gone, there was no more snow. Huai Su had just descended down Niushou Mountain, before reaching Gaoshui ferry, when he coincidentally came across Yan Zhenqing, Zhang Zhengyan, and his uncle, Qian Qi who he had not seen for more than a year. They were riding on horses heading to Zhongnan Mountain to visit him. Huai Su was overwhelmed with joy. He turned direction and accompanied the group back up to the mountain.
Huai Su had two cottages side by side. The cottage by the back was more like his bedroom. The other cottage, Huai Su explained, was only given to him by the temple recently for the sole purpose of receiving the multitudes of demanding guests. The furniture was still scant and there was not enough tables and chairs for everyone, so they just sat on the floor casually. Fortunately, the cottage had pinewood floors. Huai Su started a fire which made the place very cosy. Huai Su brought in some Qu’a wine and served a large plate of pork, a dish of baked apricots and a plate of flatbread. “Baiquan Temple is a famous holy ground, but this crazy monk breaks the five precepts to such an extent!” Yan Zhenqing looked at the unholy wines and meat placed in front of him, feeling a little shocked inside. At this time, Qian Qi had already held a bowl of wine in his hand. Zhang Zhengyan was also pouring wine like nothing happened. Yan realised he could not act as if it was his first time, so he made himself comfortable and started to drink alcohol and eat meat without restraint.
After three rounds of wine, Zhang Zhengyan took out a book and handed it to Huai Su with a smile. Huai Su took the book and had a glance. It was elegantly presented: on its blue cover, the title was beautifully written by Dai Shulun in semi-cursive calligraphy, A Collection of Poems Dedicated to Master Huai Su’s Cursive Script (怀素上人草书歌诗集). Turning the pages, each page contained the compliments that the group of scholars from Chang’an paid to Huai Su, all written neatly in regular scripts. Moreover, at the beginning there was a preface personally written by Yan Zhenqing. Huai Su read this short preface again and again barely able to co**ol his excitement.
“... ‘Suddenly seeing the masterpiece, marvellous vertical and horizontal strokes, in stunningly rapid speed, seems to restore the old feeling,’ Yan Zhenqing practically compares me with Zhang Xu! Look! look! ‘if you would have personally received the good guide, absorbing the quintessence fast, then you will inherit the arts from the master and achieve high accomplishments, who would be suitable except you?’ Yan Zhenqing has placed such high hopes on me. This probably conveys a message of sorts?......”
Indeed, after Yan Zhenqing took the cup of wine that Huai Su had filled, he asked about Huai Su’s calligraphy.
“I heard that Wu Bingcao is your teacher. Regarding calligraphy, had he taught you any important truth?”
“On the day I completed my study, Master Wu told me very secretly that for cursive calligraphy, the application of vertical and horizontal strokes should be like the leg of an ancient gold hairpin, solid and vigorous.”
Yan Zhenqing smiled a little and took a sip of wine, and suddenly said: “You have studied the form as the leg of an ancient hairpin, how does that compare to the expression  ‘traces of leaking raindrops falling along the wall!”
“‘Traces of leaking raindrops falling along the wall... like an awl drawing on the sand, like carving on the inkpad, as if the brush has no trace!” Huai Su was shocked, turned over and fell at the feet of Yan Zhenqing. He constantly kowtowed:
“The master is here, please accept me as your disciple!”
Yan Zhenqing did not expect Huai Su to suddenly kneel down and worship him as a master. He stood up hastily and wanted to get Huai Su up, but Huai Su refused to stand unless Yan Zhenqing accepted him as a disciple.
By now, Qian Qi, standing beside and reciting the poems with the wine cup, was touched by the learned spirit of his nephew. He put down the wine cup and stood up: “Yan Zhenqing, in my opinion, please just accept him as your disciple.” When he saw Yan Zhenqing constantly shaking his head, he became worried as well. He said: “Alas, according to seniority, Wutong Bingcao is his teacher. You and Wutong Bingcao are fellows under the same master Zhang Xu. This means that, you are his master’s junior! Master, master’s junior, how far it could be?”
Yan Zhenqing pulled the sleeves and spoke solemnly:
“This is not right! Isn’t it profane to talk about seniority?”
Qian Qi became speechless, but Huai Su was still kneeling on the ground. Yan Zhenqing sighed a bit, pulled up his purple robe with both hands, knelt in front of Huai Su: “I am grateful that you did not give up on me, I am willing to connect our fates of ink and brush, encourage and support each other regardless of age or seniority.”

7 The traces of leaking raindrops falling along the wall (屋漏痕): a metaphor, means that when writing the vertical stroke in calligraphy, the line cannot go on unstoppably like the water trace, but need to be finished in a strong and powerful way at the end.

8 Awl drawing on the sand (如锥画沙): a metaphor describes the force when applying the brush is co**olled evenly, without displaying it deliberately.

9 Carving on the inkpad (如印印泥): a metaphor describes the force of applying the brush, the roundness and weight when moving the brush, the writing is steady, accurate and powerful

Huai Su saw Yan Zhenqing kneel in front of him and panicked. He jumped up quickly. Together with his uncle and Zhang Shilang, they helped Yan Zhenqing to get up from the floor. After everyone sat down again, Yan Zhenqing said: “Back then Huai Su you misinterpreted my intention. I believe: The ink and brush are important beyond the rules, we visit here with the purpose to hear the truth of calligraphy, I don’t know if there is anything Master Su can teach me?”
Facing a sincere and gracious elder, Huai Su eventually lost his constraints. When he heard Yan asking about his own calligraphy learning experiences, he did not know what to answer. After thinking about it, there was still nothing to say. “Well, forgive me to speak presumptuously at first; if you don’t throw a brick, how can you attract jade? I hope Master Yan can enlighten me.”
Huai Su began: “every summer, I often love to lie on the grass and observe the clouds in the sky. The clouds fluid with the wind, like grotesque peaks rise steeply, completely unpredictable. Thus I begin to associate it with the changes of composition and layout in calligraphy. In winter I often climb the mountains and see the twisted and spiral trail turn along the ridges. It is very i**iguing, but it is not artificially made, only formed by the course, which makes me think of the usage of brush and the nature in Tibetan spirit when writing calligraphy. Please don’t laugh, even when I see running rabbits and flying birds, or hear the sound of the springs and the waves of the pine leaves, I will be inspired to write spontaneously.......”
Yan Zhenqing suddenly hit his knees with his hands and sighed: “Ah! What you have said, is such an incredible truth that I’ve not heard before! Based on this, the profoundness of the Divine Saint of Cursive leaves good fortune to posterity. One generation is actually getting better than one generation!”
After he finished the words, he took out a booklet from his arms and cast it into the stove.
“What did you just burn?” Qian Qi asked.

10 Throw a brick to attract the jade (抛砖引玉): a proverb meaning to use a modest spur to induce or encourage others to come forward with more valuable co**ibutions

“The Twelve Concepts of the Brush Method that Zhang Xu granted to me. I intended to give it to Master Su, but after hearing his wisdom today, I believe this would be a superfluous move, so I burnt it.”
“Alas!” Huai Su exclaimed. He grabbed the booklet that had been one the  fire with his bare hands, lifted up his sleeves and put out the fire. When he hurriedly opened the book of “secrets” that he had dreamed day and night, it was still in smoke.
“...Ah, just what I thought! Just what I thought!” Huai Su quickly read The Twelve Concepts of the Brush Method personally handwritten by Yan Zhenqing in regular script, and was surprised to find out that these “secrets” seemed to be written according to his own mind. He could not help muttering, “Are these the secrets of the masters that have been passed down from generation to generation?” Huai Su’s surprise suddenly turned into confusion. He looked up from the book and looked at Yan Zhenqing with a lost gaze.
Yan Zhenqing understood Huai Su’s gaze and spoke slowly:
“Calligraphy is a matter of art, solely about emotions. The key to using the brush emphasises two characters, ‘Fa Yi’ (法意). ‘Fa’ (law), depends on oral and personal instructions, such as the kind we have just spoken about, ‘the leg of an ancient hairpin’ and ‘the traces of leaking raindrops falling along the wall’; but ‘Yi’ (spirit), depends on oneself. As what you previously stated, the law of nature, learning to observe from real life, this is the key to perfect the skill and discover the truth. Just as ‘words speaks the voice of the heart, the brush expresses the state of mind,’ the feelings are touched inside and shown in extreme detail, which forms the truth of calligraphy; why should one ever diligently obey the rules? ”
Huai Su was completely silent. After a long contemplation, suddenly, he looked straight, and his eyes turned keen and sharp. He uttered consistently: “I get it! I get it!” He turned over, holding The Twelve Concepts of the Brush Method, and ran out of the house...

“Where did Huai Su go? What has he done?” On a brick bed that was a little hard, Yan Zhenqing somehow nodded off and awakened. All of a sudden, he heard a shout, like waves of the pine leaves. No, not the sound of waves of pine leaves. It is the voice of a person, echoing in the valley. This shouting gradually approached from distant to near, closer and closer, resounding in the ears like thunder. “This is Huai Su!” Yan Zhenqing supported himself from the bed subconsciously. However, the second the shout turned loudest, it suddenly stopped.
The house was completely dark inside. Yan Zhenqing tried to use his ears to observe the strange movements outside, but there was no sound at all. After a short while, a ‘banging’ sound passed from the other room. “Isn’t this the sound of a copper bottle that Huai Su usually uses for wine? Huai Su is back!” Yan Zhenqing immediately got out of the bed, put on his brocade robe and opened the door. A lantern was placed besides the door, presumably for lightening the way for special guests if they wanted to go to the washroom at night. Yan Zhenqing lifted the lantern and circled behind the row of houses, which happened to be Huai Su’s lodgings.
He pushed the door open, and the oil lamp on the writing desk was still lit up. Huai Su was on his stove bed and already asleep. His one hand was stretching out to the edge of the stove bed, and the copper bottle lying on the ground was empty, which apparently had just slipped from his hand.
A fragrance of moist ink was floating in the air. On the writing desk, a long scroll of wild cursive calligraphy – about twenty sheets of Xuanzhou “hard yellow” vellum paper sticking together was lying there. On top of the scroll was messed with wet ink dripping. “Isn’t this the Autobiography he just finished writing!” Yan Zhenqing almost screamed.
It was not the Sogdian Whirl (胡腾) Kuchean danced on the streets of Chang’an, but it had rapid speed, crazy whirling and ever-changing movement; it was not the Raiment of Rainbows and Feathers (霓裳羽衣曲) played by the Pear Garden group, but it had the singing of a hundred birds, the whistling of mountain wind, and the cracking of thunder and lightning, forming a harmonious sonata of nature; it was not the Jialing Landscape Painting (嘉陵山水图) of Wu Daoxuan, but it had the rise of sun and moon, the beating of river and sea, and the change of cloud and rain; it was not Qu Yuan’s poem Li Sao (离骚), but it had incomparably intensive emotions, presenting an infinitely remote scene in imagination. It was the self confession of Huai Su, the person, the heart!
Under the light, Yan Zhenqing held Autobiography with trembling hands. He obviously could not co**ol his feelings of excitement by it. He did not pity Huai Su’s narrative of life experience, nor conformed to the attached poems written by ge**ies, but was intoxicated by the “crazy monk” arising out of those beautiful lines!
“I get it! I get it!......” It was again the scream of Huai Su: from low to high, from distant to near, in an instant, resounding among the empty mountains, echoing in the hollow valleys. Yan Zhenqing was shocked and quickly walked over and opened the door ——
The snow was fluttering like goose feather in the air. Between the vast valley and sky, came through surging waves of the pine leaves.
                                 (originally published in Sichuan Literature in 1980)

刘华 牛津大学博士


鸿石 发表于 2019-7-31 08:12:58



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