Lantingji Xu

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Juran - Xiao Getting the Orchid Pavilion Scroll by Deception

The Lantingji Xu (simplified Chinese: 兰亭集序; traditional Chinese: 蘭亭集序; pinyin: Lántíngjí Xù; Wade–Giles: Lant'ingchi Hsü; literally: "Preface to the Poems Collected from the Orchid Pavilion") or Lanting Xu (蘭亭序) is a famous work of calligraphy by Wang Xizhi, composed in the year 353. Written in semi-cursive script, it is among the best known and often copied pieces of calligraphy in Chinese history. This work began as the preface to a collection of poetry seminal to the Chinese nature poetry movement, but developed a life of its own. The preface describes the event during that year's Spring Purification Festival in which 42 literati, including Xie An and Sun Chuo, were present at a gathering at the Orchid Pavilion near Shaoxing, Zhejiang, at which they to composed poems, played music, and enjoyed wine. The gentlemen engaged in a drinking contest; wine cups were floated down a small winding creek as the men sat along its banks; whenever a cup stopped, the man closest to the cup was required to empty it and write a poem. In the end, twenty-six of the participants composed thirty-seven poems.[1]

The preface consists of 324 Chinese characters in 28 lines. The character zhī (之) appears 20 times, but no two look the same, which is considered one of the features of this work that constitute its calligraphic excellence. This celebrated work of literature also both flows rhythmically and gives rise to several Chinese idioms. That it is a piece of improvisation can be seen from the revisions in the text.

Searching for the Lantingji Xu[edit]

Emperor Taizong of Tang liked Wang Xizhi's calligraphy so much that he ordered a search for the original copy of Lantingji Xu. According to legend, the original copy was passed down to successive generations in the Wang family in secrecy until the monk Zhiyong, dying without an heir, left it to the care of a disciple monk, Biancai. Tang Taizong sent emissaries on three occasions to retrieve the text, but each time Biancai responded that it had been lost. Unsatisfied, the emperor dispatched censor Xiao Yi who, disguised as a wandering scholar, gradually gained the confidence of Biancai and persuaded him to bring out the "Orchid Pavilion Preface." Thereupon, Xiao Yi seized the work, revealed his identity, and rode back to the capital. The overjoyed emperor had it traced, copied, and engraved into stone for posterity. Taizong treasured the work so much that he had the original interred in his tomb after his death.[2] The story of Tang Taizong seizing the Lantingji Xu has since been the subject of numerous plays and novels.


Although Wang's original work was lost, numerous tracing copies and other forms of duplications such as rubbings exist in Chinese history. A Tang era copy by Feng Chengsu (馮承素), dated between 627-650, is considered the best of all the subsequent copies.[3] This copy is located in the Palace Museum in Beijing.[3]

A partial section of the Tang Dynasty copy of the Lantingji Xu by Feng Chengsu (馮承素), dated between 627-650, collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing. (Note: this is intended to be read right-to-left.)

The text[edit]

Text English
永和九年,歲在癸丑,暮春之初, In early March of year 353,
會于會稽山陰之蘭亭, we have gathered at the Orchid Pavilion in the North of Kuaiji Mountain
修禊事也。 for the purification ritual.
群賢畢至, All the literati have finally arrived.
少長咸集。 Young and old ones have come together.
此地有崇山峻嶺, This area has high mountains and steep hills,
茂林修竹; dense wood and slender bamboos,
又有清流激湍, as well as a limpid swift stream flowing by
映帶左右。 with reflections all around.
引以為流觴曲水,列坐其次; We sit by a redirected streamlet that floats the wine goblets to us.
雖無絲竹管絃之盛, Although without the grandeur of musical accompaniment,
一觴一詠, the wine and poems
亦足以暢敘幽情。 are sufficient to allow for a free exchange of deep feelings.
是日也, As for this day,
天朗氣清, the sky is clear, the air is fresh,
惠風和暢; and the breeze is mild.
仰觀宇宙之大, Hanging high is the immense universe.
俯察品類之盛; Around us is the myriad variety.
所以遊目騁懷, Stretching our sights and freeing our minds
足以極視聽之娛, will allow us to fully enjoy the sound and vision.
信可樂也。 This is really delighting.
夫人之相與, The bond between people
俯仰一世, will quickly span a lifetime.
或取諸懷抱,晤言一室之內; Some people might share their ambitions in a closet
或因寄所託,放浪形骸之外。 while others might freely enjoy themselves with their pleasures.
雖趣舍萬殊, Although interests are widely unique
靜躁不同; and the vigour is different,
當其欣於所遇, whatever pleasure one meets,
暫得於己,快然自足, we can get some temporary satisfaction.
不知老之將至。 But one can hardly realize how fast we will grow old.
及其所之既倦, When we become tired of our desires
情隨事遷, and the circumstances changes,
感慨係之矣。 grief will come.
向之所欣, What we have been interested in
俛仰之間,已為陳跡, will soon be a relic.
猶不能不以之興懷; We can’t help but lament.
況修短隨化, Whether life is long or short is up to destiny,
終期於盡。 but it will all end in nothingness.
古人云: The ancients said,
「死生亦大矣。」 "Birth and death are big events."
豈不痛哉! How could it not be agonizing?
每覽昔人興感之由, Any look at the cause of sentiment of the ancients
若合一契; shows the same origin.
未嘗不臨文嗟悼, We can hardly not mourn before their scripts
不能喻之於懷。 although our feelings cannot be verbalized.
固知一死生為虛誕, We know that equating life and death is ridiculous.
齊彭殤為妄作。 It is equally absurd to think that longevity is the same as short-lived.
後之視今, The future generations will look upon us
亦猶今之視昔, just like we look upon our past.
悲夫! How sad!
故列敘時人, So we record the people here
錄其所述, and their works.
雖世殊事異, Even though time and circumstances will change,
所以興懷, the cause for lament
其致一也。 will remain the same.
後之覽者, Future readers
亦將有感於斯文。 will have sentiment on this prose.


The Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering both poets, calligraphers, and other artists.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richard Kurt Kraus, Brushes with Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 27.
  2. ^ Lothar Ledderose, Mi Fu and the Classical Tradition of Chinese Calligraphy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 18.
  3. ^ a b Alsop, Joseph (1982). The rare art traditions: the history of art collecting and its linked phenomena wherever these have appeared: Volume 27 of A.W. Mellon lectures in the fine arts. Harper & Row. p. 231. ISBN 0-06-010091-5. 


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