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Letter to Feng Jing of the State Farms Bureau

Cai Xiang (蔡襄, 1012–1067), Song Dynasty (960–1279)

Album leaf, ink on paper, 29.7 x 39.7 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

       In the fourth lunar month of the Huangyou third year (1051), when Cai Xiang was about to leave Hangzhou, he wrote this farewell letter to Feng Jing (1021–1094). He also presented gifts of “large dragon” pressed tea and a Yue celadon tea bowl, which were quite valuable at the time. “Large dragon” pressed tea was probably still a tribute item for the court, and “small dragon” pressed tea began production as tribute under the supervision of Cai Xiang when he was serving as Transport Commissioner of Fuzhou in 1047. The brushwork throughout this letter is steady and the characters beautiful and upright, the brush moving fluidly and with ease in a kind of natural grace, making this one of Cai Xiang’s masterpieces of semi-cursive calligraphy. Cai also chose weave-pattern decorative paper pressed with a butterfly design consisting of paired butterflies circled by a ring of beads. In fact, it appears much like the design on some porcelains and apparel at the time, perhaps thus having particular meaning.