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The Ravage and Two Other Writings (喪亂三帖)

Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303–361), Jin Dynasty (266–420)

Handscroll, ink on paper, 26.2 x 58.4 cm, The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru-Shōzōkan, Tokyo

       The Ravage and Two Other Writings is a scroll on which three pieces of writing — The Ravage of Ancestral Graveyard (喪亂帖), Letter to the Xie Brothers (二謝帖), and Note Received (得示帖) — are mounted side by side. The scroll carries characters regarding the reign of Kammu Tennō (r. 781–806), indicating its entry into Japan in the middle period of the Tang dynasty. The tracing technique used to reproduce the calligraphic trio was excellent.

       In Ravage, the author explains that he had just heard the news that his ancestral graveyard was again ransacked. Heartbroken, he recollects the deplorable sight was it was first vandalized. Here the author reveals his strong emotions through the undulating style of his calligraphy. Particularly in the letter’s second half, he vents his indignation by letting loose his brush until the characters verge on cursive script. Historical literature indicates that the calligraphy was rendered in 351 or 356. 

       Letter to the Xie Brothers, another highly significant work by Wang, might have been a letter addressed to Xie An and Xie Wan. The style is characterized by gentleness and composure, although the variations of character sizes and of the force of the brush offer dramatic contrasts. 

       Note Received is a letter regarding an appointment in which Wang explains to his friend that in view of their poor health, they should not start the journey for their meeting the following day until sunrise, after the risk of the early morning mist had passed. Perhaps because a happy meeting between good friends was soon forthcoming, the calligraphy seems to have been rendered with a calm and easy mind. The seemingly oblique characters, with strokes that sometimes connects them, flow fluently to display a carefree, unrestrained spirit. 

The Ravage and Two Other Writings
The Ravage and Two Other Writings

Source: Wang Yuchi, Striving for Perfection amid Social Upheavals, Chapter 3 of Chinese Calligraphy / Ouyang Zhongshi et al., translated and edited by Wang Youfen.