Everyman models after the Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion,
But ends up in failure to rival it.
Scholars in ancient times would pay more attention to modeling after predecessors when it came to calligraphy and paintings. It had never happened that someone could make his fame without following the style of antiquity. The reproduction of ancient paintings would be aimed to create copies, while that of ancient calligraphies focus on imitation of well-known models. The poem cited above describes the hardships that one has to overcome in practicecalligraphies after ancient models.
There are primarily two methods to do practice calligraphies. One is to put the paper beside the model and see how the strokes go. In this way, we tend to appreciate its charm rather than simply copy it stroke by stroke. The other is to cover the model with a piece of thin paper and make duplications. In this way, we are able to copy it more accurately but are apt to neglect its internal spirit.
Onlythose who have practiced thousands of pieces of music will really comprehend its essence, while only those who have seen thousands of swords are able to recognize the best one. Apart from the Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion, model calligraphies since Tang and Song dynasty includethose of Zhong You, Huang Xiang, Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi, Monk Zhiyong, Monk Huairen, Sun Guoting, all of which have been renowned and practiced for generations. Other model calligraphies also include those written by different scholars of the Northern Song dynasty, Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty, most of which were finished by celebrated literati. Although since the Song and Yuan dynasty, some scholars might keep model calligraphies to themselves to pride themselves on elegance, it is inevitable that the authentic calligraphies are mixed up with false ones, but the later generations still benefit a lot from them.
Suzhou Museumhas collected considerable practice calligraphies since the Yuan and Ming dynasty. This exhibition has selected altogether over thirty pieces from them in various scripts and forms. Many of them used to be collections of celebrities and are rarely seen, such as the works of Zhao Mengfu and Cao Zhenxiu. Some of the practice calligraphies manifest the integration of form and spirit, and some of them display the calligrapher’s own characteristics, such as the works of Wang Duo, Jiang Chenying, Wang Shuzhi and Wu Changshuo. It can also be detected that the calligraphers have made great efforts to improve their skill. The audiences are also able to know more about the development of various styles and inheritance of different schools, which is of help to study the history of calligraphy.