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Preface to Poems Composed at Orchard Pavilion

ezhejiang.gov.cn| Updated: July 17, 2020 L M S


A copy of The Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchard Pavilion. [Photo/zj.zjol.com.cn]

Chinese calligraphy, the writing of Chinese characters as an art form, has been held in high esteem in China for thousands of years. The picturesque Orchard Pavilion in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province is the birthplace of the best-known artwork in the history of Chinese calligraphy, The Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchard Pavilion, which was created more than 1,600 years ago.

It was written by Wang Xizhi, a famous calligrapher of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), who is often referred to as the Saint of Calligraphy. His influence on Chinese calligraphy is as fundamental and far-reaching as William Shakespeare's influence on English literature and language.

On a late spring day in 353 AD, 42 literati, including Wang Xizhi, gathered at the Orchard Pavilion to dispel bad luck and pray for good fortune. During the event, they engaged in a drinking contest. Rice-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. At the end of the day, 26 literati composed 37 poems in total, and the preface to the collection was written by Wang on the spot.

The original preface, consisting of 324 characters in 28 columns, was said to be written by Wang on cocoon paper with a weasel-whisker brush while he was drunk. Wang tried to rewrite the preface but failed to recreate the same sublime beauty that the first one possessed.

The improvisational work, written in a fluid style, was often celebrated as the pinnacle of style in the history of Chinese calligraphy. Though the original script has long been lost, multiple copies of ink on paper and stone inscriptions have survived until today.


The Orchard pavilion scenic area in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province. [Photo/zj.zjol.com.cn]