To My Children
by Fu Shan

When I was around twenty, I copied each Jin and Tang's regular script that handed down from the older generations in my family, but I could not even make a close copy. Later I obtained Zhao Mengfu and Dong Qichang's calligraphy by chance. Touched by their tactfulness and elegancy, I started to imitate their style and my imitations looked genuine after a few rounds of copy. The reason is simple: if one learns from men of honor, he will find his models too high to match; if one associates with men of inferior rank, he will soon take on the manner of his company and mix up with them before he realizes it. I despise Zhao and Dong's personality, and my dislike extends to their works. So I returned to Yan Zhenqing whose handwriting my great-grand father and great-great-grand father admired. I practiced hard, but his skill of wrist control was difficult to imitate. Then I understood why Dong called Zhao the master of last five centuries. To be a calligrapher is to be a upright person. Zhao actually followed the model of Wang Xizhi, but he took a wrong path which inevitably degraded him into a weakly beautiful style. This demonstrates that the hand always reveals the mind, and a small discrepancy can lead to a great error. So rather be clumsy than deft; be bad-looking than ingratiating; be fragmented than cunning; be forthright than planned.

Fu Shan (1607 - 1684)
Ancient Poem on Rice Paper Fan

Essays on Chinese calligraphy

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