Profile of Monk Huai Su
By Lu Yu

Huai Su has an ingenuous, unpunctilious disposition. Knowing emptiness of this life, he keeps his true self by taking wine and expresses his aspiration through cursive writing. When he is getting heated with wine, he writes on walls, clothing, utensils, or whatever at hand. Once unable to afford paper for his practice, he planted thousands of banana trees outside his home village. Still lacking in writing supports, he made himself a square lacquer board as well as a lacquer tray; nevertheless, both of them were worn out by repeated use. Folks at his native place call him Master Qian,* Junior after his granduncle Monk Hui Rong whose practicing copy of Ouyang Xun was so close to the original that no one could tell which was which. “This monk will surely be famous for his calligraphy,” said Wei Zhi, the minister of the Ministry of Official Personnel Affairs, upon seeing his script.

“I'd better have a teacher than act blindly,” Huai Su thought one day, and started on a journey to Hangzhou, calling on his cousin Wu Tong for advice. Half a month passed when Wu said to Huai Su, “There are many expressions in cursive script. Wang Xianzhi's script, by Emperor Tai-zong, is like deciduous trees in midwinter - lonely and hardy. Zhang Xu once said to me in private, 'Withered wormwood loses its root and wind raises sand. I imitate their forms, and the imitation gives my calligraphy unusual appearance.' This was how great masters had their expressions.” Huai Su said nothing but exclaimed again and again, “Now I know!” After stayed for about a year, Huai Su took his leave. “Now you'll be thousand miles away, I have no other gift but a treasure that I'd like to part with,” Wu said, and presented Huai su with one of three calligraphy by Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi. On the day of departure, he passed on his knack of “vertical stroke in shape of ancient style hairpin” to Huai Su for encouragement.

Huai Su visited Yan Zhenqing years later. When Yan learned that Huai Su was a disciple of his schoolmate Wu Tong, he said to Huai Su, “Personal experience is essential to cursive script besides learning. It was from the sword dance of Ms. Gongsun, as well as the rolling wormwood and the flying sand, that Zhang Xu evolved his undulating, wheeling brushwork. I wonder if your teacher has anything alike?” “It is the shape of ancient hairpin, the highest standard for vertical brushstroke in cursive script,” Huai Su replied. Yan answered with a smile. Several months passed but he did not discuss calligraphy with Huai Su. Huai Su came to bit farewell when Yan said, “Last time you mentioned vertical stroke in form of ancient hairpin. What if it is in form of leaking stains on mud wall?” Huai Su leant on Yan's lap and cried for a good while. Yan then gently asked, “Do you have any experience yourself?” “I've been imitating summer clouds that often appear in the shape of marvellous mountains,” Huai Su replied. “They are changeful with wind, and never be checked by things like a dead end on earth.” “What an unheard-of remark!” Yan exclaimed. “This is certainly a continuation of Zhang Xu's wonderfulness.”

* Qian was Huai Su's secular family name.

Huai Su (725 - 785)
Bitter bamboo shoot
ink on rice paper

Essays on Chinese calligraphy

Home | Contact | Rice Paper