Southern and Northern Schools   (Extract)
Ruan Yuan

Tangled styles down the ages can be put in order according to the roots. Regular, semi-cursive and cursive script all evolved from clerical script around the period of the Han, Three Kingdoms and the Jin, when schools took place. Southern School refers to the styles of Eastern Jin and Southern Dynasties; Northern School refers to the styles of Northern Dynasties and Sui dynasty.

Once popular in the south, Southern School is noted for its beautiful, elegant manuscripts on paper, in which characters seem illegible because of reduced strokes. As to ancient seal and clerical script technique, Eastern Jin alone saw a good deal of revision, not to mention later dynasties. Whereas Northern School maintained ancient tradition. Restrained and clumsy, this school is noted for its stone inscriptions, in which ancient seal, clerical and cursive script tradition continued till the beginning of Tang dynasty.

Barely noticeable in Sui dynasty, Southern School was in the limelight during the Tang. Even so, Northern School masters, such as Ouyang Xun and Chu Suiliang, continued to influence stone inscription styles till the end Tang dynasty.

These two schools are markedly different, because aristocrats from neither side exchanged with the other. Emperor Tai Zong was exclusively keen on Wang Xizhi, and his keenness extended to Wang's lineal disciple Yu Shinan. From this point Wang became popular in both south and north. Even though what practiced among the masses were still stone inscriptions, for it was not easy for them to obtain an original masterpiece. Northern School eventually faded away when Copybook of Chunhua prevailed over stone inscription in Song dynasty.

Ruan Yuan (1764 - 1849)
ink on colored rice paper

Essays on Chinese calligraphy

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