C65 郑板桥·难得糊涂


Zheng Ban Qiao · Nan De Hu Tu (The Absent-mindedness)

Dynasty: Qing (1644 – 1911)

Calligrapher: Zheng Ban Qiao (1693 – 1765)

Overview: The “Nan De Hu Tu” (The Absent-mindedness) by Zheng Ban Qiao carries a very intriguing story. One year, Zheng made a trip to Yun Feng Shan in Lai Zhou to witness Zheng Gong Bei, a piece of calligraphy written and carved on a stone. He had his an overnight stay at the house of an old man, who labelled himself ‘an absent-minded old man’. Coincidentally, there was a huge, exquisite ink-slab in the house and the old man requested Zheng to grace it with a piece of meaningful thought so that he could carve it onto the back of the ink-slab. Zheng duly produced four words that read “Nan De Hu Tu” (The Absent-mindedness), complete with his authorship seal bearing “Certified Student Kang Xi, First-Degree Scholar Yong Zheng, Second-Degree Scholar Qian Long”. Given the sheer size of the ink-slab, as big as the size of a table, Zheng demanded the old man to fill up the remaining space with his very own piece of writing to complement the four words inked by him earlier. Without hesitation, the old man wrote: “A beautiful stone does not come easily; getting a solid stone is difficult; turning a beautiful stone into a solid one is even more difficult; a beautiful and solid stone finds its home at the heart of uncivilized and ordinary people, not for the people who seek noble rank and opulence.” He also stamped his seal upon completing the writing, bearing “Academic Examination First, Country Examination Second, Imperial Examination Third.” This caught Zheng by surprise, but he was sure that this old man was no ordinary man. Zheng believed that he must be a high-minded government official who retired to humility. The old man had now earned Zheng’s adoring respect. Zheng responded with another piece of his thoughts on the unoccupied space on the ink-slab: “Being clever is rather demanding; being genuinely silly is difficult; getting from cleverness into silliness is absolutely more difficult; let go and take a step backward for peace of mind and ask for nothing in return.” The meaningful thoughts shared by both of them became a hit ever since. Zheng’s calligraphy combines the styles of ‘Zhen’, ‘Cao’, ‘Zhuan’ and ‘Fen’ into one entity.  He aptly called it the ‘Liu Fen Ban’ system, a type of calligraphy very similar to the conventional ‘Li Shu’ (which is governed by the ‘Ba Fen’ system). His revolutionary calligraphy style, unseen before, is creatively fused with the art form of a painting, of how a painter would perfect his work with a typical sort of handwriting.

Calligraphy Style: Xing Shu