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Chinese Calligraphy: Zha Shibiao and Mao Xiang


The works of Chinese calligraphers of the late 17th century are rather fascinating and well-shaped in their details. The main message is implied in the delivery of Chinese mature style that was particular to dynasties of Ming and Qing. In this respect the deepest desire of mine was to compare and contrast the works of both authors in order to nuzzle close to what differs and unites Zha and Mao. The way to describe it is implemented on the description of particular details in the works by means of analysis of calligraphy, as a folk tradition of China.

Looking at the descriptive and comparative analysis of both works there is no doubt in artists’ intentional following the mastership of their common teacher Dong Qichang. The validity of this statement, as it is mentioned bellow, can be disclosed in particular arrangement of characters in three- and four-line setting. It is also a point to claim the essence of xingshu (running script), as the main form of performing works of both calligraphers. I feel like having an assumption that living in the Eastern part of China these two could not fail to be engaged with Dong Qichang.

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Thus, both scrolls promote highly impressive feelings on a viewer familiarized with the art of Chinese calligraphy. Works by Zha Shibiao and Mao Xiang are the examples of Qichang’s influences in style of drawing and sceneries of China so expressively described in the texts and in the paintings of both. This point of view is felt throughout the paper to make more emphasis on the uniqueness of Chinese calligraphy in the late 17th century.

Chinese calligraphy

Zha Shibiao(1615-98) and Mao Xiang (1611-93) are well-known calligraphers and landscape painters of China. Their works represent great value for the art and historical heritage of the Chinese people. It is also a part of the world art and cultural attainments that represent a “higher flight of artistic thought.” Hence, their works are particular for the similarity to Dong Qichang’s manner of patterning calligraphy and describing main details of landscape paintings. It is quite necessary to admit that both calligraphers are described in the paper expressly in their calligraphic talent. Thereupon, Zha Shibiao and Mao Xiang are similar in following Dong Qichang’s style of drawing but different in adding personal strokes and motives in Chinese calligraphy.

First of all, one should pay attention to the facts that unite both calligraphers in their artistic development and pursuit of mastership to followers of their schools. In this respect Zha Shibiao and Mao Xiang moved forward the art of calligraphy in China having worked out a set of peculiar techniques in their works to make the Chinese art more varied in forma and methods of representation.

Zha Shibiao was originally from Huizhou in the Anhui province in the Eastern part of China (Burkus-Chasson 1). He was a talented calligrapher, painter and poet. His art is shaped in many faceted character of the ways o express it. Frankly speaking, Zha Shibiao was persistent and resourceful in what he tried to implement. One of his works – untitled poem supposedly devoted to unspecified Mister Nian – depicts a sad storey of the poet’s thoughts about one more episode from the cycle of life. This painting is performed as a hanging scroll with ink on satin with the size of 81 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches (Burkus-Chasson 1). All details of this work represent some particular touches relevant to Anhui School of painting headed by Zha Shibiao.

It is obvious that the arrangement and picturesque outlook of the text imitates Dong Qichang’s manner. It is especially seen on the material and on the way hieroglyphs are set. One more reason to think this way is an ostensive imitation of “running script” (xingshu) by master Qichang (Burkus-Chasson 1). This features of Zha Shibao are somehow different from his teacher, because Zha tried to follow fashionable trends of his time. In this respect Zha frequently used the brush in its different variations. He tried to improve his wavelike strokes by means of the side of the brush. He modulated a splendid calligraphy also through the use of the most picturesque and appalling hieroglyphs. In this way he wanted to showcase and deliver the spirit of China and its people.

Chinese calligraphy

On the other hand, Mao Xiang is another eminent follower of Dong Qichang. Having originated from Jiangsu, this calligrapher provided mature style in its versatile [combination of contemporary “masters of brush.” His paintings embrace with the peculiarities of lines and arrangement of hieroglyphs. He also tried to make Qichang’s manner shaped with his personal adding of some details. His well-known painting Waiting for the Moon at Six Bridges is drawn on a handscroll made of satin with ink. Its size is pretty normal for feeling an impressive influence of the painter. It is 14 1/4 x 218 1/2 in. (36 x 555 cm) (Oberlin 1).

The author was a devoted follower of Qichang’s legacy in the major part of his life. He was apt at imitating the strokes and details of Qichang quite apparently and vividly to observers. In fact, it is an extract from the travelogue by Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610) that is the most illustrative and fascinating in the whole work by Hongdao (Oberlin 1). It is a description of West Lake area being one f the most picturesque places near Hangzhou (Oberlin 1). Mao Xiang is similar to Zha Shibiao in highlighting the beauty of plum trees in particular seasons of the year. It is a standpoint for both calligraphers.

The handscroll makes it obvious to state that Mao Xiang imitated his teacher in xingshu like did Zha Shibiao. The peculiarity of Xiang’s calligraphy is in making lines thicker or thinner, thus, to outline characters of the painting giving them more or less significance. Also, it makes the whole painting broad in meaning by virtue of writing three- and four-character lines (Oberlin 1). Xiang wanted to surpass stylistic and theoretical approaches of Qichang combined in his later strokes in the manner of his calligraphic painting.


To conclude, both Zha Shibiao and Mao Xiang followed straightforwardly the style of their teacher Dong Qichang. It is seen in graphical peculiarities of woks, their materials and also the ideas depicted on scrolls. It makes these calligraphers peculiar in implementation of their stylistic maturity. However, the art of Zha is rather demonstrative in his opposition to the imperial tyranny. He made it by means of laying more emphasis on the theme of landscape painting, as a reflection of reality. Mao Xiang was more devoted to following Qichang. He makes points on personal strokes solely in his later artistic work.

Works cited

Burkus-Chasson, Anne. Untitled (Poem), 17th century by Zha Shibiao (China, 1615–1698). Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2009. Web.

Oberlin. Waiting for the Moon at Six Bridges by Mao Xiang (Chinese, 1611 – 1693). Allen Memorial Art Museum, 2009. Web.


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