Stone Drum Script traces origin of calligraphy

Admirers and practitioners of Chinese calligraphy can head to Shanghai Library, which is hosting an exhibition "Rubbings of Stone Drum Script" until February 15.

Admirers and practitioners of Chinese calligraphy can head to Shanghai Library, which is hosting an exhibition “Rubbings of Stone Drum Script” until February 15.

The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to discover the origin of Chinese characters that were inscribed on the stone drums during the Qin Dynasty period (221-206 BC).

Qin was the first empire of China. The stone drums worked as the “first Chinese dictionary” after Emperor Qinshihuang conquered six states and united China. The 10 stone drums are a priceless treasure and kept at the Palace Museum in Beijing.

The contents are four-character rhymed verses in the style of the Classic of Poetry, commemorating either royal hunting or fishing activities.

Originally thought to bear about 700 characters in all, the stone drums were already damaged by the time they were first mentioned in Du Fu’s poetry in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). They were further ruined by nature, rough handling and repeated copying by rubbing over them for centuries.

One of them was even converted into a mortar, which destroyed a third of it. A mere 272 characters are visible on the stones today.

Passing through the hands of generations of collectors, master calligraphers and epigraphers, only 470 characters on the rubbings are legible.

Shanghai Library teamed up with Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Calligraphers’ Association for the ongoing exhibition — the first for the Chinese New Year — to showcase 24 fine collections of the rubbing albums from across the country.

Among them is a mid-Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) rubbing called “Huang Bo Album,” in which the characters “Huang” and “Bo” remain intact. Another rubbing, called “Di Xian Album,” is from early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), in which the characters “Di” and “Xian” remain intact. The names of the album keep changing as the characters fade over the years.

Stone Drum Script traces origin of calligraphy
Shanghai Library

A mid-Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) rubbing called “Huang Bo Album,” in which the characters “Huang 黄” and “Bo 帛” remain intact. 

Stone Drum Script traces origin of calligraphy
Shanghai Library

 Another rubbing, called “Di Xian Album,” is from early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), in which the characters “Di 氐” and “Xian 鲜” remain intact. 

The birth of writing is an important sign of a culture maturing in any civilization. Information began to be recorded and knowledge preserved.

The stone-drum script, even though much of its text is lost to history, set the basic stroke structures of the Chinese characters. Therefore, to be able to practice calligraphy in a drum-stone script is regarded as a highly polished skill.

Besides the original rubbing albums, the exhibition also includes rubbings of the stone drums re-carved in the 18th century under the supervision of the Imperial Academy during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. They used the remaining 310 characters that were still legible at that time. Works of famous calligraphers in stone-drum script, such as Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), set the standard for future practitioners.

Stone Drum Script traces origin of calligraphy
Shanghai Library

The exhibition showcases 24 fine collections of the rubbing albums from across the country.

Date: Through February 15, 9am-5pm
Venue: 1st Exhibition Hall, G Block, Shanghai Library
Address: 1555 Huaihai Rd M.

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