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Collection

An image of Couplet by ZHANG Zhiwan
Alternate image of Couplet by ZHANG Zhiwan Alternate image of Couplet by ZHANG Zhiwan

ZHANG Zhiwan

(China 1811 – 1897)

Title
Couplet
Place of origin
China
Period
Qing dynasty 1644 - 1911 → China
Media category
Calligraphy
Materials used
pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
Dimensions

a - right scroll; 129.6 x 30.4 cm; image

a - right scroll; 168 x 36.1 cm; scroll

b - left scroll; 129.6 x 30.4 cm; image

b - left scroll; 168 x 36.1 cm; scroll

Signature & date
Signed c.l. part b, in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "... Ziqing, Wang ". Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Zhiwang [artist's seal]". Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Ziqing [artist's seal]". Not dated.
Credit
Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003
Accession number
288.2003.a-b
Location
Not on display
Further information

‘It’s a real treat when the wind encounters bamboos;
There will be no rapids if the stream does not flow on a mountain.’
Inscription and signature: Written for Mr Kunquan as he requested. [Zhi]wang, alias Ziqing.

When the wind blows through a bamboo grove, it manifests itself in a distortion of the bamboo’s shape, while the latter also reveals its momentum by receiving a blow from the wind. The allusion is about the mutual support that increases efficiency: each in a pair shines more brilliantly in the other’s company. The second line implies that an adverse circumstance will arouse one’s strength.

Zhang Zhiwan (alias Ziqing) was from Nanpi, Hebei province. He passed his provincial ‘juren’ examination in 1840 and in 1847 he received the ‘jinshi’ degree with highest honours (‘zhangyuan’), thus being seen in a favourable light by the court. He was a successful official who became grand secretary, and was appointed a tutor in the Imperial Study. Other posts included vice-minister of the Ministry of Rites, governor of Henan and Jiangsu provinces and minister of the ministries of War and Justice. He was later awarded the title of the Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent. In general, he was considered a conservative bureaucrat, not like his younger brother Zhang Zhidong who explored Western methods in the context of remedying the dynastic decline (1).

Like many other scholar-officials, Zhang excelled in poetry, and was also well known for his landscape painting, which followed the 16th-century Wu school. Although he lived during the reigns of Daoguang (r1821–50) and Xianfeng (r1851–60) when ‘beixue’ (stele study) was in vogue, Zhang’s style as reflected in this couplet shows a ‘tiexue’ tradition, and the strong influnce of Dong Qichang.

1 For Zhang Zhiwan’s life, see Ke, Shaoming, et al. 1977, 'Qing shigao' (History of the Qing dynasty), Zhonghua Press, Beijing, ‘Biography' 225; Hummel, W. Arthur (ed). 1943 ‘Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing period’, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, pp 32–34.

‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.64.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales

The couplet, written on two narrow pieces of paper or silk, and hung either side of a large painting or doorway, is one of the most common forms of calligraphic art and has a long standing history in China. They first appeared in the Five Dynasties period (907-979) as pairs of plaques, carved after written master copies, to decorate architectural columns, courtyards and garden doorways. Couplets for indoor display, written on paper or silk, came into existence in the 17th century and gained great popularity in the Qing dynasty. The couplets themselves are either taken from classical poetry or contemporary literary works composed by the calligraphers themselves and their friends. A couplet is made up of two parts called the head and the tail. The two lines of verse are antithetically parallel. Formerly it was a very common practice to send them to friends or relations on such occasions as marriages and birthdays, or as condolences to families of deceased persons.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, August 2003.

Bibliography (1)

LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Sydney, 2005, 64, 65 (illus.). cat.no. 10

Exhibition history (1)

The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 23 Sep 2005–27 Nov 2005