‘Recalling the past and thinking of friends, that is also an inspiration for poetry;
Holding up a cup while gazing at a sword, which arouses a heroic spirit.’
Inscription and signature: Written for the appraisal of Hanquan, in autumn of the year of ‘bingzi’  by Li Hongwen.
The couplet is drawn from two poems by Li Shanying (c813-c858) of the Tang and Su Shi of the Northern Song respectively (1). ‘Thinking of old times and friends’ is a ubiquitous theme in Chinese poetry, and is particularly popular among those poets labelled with the style known as ‘wanyue’ (delicate restraint), to which Li is assigned. On the other hand, Su Shi is the foremost poet of the ‘haofang’ (unrestrained and masculine) school, which cultivated an attitude of heroic abandon. While lamenting the past is typical of ‘wanyue' poets’ sentiment, singing the praises of wine and sword, intoxicated with soaring determination, is characteristic of ‘haofang’ poetry. The couplet puts together lines from poems of distinct styles, thus creating a thoughtful tension.
Li Hongwen (alias Yukui) was a native of Huazhou, Guangdong province. He gained the ‘juren’ degree in 1867 and had played an important role in raising local militia forces to resist the Nian rebels in 1864. He later taught at several academies in Guangzhou, including Shilong and Wen’guan.
1 Li Shangying ‘Yaozhuan’; Su Shi, ‘Drinking with Ou Yu and six others (Yu Ouyu deng liuren yinjiu)’.
‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.80.
© 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.
Place where the work was made
pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
a - right scroll; 130 x 32.4 cm; image
a - right scroll; 154.5 x 38.2 cm; scroll
b - left scroll; 130 x 32.4 cm; image
b - left scroll; 154.5 x 38.2 cm; scroll
Signature & date
Signed c.l. part b, in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "... in the autumn of the year of Bingzi (1876) by Li Hongwen". Signed l.l. part b, in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Li Hongwen yin [artist's seal]".
Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 1 exhibition
The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 23 Sep 2005–27 Nov 2005
Referenced in 1 publication
LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Sydney, 2005, 80, 81 (illus.). cat.no. 18