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Asian art

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'Hou chu shi biao' in clerical script


Gui Dian


1865 - 1958


The passage was taken from Hou chu shi biao [Later chu shi biao] by Zhuge Liang (181-234). Together with the Qian chu shi biao [Former chu shi biao], the main topics addressed in them included the reasons for the Northern Expeditions, as well as Zhuge Liang's personal advice to Emperor Liu Shan of Shu State during the Three Kingdom period (220-265) on how to govern and rule the state.


Translation: War is very unpredictable. When the Late Emperor was defeated in Chu,[al] Cao Cao clapped his hands in joy and claimed that the Empire has been pacified. However, the Late Emperor later allied with Wu and Yue,[am] seized Ba and Shu in the west,[an] and led his forces to attack the north, and Xiahou lost his head.[ag] Cao had miscalculated, and it seemed that the great mission was about to be completed. However, later, Wu broke the alliance, Guan Yu was destroyed,[ao] we suffered losses at Zigui,[ap] and Cao Pi declared himself emperor.[aq] All things are like that; they are very unpredictable. I shall bend to the task until I am worn out, and not stop until I am dead. My ability is limited and does not permit me to foresee whether the future will be a smooth or an arduous journey, and whether we will succeed or not. (translation from Wikipedia, accessed on 26 August, 2019)

The famous phase of “I shall bend to the task until I am worn out, and not stop until I am dead” in this paragraph is often used to describe one’s dedication to a calling.

Clerical script developed from small seal script of the first century BCE, but reached its peak during the Eastern Han dynasty. It experienced a revival since mid 18th century when scholars and calligraphers sought aesthetic renewal by way of returning to earlier traditions.


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ink on paper


126.5 x 30.5 cm image; 131.5 x 38.2 cm overall

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Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Helen Suk-yue Wheeler in memory of her parents Li Tung and Fund Ching-fai


Not on display

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Gui Dian

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