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Asian art

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Large rubbing of calligraphy by Wen Tianxiang (1236-1283)

19th century-20th century


Wen Tianxiang


1236 - 1283


The calligraphy in this rubbling was by Wen Tianxiang (1236-1283), a revered patriotic hero in Chinese history. The title of the poem is “Zhong Xiao” “(Loyal and Filial Piety”), was written by Yue Fei (1103-1142) another patriotic hero in the Song dynasty. The title encapsulates the central concept of Chinese culture and philosophy.

Carving characters into hard substances can be traced back as early as the Neolithic era when Chinese characters were invented. These appear on pottery, oracle bones and bronzes. Rubbings using paper came much later - when Chinese had invented paper in the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD). The paper-based rubbing itself was probably invented in the late 5th or early 6th century, but by the Tang dynasty in 7th century, it had became quite common.

The principal function of rubbings has been to reproduce intellectually, aesthetically or religiously valued calligraphies or images that were carved, incised or cast on hard surfaces.

Among artists and scholars in China, the primary reason for seeking important rubbing copies is the appreciation of the fine calligraphy and poetry or essays, commonly in combination. Works of important artists and scholars were copied by famous calligraphers, then carved onto stones from which rubbings were made. They were then bound and distributed among the educated elite. When the original stone was lost or broken, rubbings then served as models for new copies for fresh cuts from which fresh rubbings were made.

In modern times, rubbings while ubiquitous in China are highly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs. The study of rubbings, 'bei xue', is considered the most profound and recondite discipline in China.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, August 2012.


Place where the work was made



19th century-20th century

Media category


Materials used

ink on paper


57.0 x 132.0 cm


Gift of James Hayes 2012


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Wen Tianxiang

Works in the collection



Where the work was made