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Asian art

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Zhu Ruzhen


1870 - 1942


‘Cleaning up lichen and sitting under the setting sun,
Both host and guest are silent, as if keeping themselves aloof from the world.
Young swallows flutter in the air, frogs croak below;
Duckweed and willow catkins fill the pool.’
Inscription and signature: Transcription of ‘Passing by Shiwu’, a poem by Wang Dunweng [1624-1691]. Written for Zonglu as he requested. Zhu Ruzhen, style name Aiyuan.

The poem, composed by Wang Wan (1624–1691, style name Dunweng), a scholar-official and well-known poet of Emperor Kangxi’s court, expresses a serene communion between humanity and nature that stimulates in one’s mind an awakening, a purge, and a sublime transcendence of mortal bounds.

Zhu Ruzhen (alias Pinsan, style name Aiyuan) was a native of Qingyuan, Guangdong province. Born into a poor family (his father died when he was young), he passed the metropolitan examination in 1904, a year before the imperial examination system was abolished, and gained his ‘jinshi’ degree, taking second place (‘bangyan’) which he indicates in one of his seals. As a compiler of the Hanlin Academy, he was chosen to study law in Japan in 1905. Upon his graduation and return to China, he became a professor at the Law School in Beijing. He resettled in Hong Kong after China became a republic, and taught at Hong Kong University.

Although during Zhu’s time, the calligraphic style based on the Northern Wei stele was predominant, he seemed to have been able to immerse himself in the style of the ‘tiexue’ tradition. In his early life, Zhu Ruzhen followed the style of Zhao Mengfu, and his elegantly balanced ‘kaishu’ script was admired by Puyi, the last Qing emperor – even in the early republic Puyi still requested Zhu write pieces which were to be bestowed on his formal courtiers (1). His running script seeks only a slight change within a restrictive scheme. Many scholar-officials had, since childhood, studied the ‘guan’geti’ (a style based on regular script but well-knit, required for the imperial civil service examination) and thus found it difficult to significantly depart from the style; Zhu Ruzhen’s calligraphy is a good example.

1 Lin Yajie & Zhu Wanzhang, 2004, Lin’nan shuxue yanjiu (Study on the calligraphy in Ling’nan region), Guangdong Renmin Press, Guangzhou, p 115, fig 12.

‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.116.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South WalesDunweng [1624–1691].


Place where the work was made


Media category


Materials used

hanging scroll; ink on paper


125.0 x 40.9 cm image; 190.0 x 52.5 cm scroll

Signature & date

Signed c.l., in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "…Aiyuan, Zhu Ruzhen.".
Signed l.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Zhu Ruzhen zi pin san [artist's seal]".
Signed l.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Jiachen bangyan [artist's seal]".
Not dated.


Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Zhu Ruzhen

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Sydney, 2005, 116, 117 (illus.). 35