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Asian art

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Zheng Xiaoxu


1860 - 1938


‘[Fan Min is a man of] outstanding qualities. He is loyal and outspoken; he has the righteousness of an impartial historian, and a distinguished character. Fellow villagers all came and pledged their allegiance to him. He was recommended for his filial piety, and the court conferred on him an official position.’
Inscription and signature: A close copy of the inscription engraved on the Monument of Fan Min, governor of Ba prefecture.

Zheng Xiaoxu (alias Taiyi, style name Su Kan) was a native of present-day Fuzhou in Fujiang. In 1882 he took the provincial level civil service degree to become a ‘juren’. He was appointed secretary of the Grand Secretariat in 1891, and went to Japan to work as secretary to the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo; the following year he was promoted to consul general in Kobe then in Osaka. On returning to China, he held senior positions at the Yamen of Foreign Affairs, and was in charge of building the southern section of the railway from Beijing to Hankou. In 1911 he was appointed treasurer in Hunan province. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, he retired to Shanghai, dedicating himself to poetry and calligraphy. The major turning point of his life was his appointment in 1935 as ‘prime minister’ of Manchukuo (a Japanese puppet-state) by Puyi, the last emperor of China. In spite of his outstanding accomplishments in calligraphy and poetry (he was the leader of a poetry school called ‘tong guang ti’), Zheng’s role in the puppet government during the Japanese occupation has overshadowed his fame in literature and art.

The calligraphy is a close copy of a segment taken from an inscription carved on a monument from the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE). The stele was erected in 205 CE to commemorate Fan Min, the deceased governor of Ba prefecture (present-day eastern Sichuan). It is considered one of the best preserved examples of clerical script, and has for centuries been the model from which to copy. Clerical script developed from small seal script of the first century BCE, but reached its peak period of usage during the Eastern Han. For hundreds of years, before the mid 18th century, the graceful art of Wang Xizhi had been accepted as the foremost example of Chinese calligraphic style. A large circle of scholars and calligraphers came to reject ‘tiexue’ (the study of classic models of calligraphy) as degenerate, and sought aesthetic renewal by way of a return to earlier traditions. Clerical script therefore experienced a revival which was still current during Zheng Xiaoxu’s time. For many years, Zheng tried out different techniques and started to develop his own personal genre. As one can see in the next entry, his assiduous copying of early stele models produced a very distinctive style in the late Qing and early Republican era.

‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.100.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales


Place where the work was made


Media category


Materials used

hanging scroll; ink on paper


166.1 x 45.2 cm image; 217.5 x 57.5 cm scroll

Signature & date

Signed l.l., in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "...Xiaoxu".
Signed l.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Zheng Xiaoxu yin [artist's seal]".
Signed l.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Shukan [artist's seal]".
Not dated.


Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Zheng Xiaoxu

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, 100, 101 (illus.). 27