Chapter VIII The Natural and Smooth Free Hand
Section I   An Overview of Free Hand
Free hand (行书 in Chinese that reads Xíng Shū), something in between regular and cursive scripts, occupied a most conspicuous place in the history of calligraphy owing to its practicability and artistic representability. It took its primitive form at the end of Han Dynasty, developed in the Northern Wei period and reached its zenith in Eastern Jin period when Wang Xizhi and his seventh son Wang Xianzhi (王献之 in Chinese that reads Wáng Xiànzhī) produced their master pieces.
There are no rules whatsoever for free hand writing, a big contrast to other forms of calligraphy. The only striking feature is that the strokes are often connected or simplified.
There are rarely any authentic pieces of Wang Xizhi available, most of his calligraphy are imitations by later generations. Representatives of his free hand are 《The Aunt姨母帖》,《Clear Intervals admist Fast Snowing快雪时晴帖》,《Prelude to the Orchid Pavillion兰亭序》and 《Prelude to the Sacred Religion圣教序》. Among them 《Prelude to the Orchid Pavillion》has been regarded the Number One Free Hand of the World.



                   Prelude to the Orchid Pavillion by Wang Xizhi

Wang Xianzhi’s representative free hand works are 《Mid Autumn中秋帖》,《Medicine Pill in the Shape of a Duck Head鸭头丸帖》and 《Rehmanniae Soup for the New Bride新妇地黄汤帖》. 《Mid Autumn》is the earliest existing authentic piece of free hand and therefore most precious. Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty named this piece, Wang Xizhi’s 《Clear Intervals admist Fast Snowing》and Wang Xun’s (王珣 in Chinese that reads Wáng Xún 350-401) 《A Letter about Boyuan伯远帖》“Three Rare Treasures”.



Clear Interval admist Fast Snowing by
                   Wang Xizhi



                Wang Xun’s Letter about Boyuan

The first Emperor of Tang (唐太宗 in Chinese that reads Táng Tài Zōng) adored Wang Xizhi’s free hand works and he himself was very at home with free hand, and his 《Hot Spring Motto温泉铭》was the first piece of free hand that was carved on a stele. Another master calligrapher of Tang was Li Beihai (李北海 in Chinese that reads Lǐ Běihǎi 678-747, also named Li Yong) who combined regular script with free hand very successfully and formed a new way of writing—“free hand regular script” (行楷 in Chinese that reads Xíng Kǎi). Yan Zhenqing, we mentioned earlier, also accomplished a great deal in free hand, his representative work 《Vying for Seating争座位贴》has been highly regarded.
When it came to the Song Dynasty, famous calligraphers like Su Shi (苏轼 in Chinese that reads Sū Shì 1037-1101), Huang Tingjian (黄庭坚 in Chinese that reads Huáng Tíngjiān 1045-1105), Mi Fu (米芾 in Chinese that reads Mǐ Fú 1051-1107) and Cai Xiang (蔡襄 in Chinese that reads Cài Xiāng 1012-1067) used free hand to express their learning, characters and ambitions. Contrary to the practive in Song Dynasties, Zhao Mengfu in Yuan Dynasty blazed his own trail and formed his own style, and 《Mindset心经》among all his free hand works was considered a masterpiece. Wen Zhengming (文征明 in Chinese that reads Wén Zhēngmíng) and Dong Qichang (董其昌 in Chinese that reads Dǒng Qīchāng) of Ming Dynasty, Fu Shan (傅山 in Chinese that reads Fù Shān), Wang Duo (王铎 in Chinese that reads Wáng Duó), Zheng Banqiao (郑板桥 in Chinese that reads Zhèng Bǎnqiáo) and He Shaoji (何绍基 in Chinese that reads Hé Shàojī) of Qing Dynasty were all masters of free hand.
Section II   Structure and Composition of Xing Shu
Features of free hand are mainly the following three:
1.   Interplay of slanting and upright strokes with a steady gravity center. In free hand we have to put strokes “in motion” and at the same time the center of gravity must be kept steady. Free hand writing must look unrestrained.
2.   Proper grasp of spacing among strokes. The collocation of strokes should not look stasis nor odd. Attention should be paid to density of strokes if the character has no radicals, and to spacing if the character is a compound.
3.   In free hand the same character should never be written in the same way.
Composition refers to the relationship between characters and rows or lines, which can be shown by dry, pale or wet and heavy strokes;by fast or slow speed of writing, by longer and shorter strokes or by slanting and upright strokes. The strokes should look after each other, there should be obvious traces of connections of strokes. Before one puts his pen on the paper, he should have conceived the entire layout as where to put down the ink and where should be left blank to make the work a holistic whole.


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