Chapter IV Classics of Inscriptions on Stone—Stone Drum Characters


Section I   The Birth and Development of


Inscriptions on Stone Drums
Early in the Tang Dynasty, people found at Fengxiang County of Shanxi Province 10 pieces of stones that looked like steamed bread or drums; on their sides 4 character a line poems were carved, recording the ruler’s hunting and outing experience. These are the earlies characters carved on stones, which are referred to as “Characters on Stone Drums”—石鼓文in Chinese, that reads “shí Gǔ Wēn”.

 A photo of the stone drum




It is now commonly accepted that these stone drums were made at the beginning of the reign of Duke Xiang of Qin (777-766 BC), the 6th ruler of Qin in the Warring States period, during which inscriptions on bronze could no longer satisfy the needs of people, because the space for inscription on metal was too small. Inscriptions on stone was more convenient. The 10 stone drums were housed in the Confucius Temple at Fengxiang County at the time they found, but were scattered around in the society until Song Dynasty they were gathered again and placed at the imperial colleage, where the characters were inlaid with gold to satify the personal fondness of Emperor Huizong of Song. They were moved twice between Hangzhou and Beijing because of wars. They are now being kept in the Palace Museum in Beijing. But because of erosion, only a bit over 300 characters can be easily recognized.


                Pictures on the left are

                Samples of the stone

                 Drum inscriptions.
Zhang Huaiguan (张怀灌), famous calligraphy critic of Tang, commented on Shi Gu Wen thus: the look is superior, different from anything of today and the past; they are as graceful as pearl and jade, energetic as flying tassels; they are the succesors of Cang Jie and ancestors of seal script. Kang Youwei (康有为), famous calligraphy of late Qing remarked that Shi Gu Wen had its own special splendor just as glossy ganoderma or rolling clouds. Indeed, calligraphers in every generation all learned it with real earnest.
Section II  Features of Shi Gu Wen
Start and finish of strokes are with tip-in, verticals are longer and horizontals are shorter, strokeweight is almost the same. It looks tenuous and delicate, but not stiff. There is no traces of picto-graphy at all, it is all abstract symbols with lines. The merits of greater seal script are concentrated in Shi Gu Wen and is the predicesor of seal script. It has been regarded as an important model by calligraphers of all generations, it is therefore referred to as “the first rule for calligraphers”. It exerted most influence in the Qing Dynasty, famous seal script masters like Yang Yisun and Wu Changshuo formed their own style on basis of Shi Gu Wen.


Previous >Chapter III The sacrificia language—inscriptions

Next >Chapter V The antique-like seal script