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How the Yue Yi lun Was Lost: Calligraphy, the Cultural Legacy, and Tang Women Rulers

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Dating back to at least the Han dynasty, calligraphy has been a powerful object of culture and a medium of elite education, document preparation, and character evaluation. Discourses surrounding rulers and calligraphy form an important sub-strand in materials on calligraphy, and these accounts often depict calligraphy as a vehicle capable of reflecting a ruler’s moral character. This paper explores narratives that blame early Tang women power-holders, in particular, the Taiping and Anle Princesses, for borrowing and subsequently losing precious calligraphic items that were considered the authentic work of Wang Xizhi. The analysis focuses on the ways in which the different narratives describe the physical movement or location of the Wang Xizhi pieces in relation to contemporary rule and factional politics. The narratives interpret the calligraphic manuscripts as an example of the cultural inheritance, to which the ruler should properly relate in particular ways. In this way, the fate of the Wang Xizhi artifacts is understood in terms of the complex relationship between imperial power and the court’s cultural legacy.

Affiliations: 1: University of Miami


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