Footnotes on A Narrative on Calligraphy - Vincent's Calligraphy

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Footnotes on the English Translation of “A Narrative on Calligraphy”
(1). 夫自古之善書者 - The term “自古” in this context should be interpreted as “since long time ago” rather than “from antiquity” (Chang and Frankel 1995:1) or  “ancient times”(De Laurentis 2011:41);   “古”  here is relative and not absolute in this context, and so does not necessarily include ancient prehistoric periods, and periods of Xia (夏), Shang (商) and Zhou (周), when standard and cursive scripts have not yet been discovered.  See footnote (4) for further discussion on “古”.

Hence, the term “善書” is focused mainly on discussing on penning good standard, cursive and semi-cursive scripts, which were widely used during Sun Guoting’s era.  In addition, the Four Talents (四賢, line 7),  Zhong Yao 鍾繇, Zhang Zhi 張芝, Wang Xizhi (王羲之), Wang Xianzhi (王獻之) mentioned were not renowned for writing the ancient Clerical, Seal Scripts, and etc.  Indeed, before the Four Talents, there were many renowned calligraphers, such as Li Si (李斯), who penned these ancient scripts with great beauty. (See 羊欣 , 采古來能書人名)
(2), (3).  Extracted from On Calligraphy, by Yu He (虞龢《論書表》).
(4). “古質而今妍” - Extracted from On Calligraphy, by Yu He (虞龢《論書表》).  The “古” and “今” refer to “past” and “present” respectively, not “ancient” and “modern” as suggested in other translations.  As in footnote (1), these terms are relative, not absolute.  This argument is supported by the phrases in the original On Calligraphy : “夫古質而今妍…鍾、張方(比)之二王,可謂古矣 (Zhong and Zhang can be considered as the “past (古)” relative to the two Wangs), … (二王) 父子之間又為今古 (between the two Wangs of father and son, it can also be said the son is the present(今) and the father is the past (古)”.

The term “質” should be interpreted as a description for unadorned natural beauty without artificial embellishment (質樸), not “substance (物質)” as in Chang and Frankel’s translation (Chang and Frankel:1).  “妍” , which is used here to contrast with “質” , should be interpreted as a description for elegance and prettiness that are of synthetic and artificial origins, and it certainly also carries substance.  

(5).夫質以代興 – “代興” should be interpreted as “fashionable at times”, not “developed from generations from generations” suggested by Chang and Frankel (Chang and Frankel:1) or “arises through social habits” suggested by De Laurentis (De Laurentis:42) in this context.  Original Chinese interpretation for “代” here should be  “世代,年代,時代 (times)” while  “興” should be “流行(fashionbable)” .  It is absurd to assert that primitive natural unadorned beauty (質) can be “developed” by humans as time progresses or “arisen” via their social habits.
(6). “而淳醨一遷, 質文三變” -  The vernacular Chinese interpretation can be written approximately as “當樸厚(淳)或浮薄(醨)的風尚一旦移易,書法上之或質或文,同亦因之有着很多的改變和變化。” In this context,  the original Chinese interpretation of “三” should be “多數或多次(many or multiple times)” as in “三思者,言思之多,能審慎也。”. Hence, “三變” should mean “many varieties of changes”.  Translating it to “changed in three stages” (Chang and Frankel:1) or “three mutations” (De Laurentis:42) is therefore incorrect. Furthermore, “淳醨” is used to describe the different fashions “風尚” and is not used to describe the strength of “wines” as suggested in De Laurentis’s translation (De Laurentis:42).
(8). 且元常專工於隸書 – The “隸書” here refers to “楷書 (standard script)” which was known as “今隸(current clerical script)” in Tang dynasty.
(9). 而逸少兼之: “兼” means “同時涉及具有兩件或兩件以上的行為或事物(doing two or more things at the same time)” in this context.  It does not mean “combine” as suggested by Chang and Frankel (Chang and Frankel:2).
(10).匪無乖互 – Entire phrase should be interpreted as “not without any mistake”.  “匪” means “不(not)”, “無” means “without”, and “乖互” means “ 差錯(mistake)” in this context.  This is a key phrase in which Sun Guoting was expressing his disagreement with the critics’ overall evaluation of the Four Talents (see Line 14-15).  He contended that Wang Xizhi was on par with Zhang Zhi and Zhong Yao while the critics suggested otherwise, and hence concluded that the critics’ assessment were “not without mistake”.  This sentence does not mean “each have his shortcoming” as proposed by Chang and Frankel (Chang and Frankel:2) or “lacking of shortcomings” by De Laurentis (De Laurentis:43).
(12). 不亦過乎- This sentence should be interpreted as “isn’t that a mistake”, not “went too far” (Chang and Frankel:2) or “certainly excessive” (De Laurentis:44). This is a common phrase seen in classical Chinese literature, and an example of a correct translation of it can be seen in James Legge’s translation of  The Writings of Chuang Tzu , Inner Chapters , The Seal of Virtue Complete (《莊子》內篇·德充符):

There now is our teacher whom you have chosen to make you greater than you are; and when you still talk in this way, are you not in error?

(13). 且立身揚名, 事資尊顯 – “事資” means “this matter is relied upon” as seen in《坐忘論·真觀》:
If I need to cross the sea, I (this matter) rely upon a boat.

Hence, the entire sentence should be interpreted as “conducting oneself properly in society (立身) and hence establishing one’s fame are, fundamentally, relied upon honoring and glorifying one’s parents”, not “establishing oneself and enhancing one’s reputation serve to reflect honor one’s parents” (Chang and Frankel:2) or “establishing one’s person and elevating one’s fame aims at providing notoriousness to one’s parents”(De Laurentis:44). In addition, the usage of “notoriousness” in this context by De Laurentis is extremely questionable, as “notoriousness” is usually used to describe infamy but not fame of a more favorable nature.  

Note that Sun Guoting’s assertion here differs from, but is still consistent with, what is written in The Classic of Filial Piety (《孝經》) where it stated:

When we have established our character by the practice of the (filial) course, so as to make our name famous in future ages and thereby glorify our parents, this is the end (ultimate goal) of filial piety. (translated by James Legge)

Sun Guoting merely pointed out the reverse is also true: in order for one to establish one’s fame and moral character, one must first honor one’s parents.
(15). 況乃假託神仙 – “假託” should be interpreted as “as a pretext of”, not “falsely claimed”(Chang and Frankel:2) or “falsely entrusted” (De Laurentis:44) .  The history of Wang Xianzhi’s using the powers of celestial beings as a pretext for his excellent calligraphy is recorded in one of Wang Xianzhi’s own writings, Fei Niao Tie (《飛鳥帖》):

臣年二十四, 隱林下有飛鳥左手持帋, 右手持筆, 惠臣五百七十九字。臣未經一周, 形勢髣髴。

(16). 面墻 – “面墻(a person facing a wall)” is a metaphor for an ignorant, visionless and uneducated person, and is explained in The Classic of History , Officers of Zhou, Annotated by Kong Yingda (《尚書·周官》 孔穎達 疏):

If one does not study and learn, it is as if one is facing a wall and so cannot see what is in front of him/her. (translated by KS Vincent Poon)

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