A Study of Kang Youwei’s (1858-1927) Guang Yizhou Shuangji

Lau, Chak Kwong 劉澤光
Supervisor: Prof. Q.L. Wan

The late Qing period (1796-1911) witnessed a calligraphic renaissance characterized by a fresh challenge to the sole orthodoxy of the millennium-old tiexue (the school based on model writings derived from duplication of original ancient handwritten works), posed by the emergence of the progressive and innovative beixue (the school based on monumental inscriptions on engraved stelae). Such a vigorous calligraphic transmutation in terms of both aesthetic conception and style marked the blossoming of the Beixue Movement.

Kang Youwei’s (1858-1927) Guang yizhou shuangji, a treatise on calligraphy dealing with the rationale of the Beixue Movement, forms the core of this study. The treatise is examined within its historical and cultural frame and the analysis is complemented by an illumination of its significance.

Chapter One provides a terminological explanation, tracing the origins of frequently applied terms and concepts including bei, tie, beixue and tiexue. It also describes the debate about the controversial Guang yizhou shuangji and reviews the existing state of knowledge of studies conducted on it.

Chapter Two examines the events that facilitated the birth of the treatise, including Kang’s intellectual commitment to the Gongyang (see p. 62) and New Text (see p. 61) traditions. Other related political and cultural incidents are also brought up in the discussion. Among them, the internal and external political crises of the Manchu regime was found to be of prime importance, since it created an opportunity for the rise of Kang as a political and cultural reformer and prompted the shift of aesthetic concept from being delicacy-oriented to forcefulness-oriented, thus stimulating the growth of the beixue and the birth of the treatise.

Chapter Three analyzes the three preceding counterparts of the Guang yizhou shuangji—Ruan Yuan’s (1764-1849) Nanbei shupai lun and Beibei nantie lun and Bao Shichen’s (1775-1855) Yizhou shuangji. This is followed by Chapter Four which critically evaluates the Guang yizhou shuangji proper in terms of four specific themes: (1) reverence for bei and demotion of tie; (2) demotion of the Tang calligraphy; (3) grasp and mastery of brush; and (4) theoretical foundations for the beixue.

Chapter Five explores the significance of Guang yizhou shuangji. Through a comparison of the treatises of Ruan Yuan, Bao Shichen and Kang Youwei, Guang yizhou shuangji has been shown to be the most preeminent and influential—it played a much more active role in promoting the beixue by establishing rigorous theoretical foundations with strong dedicated efforts. In addition, its enormous impact is evident in its huge number of reprint versions and the practices and philosophies of its adherents including Kang Youwei himself and a considerable number of his students such as Xu Beihong (1895-1953), Liu Haisu (1896-1994) and Xiao Xian (1902-), who as influential calligraphers and educators made great efforts to fan the flames of the Beixue Movement.