Calligraphy and Beyond – November 2011

A special guest lecture by Antje Richter from the University of Colorado will examine the letters of Wang Xizhi in both form and content on Wed 30 Nov from 6pm.

Whilst famous for the beauty of the calligraphy, Prof Richter will consider more fully the content of this unique corpus of early medieval epistolary texts.


The scholar-official Wang Xizhi (303–61),famous for his calligraphy, is one of the greatest cultural icons of Chinese culture. Except for a handful of other pieces, we know of his handwriting exclusively from hundreds of very short, casual letters, which he wrote to friends and family. Celebrated as many of these letters may be, they are mostly appreciated for the beauty of their calligraphy, while their content remains largely ignored.

But Wang Xizhi’s letters also constitute a unique corpus of early medieval epistolary texts, unparalleled in transmitted literature, not only in terms of sheer quantity but also in their apparent informality and intimacy. In this talk Antje Richter will introduce the structure, main rhetorical strategies, and literary characteristics of these notes in the broader context of early medieval letter writing culture focusing on two recurrent topics: firstly, the lament of separation from the addressee and, secondly, Wang Xizhi’s epistolary treatment of his health or rather lack thereof. Analyzing the relation between the letters’ frequent use of epistolary clichés and set phrases vis-à-vis their power to convey authentic, personal sentiments, she will set out the argument that the overwhelming topicality of these letters does not reduce their epistolary efficacy. Even letters that seemingly lack any particular message and consist of nothing but convention have the potential to fulfill genuine communicative functions, to a great extent independently of their calligraphic appeal.


Antje Richter (PhD Munich, 1998) taught at the universities of Kiel and Freiburg (Germany) before she became an assistant professor of Chinese at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2007. She is the author of two monographs and a number of articles on various aspects of Chinese literature, medicine and art. Her research interests include the epistolary culture of mediaeval China, literary thought (especially in Wenxin dialogue), reflections on nature and wilderness in the poetry of Xie Lingyun (385–433) and others, as well as literary representations of sleeping and dreaming. At the moment, she is Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Fellow at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge and Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall.

VENUE: The Confucius Institute for Scotland, Abden House, 1 Marchhall Crescent, Edinburgh, EH16 5HP

TIME : 6pm -7.30pm followed by a short drinks reception

BOOKING: no booking required, all welcome