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Calligraphy Work Comes Home

An exhibit celebrating the return to China of the Chunhua Ge Tie, the country's earliest known calligraphy collection, will run from September 24 to October 31 at the Shanghai Museum. 

The museum purchased four volumes of the album from an American for US$4.5 million recently.


"It is China's national treasure. However, if you ask 100,000 Chinese people for the name of Chunhua Ge Tie, I bet only one would know its proper meaning," said Wang Qingzheng, the museum's deputy curator. "We hope more locals and foreigners will appreciate the real charm of ancient Chinese calligraphy through Chunhua Ge Tie."


According to Wang, in 992 or the third year of the Chunhua reign of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), Emperor Song Taizong assigned an imperial compiler, Wang Zhu, to select the imperial collected calligraphy masterpieces from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and engrave them in wooden plates.


In this way, the Chunhua Ge Tie was created, and it became the ancestry of later rubbings of collected model calligraphy works.


Chunhua ge Tie was as prestigious as it was influential since it has since contributed to ever increasing interest in the study of Chinese calligraphy in later generations.


The stencil plates were destroyed in a big fire at the palace of Emperor Song Renzong (1010-1063). With the passage of time, several of the 10 volumes were lost.


Early in the 1950s, the Shanghai Museum began tracing the whereabouts of Chunhua Ge Tie. It was bought by an American collector for US$300,000 at an art auction in Hong Kong in the early 1980s.


"We kept trying to negotiate a deal with its former collector in the United States," said Chen Xiejun, curator at the museum. "As we knew, once the treasure is purchased by the US federal museum, which was also interested in the album, the chance for Chunhua Ge Tie to return to China would be nearly zero."


To celebrate the successful return of the ancient cultural heritage, the museum will hold a series of events, including the exhibition of Chunhua Ge Tie, an additional seminar, a calligraphy competition and the publishing of 1,000 limited print editions of the album that are priced at 6,000 yuan (US$723) each.


(eastday.com September 5, 2003)


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