Top 10 calligraphy masterpieces of ancient China

By Xu Lin
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Autobiography, one of the 'top 10 calligraphy masterpieces of ancient China' by


The "Autobiography" is a representative work of calligrapher Huai Su (737-799) in his later years in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Huai was a monk as well as a devotee of the art of cursive script. His cursive script was greatly admired by famous contemporaries, poets, and other calligraphers, such as Yan Zhenqing, who all presented him with gifts of prose and poetry. In 777, Huai transcribed some of these gifts with a preface in wild cursive script to create this hand scroll.

The work, 755 x 28.3 cm, consists of 698 characters in 126 lines. Huai used a fine brush to write quite large characters. The strokes are rounded and dashing, like curled and bent steel wires. A continuous cursive force permeates the entire piece. Despite this piece being an example of "wild" cursive script, it also has a sense of regularity. Thus, this hand scroll represents the ultimate in cursive script-control - freedom and spirit yet with restraint.

The work can be found in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

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