Stone Inscription of “Specimen of Calligraphy of Snowing Hall”

On the north shore of the North Sea, there is a primitive courtyard named Chengguan Hall. Chengguan Hall is made up of three yards, and the innermost yard is Snowing Hall. On the walls of east and west cloisters in Snowing Hall, each is inlaid with 24 pieces of stone inscriptions of calligraphy. They are stone inscriptions of "Choice Specimen of Calligraphy of Snowing Hall." This set of stone inscriptions of calligraphy was carved from last phase of Ming Dynasty, and it was not finished until Qing Dynasty. It carved 81 pieces of calligraphy works of 20 famous calligraphers, from Jin Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty, including famous works such as the "Calligraphy of Happiness After Snowing", and "Calligraphy of Slaves under Government", by Wang Xizhi in Jin Dynasty; "Calligraphy of Yuhang City", and "Calligraphy of Pass of Festival", by Wang Xianzhi, son of Wang Xizhi; and also "Calligraphy of Modest Refusal", a rare grass script by Liu Gongquan in Tang Dynasty; "The Orchid Pavilion" by Chu Suiliang, copied from Wang Xizhi; "Calligraphy of Unique Stone"  by Mi Fu in Song Dynasty; "Calligraphy of Clambering" by Su Shi; and "The Household Biography of Lord Defending the Wicked"  by Zhao Mengfu in Yuan Dynasty, and other masterworks of calligraphy. Besides, calligraphy works by Huang Tingjian, Cai Xiang and Zhong Yao, also appeared in this set of stone inscription. The most special is that, in stone inscription of "Choice Specimen of Calligraphy of Snowing Hall", both famous calligraphers, Chu Suiliang and Zhao Mengfu, had copied "The Orchid Pavilion" by Wang Xizhi. From the perspective of experts, the work by Chu Suiliang is more like the authentic work by Wang Xizhi. According to record, Chu Suiliang had held the post of secretary of Emperor Taizong of Tang. And the authentic work of "The Orchid Pavilion"  was in possession of Emperor Taizong, so Chu Suiliang must have seen the work.

Since all calligraphy works collected in stone inscription of "Choice Specimen of Calligraphy of Snowing Hall" are famous, and the craft is very exquisite, the set of stone inscription was rewarded and respected since the day it was formed. Its rubbing copybook has become a collection cherished by men of literature and writing.

The stone inscription of "Choice Specimen of Calligraphy of Snowing Hall" has gathered famous works from more than 20 calligraphers. To our surprise, this set of stone inscription was from folk community. Who is the owner of the stone inscription? And how could he collect so many authentic works from masters?

Feng Quan was a successful candidate during the years of Wanli of Ming Dynasty. At the end of Ming Dynasty, Feng Quan was degraded to be a plebeian by Chongzhen Emperor because he was close with eunuch Wei Zhongxian. Through the experience of being an official, Feng Quan had a good opportunity to contact and study those precious antiques and treasures. With extinction of Ming Dynasty, a large number of treasures were drained to folk community from the palace, so people got the chance to collect these royal treasures. Under such a background, Feng Quan had collected many priceless paintings and calligraphy works, including authentic works and copybooks of famous calligraphers in past dynasties.

Feng Quan had a very wonderful handwriting himself, and a deep understanding of calligraphy. He hoped to carve the calligraphy works he collected on to flagstone gradually, and then made them into rubbing-calligraphy, for people to appreciate and copy. Feng Quan took out calligraphy works of famous calligraphers in past dynasties, and asked famous stone inscription experts of that time, to carve these precious calligraphy works onto 40 pieces of flagstones.

Finished stone inscriptions of calligraphy were kept in the home of Feng Quan in Zhuozhou, Hebei Province initially. Until the years of Kangxi Emperor of Qing Dynasty, compelled by the living embarrassment, offspring’s of Feng Quan sold off the stone inscription as pawn. Later, it was obtained by Huang Kerun from Fujian Province, and was brought back to Fujian. An official named Yang Jingsu, who was a governor-general in Fujian and Zhejiang during the years of Qianlong Emperor, bought these stone inscriptions of calligraphy in Fujian. Before long, Yang Jingsu was transferred as Governor-General in Zhili Province. Those 40 pieces of stone inscriptions were carried to the capital, and dedicated to Qianlong Emperor. Since he loved calligraphy and collection very much, Qianlong Emperor was really fond of this set of stone inscription. In order to preserve  the stone inscription appropriately, Qianlong Emperor ordered that the third courtyard must be assed behind the original two-yard Chengguan Hall of Beihai, following the regulation of Chuhua Pavilion in Changchun Garden of the Old Summer Palace. The set of stone inscription of calligraphy was unlade into the wall of east and west cloisters of main hall. After installment of the stone inscription of calligraphy, Qianlong Emperor composed the "Note About Snowing Hall" himself, which recorded the whole process of building of Snowing Hall, from which we can see the fancy of Qianlong Emperor toward this set of tone inscription. 

It has a long history for emperors, generals, and men of literature and writing to carve their collected calligraphy works onto flagstones. Stone inscription of calligraphy can be divided into official inscription and folk inscription. Official inscription is ordered by emperor, and carved by handicraftsmen organized by government, which is an action of state, while folk inscription is an individual action by folk community According to history records, the earliest official inscription appeared in Song Dynasty, which was more than a thousand years ago.

In Qing Dynasty, the number of official stone inscription of calligraphy was not that much, but all were exquisite works. Sanxi Hall is the West Chamber in Hall of Mental Cultivation of the Imperial Palace in Beijing. Qianlong Emperor collected “Calligraphy of Happiness After Snowing" by calligraphy Wang Xizhi of Jin Dynasty, "Calligraphy of Middle Autumn" by Wang Xianzhi and "Calligraphy to Boyuan" by Wang Xun, in this place. A horizontal inscribed board with inscription of Sanxi Hall by Qianlong Emperor himself was hung on the wall of West Chamber, so it was named Sanxi Hall. "Calligraphy of Happiness After Snowing", is collected in Palace Museum in Taipei, while "Calligraphy of Middle Autumn" and "Calligraphy to Boyuan" are collected in Palace Museum in Beijing Now. "Calligraphy of Happiness After Snowing" by Wang Xizhi was considered the best by Qianlong Emperor. In the 12th year of Qianlong Emperor, the three exquisite calligraphies in Sanxi Hall, together with hundred of authentic work of famous calligraphers in all ages in Qing Royal Court, were copied by carving on flagstones, under the order of Qianlong Emperor. And then those flagstones were inset into the walls of Yuegu Building in Beihai Park now, named stone inscription of "Choice Specimen of Calligraphy of Sanxi Hall".

During Qing Dynasty, it was prevailing for carving calligraphy works into flagstones, so number of folk calligraphy works was really great, though with overall quality nit that high. "Choice Specimen of Calligraphy of Snowing Hall" could be a quality product, among those folk calligraphy works.