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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sailing the boat of tradition : Mi Fu’s revision and innovation in calligraphy Hudson, Adah Liana


The affiliation of text and visual material in the Chinese calligraphic tradition has a rich history informed by ancient models and continual innovation. My thesis explores the Northern Sung dynasty calligrapher Mi Fu’s (1051-1107) appropriation and contention of the legacy of the Jin Dynasty calligraphers Wang Xizhi (307-365) and Wang Xianzhi (344-388), both icons in the history of Chinese calligraphy. Following the Wang’s rise to fame in the fourth century, historical texts delineate the importance of the father, Wang Xizhi, and discredit the son, Wang Xianzhi. Over half a millennia later, Mi Fu boldly negated this claim, asserting that Wang Xianzhi’s father could not compare to his son’s “transcendent and untrammelled” perfection. My research regarding Mi Fu’s study of the Two Wangs brings forward Mi Fu’s disruption of the conventional adherence to the father’s style, demonstrating Mi Fu’s appropriation of the calligraphic model of Wang Xianzhi. As a scholar-official, Mi Fu’s manipulation of the foundations of calligraphy was a daring transformation of calligraphy into a form of individual expression. Resulting from his study of past calligraphic models Mi Fu developed a distinctive approach to calligraphy. This is exemplified by Mi Fu’s pivotal work Letter About a Coral Tree. Informed by Francois Jullien’s theory of detour and access, I discuss Mi Fu’s stylistic development as an oblique approach guided by ingenious detours. Furthermore, I situate Mi Fu’s manipulation of text through Derrida’s theory of writing and difference. In conceptualizing Mi Fu’s work in this way I consider both the ideological and technical innovation of Mi Fu’s calligraphic oeuvre in eleventh century China.

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