Zhu Xi: The Leading Figure of the School of Principle
Zhu Xi (朱熹, October 18, 1130, Yuxi, Fujian province, China – April 23, 1200, China) was a Song Dynasty (960-1279) Confucian scholar who became the leading figure of the School of Principle and the most influential rationalist Neo-Confucian in China. His contribution to Chinese philosophy included his assigning special significance to the Analects of Confucius, the Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean (the Four Books), his emphasis on the investigation of things (gewu), and the synthesis of all fundamental Confucian concepts.
Zhu Xi, whose family originated in Wu-yuan County of Hui Prefecture (徽州婺源县, located in contemporary Jiangxi Province), was born in Fujian, where his father worked as the subprefectural sheriff. After his father was forced from office due to his opposition to the government appeasement policy towards the Jurchen in 1140, Zhu Xi received instruction from his father at home. Upon his father's death in 1143, he studied with his father's friends Hu Xian, Liu Zihui, and Liu Mianzhi. In 1148, at the age of 19, Zhu Xi passed the Imperial Examination and became a presented scholar. Zhu Xi's first official dispatch position was as Subprefectural Registrar of Tong'an (同安县主簿), which he served from 1153 - 1156. From 1153 he began to study under Li Tong, who followed the Neo-Confucian tradition of Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, and formally became his student in 1160. In 1179, after not serving in an official capacity since 1156, Zhu Xi was appointed Prefect of Nankang Military District (南康軍), where he revived White Deer Hollow Academy (白鹿洞书院), and got demoted 3 years later for attacking the incompetency of some officials. There were several instances of receiving an appointment and subsequently being demoted. Even though his teachings had been severely attacked by establishment figures, almost a thousand people attended his funeral. In 1241 his tablet was placed in the Confucian Temple.
This renowned neo-Confucianist, educator and thinker from Southern Sung dynasty had, from an early age, followed his father and a number of great calligraphers at the time in practicing this art. At first he learned the style of Cao Cao, but later specialized in the regular script of Zhong Yao and the running cursive script of Yan Zhenqing. As he never ceased practicing, he reached a superb level in the art characterized by overpowering strength. Since then, though his manuscripts left to the world are piecemeal and incomplete, they have been regarded as invaluable for collection. While he bequeathed to posterity quite a bit of calligraphy which has been highly acclaimed in history, it is regrettable that most of is has been lost. Moreover, since the Yuan dynasty, his school of philosophy has been adopted as the official ideology of China. His philosophy not only profoundly affected traditional Chinese thinking and culture, but also spread outside China with tremendous influence. He has been hailed as one of the ten key philosophers of the Confucian School. His fame in the realm of philosophy was so great that even his brilliance in calligraphy was overshadowed. He was skillful in both running and cursive scripts, and more especially in large characters. His extant artworks consist mainly of short written notes in running script and rarely of large characters. His authentic manuscripts are collected by Nanjing Museum, Beijing Palace Museum, Liao Ning Province Museum, China; Taipei Palace Museum and the National Museum of Tokyo, Japan. Some pieces are in private collections in China and overseas. The 《Thatched Hut Hand Scroll》, one of Zhu Xi's masterpieces in running-cursive script, is in an overseas private collection.
《Thatched Hut Hand Scroll》 contains three separate parts:
The calligraphy of Zhu Xi had been acclaimed as acquiring the style of the Han and Wei dynasties . He was Skillful in the central tip, and his brush strokes are smooth and round, steady yet flowing in the movements without any trace of frivolity and abruptness . Indeed, his calligraphy possesses stability and elegance in construction with a continuous flow of energy. Without trying to be pretentious or intentional, his written characters are well-balanced, natural and unconventional. As he was a patriarch of Confucianism philosophy, it is understandable that his learning permeated in all his writings with due respect for traditional standards. He maintained that while rules had to be observed for each word, there should be room for tolerance, multiplicity and naturalness. In other words, calligraphy had to observe rules and at the same time not be bound by them so as to express the quality of naturalness.