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In the Chinese cultural tradition, scholars of the canons generally refer to those with considerable attainment in researching the classics associated with Confucianism. The main objective in the studies of these scholars is to absorb the essence of thought from the Classics and apply it to daily life in the hope of benefiting the state and its people. The category of the Chinese Classics, in addition to its traditional focus on the Four Books and Five Classics that comprise the main texts of Confucianism, was expanded continuously by scholars over the ages, with their methods of cultivation reaching a high point by the Qing dynasty. Having extensive and well-documented evidence at their disposal, scholars at that time increasingly touched on other related fields, such as history, language and etymology, Bronze and Stone studies, and geography, forming a solid and complementary system of study. By delving into them, Qing scholars were able to verify and explain the contents of the Classics, coming to a thorough understanding that aided in their propagation and critique. These studies thus demonstrate the spirit of Qing scholars’ devotion to their effort in governing and benefiting the people.

Many Qing dynasty scholars who attained renown in the Confucian Classics also became quite accomplished in arts related to the brush and ink, especially calligraphy. This exhibition features a selection of works from the Museum collection by sixteen scholars that testify to this glorious new period in the art of calligraphy. These Qing figures inherited the calligraphic traditions of the preceding Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, so it goes without saying that their foundation was deep and wide. Scholar-calligraphers also kept abreast of the latest discoveries of ancient artifacts, viewing objects that their predecessors did not have access to. Moreover, the antiquities adorned with writing provided them with valuable authentic material for studying calligraphy. In line with their consistent attitude in seeking truth from facts, as found in the study of Confucian Classics, scholars interpreted the forms, pronunciation, and meaning of ancient seal characters to understand their transformation in clerical script. The movement of their brush in calligraphy therefore reflects these origins while redressing the problems caused by the fabrications and limitations of previous scholars. Through the reciprocal enrichment of classical studies and the art of calligraphy, some scholars perhaps unintentionally became leaders in calligraphic circles, providing considerable momentum in forging new facets for seal and clerical script in the Qing dynasty.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, the calligraphy of these scholars in the Classics follows the equilibrium and harmony advocated in Confucianism. As a result, the brush tip is neither agitated nor repressed, showing no inclination towards being overly brisk or liberated in emotions while focusing instead in the cultivation on studies to express their depth of learning. It is exactly as mentioned in “Chapter on Exhausting One’s Heart” from Mencius: “One whose goodness is completely full is called beautiful. One whose goodness is fully displayed is called great.” The calligraphic works by Qing dynasty scholars of the Confucian Classics may not dazzle the eye with overtly personal forms of expression, but their contents indeed can provide audiences with endless food for thought.