This is the second in a new series of pieces that take a look at a channel and its broader threads, themes, and ideas through a few of its blocks. Last week we published Clemens Jahn "On Tables," and this week William Pan takes us through his channel “Orchid Pavilion Preface,” which he explores more fully in an essay in our forthcoming
Are.na Annual (December 2020)
On the third day of the third lunar month of the year 353, forty-two literati gathered at the Orchid Pavilion on Mount Kuaiji in modern Zhejiang Province to celebrate the Spring Purification Festival. At the event, 26 literati wrote a total of 37 poems, and the calligrapher Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361) drafted a preface for them on the spot. The Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Poems (Lantingji xu 蘭亭集序) would become perhaps the most famous piece of Chinese calligraphy in history and one of the most highly regarded Chinese artworks in any medium, appreciated for both its literary and artistic merits.
Though the original has been lost—according to the traditional account, it was buried with Emperor Taizong of Tang 唐太宗 (598–649)—its disappearance didn’t diminish its fame. Several copies were made from the original when Emperor Taizong acquired it, centuries after Wang Xizhi first put brush to silk, to preserve and honor the piece—and a strong tradition of copying and recopying grew around those first editions. These reproductions serve as a visual record of past appreciation, of a centuries-old obsession with a single artwork made in a single moment.
William Pan is a software engineer. He lives and works in Santa Barbara.