The Draft Eulogy for Nephew Jiming or Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew (顏真卿 祭侄文稿), handscroll, ink on hemp paper, in running script, 758 CE. The text of the 28.3 x 75.5 cm piece has 234 characters arranged in twenty-three columns. Plus the thirty-four characters Yan himself struck out, the calligraphy has a total of 268 characters. It is kept at the National Palace Museum, Taipei (國立故宮博物院).
In the rebellion of An Lu-shan (安祿山) around 755 CE, Yan Zhenqing’s nephew Yan Jiming (顏季明) was serving in the government of Changshan (常山). The rebel forces invaded the town, the Tang armies did not come to the rescue, resulting in the fall of the town and the death of Jiming. This is what Yan Zhenqing meant when he wrote in this piece, “ Traitorous officials did not rescue them, so the orphaned city was besieged and compelled to submit. The father was taken and the son killed in 756 CE, the nest tipped and the eggs overturned.” After the incident, Yan Zhenqing sent his elder nephew Quanming (泉明) to the town to make funerary arrangements. Only his head of Jiming was found. In 758 CE against these circumstances, Yan Zhenqing at the age of 49 wrote the Draft Euology for Nephew Jiming. His heart was filled with deep sorrow and indignation. Hardly able to restrain himself, he poured love and hatred onto the paper.
There are a lot of crossing out and alternations on the scroll. The scroll was probably a preliminary draft for a formal composition. This preliminary draft is similar to Schubert Impromptu Op 90, it is fluent and natural. The range of emotion, atmosphere, sonority and structure in these Impromptu pieces is enormous. The Draft Eulogy for Nephew Jiming is similar to Beethoven’s Appassionata in terms of its splendour and magnificence.
The masterpiece of Yan was regarded as the second best running script in history after Wang Xizhi’s Lanting Xu (Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Collection). But the original of Lanting Xu has been lost. The Draft Eulogy for Nephew Jiming is regarded to be the best running script that survived till today.
Chinese translation is from baike.baidu and tw.answers.yahoo.com. It is difficult to trace the author(s) of the translations.
English translation is found in Amy McNair The Upright Brush, University of Hawaii Press
In the inaugural year of Gān yuan, the reign period of Emperor Sùzōng of the Táng Dynasty.
On the third, a reshen day, of the ninth month, in which the first was a gengwu day. [9 October 758 CE]
His thirteenth uncle, Grand Master of Imperial Entertainments with Silver Seal and Blue Ribbon,
(Alternative translation) His thirteenth uncle, Glorious Grand Master with Silver Seal and Blue Ribbon,
Commissioner with Extraordinary Powers Over All Military Affairs in Puzhou, Prefect of Puzhou
Senior Commandant of Light Chariots, and Dynasty-Founding Marquis of Danyang District, Yan Zhenqing
With pure wine and a complement of the delicacies, sacrifices to the spirit of Jiming, his late nephew, who was granted the posthumous title of Grand Master Admonisher:
(Alternative translation) : With pure wine and simple dishes, sacrifices to the spirit of Jiming, his late nephew, who was granted the posthumous title of Grand Master Admonisher:
From your birth, you showed your youthful virtue early. Like sacrificial vessels in the ancestral temple and fragrant plants in the courtyard, you were a comfort to our hearts.
In those days, you were blessed and happy. How could we imagined that the rebel traitors would commence our misfortune ? But they took up arms and violated their submission [to the throne].
Your father [Yan Gaoqing] expended his integrity as commandery governor of Changshan, while I, too, had received a mandate at that time, in Pingyuan.
My selfless older brother so loved me that he asked you to send word to me. You had already returned home and Tumen Pass was conquered; with the opening of Tumen Pass, the villians feared they would be pressed on all sides.
A traitorous official [Wang Chengye] failed the rescue and so the orphaned city was besieged and compelled to submit. The father was taken and the son killed, the nest tipped and the eggs overturned.
Heaven has no regret for this calamity, but who else could cause such suffering ?
(Alternative translation) Oh my God, who has no sympathy for this calamity. Who else could cause such suffering?
(Alternative translation) Everyone has sympathy for this calamity. Who else could cause such suffering?
I remember how you met with your cruel death, but could we ransom all those people. Alas, how I grieve!
(Alternative translation) I remember how you met with your cruel death, even using one hundred bodies (may imply ‘including myself’) cannot redeem your body. Alas, how I grieve!
Since that time, I have been graced with the Beneficence of Heaven and transferred to shepherd the flock on the He-Guan border [Pu-zhou]. After Quanming found me and Changshan was retaken, he retrieved your encoffined head and has now returned together with it.
The memory of your death is revived in me and the shock of grief in my heart and my face is just as it was on that distant day.
I send this announcement to your abode in the nether world, that your spirit may have knowledge of it. Do not weep there long.
(Alternative translation) Wait for some time (may be quite long), I will select a suitable location for your grave. Your spirit may have knowledge of it. Please do not wander for too long.
Alas, how I grieve! May you accept this offering.
(Wenzhong ji, suppl. chapter 2, p. 40)
Any suggestions to improve the translations are most welcome, please contact me directly by email.
Yan Zhenqing (顏真卿) (709–785) was a leading Chinese calligrapher and a loyal governor of the Tang Dynasty. He was born in Wàn-nián Xiàn (萬年縣), Jīng zhào fǔ (京兆府) now Xī’ān (西安), Shǎnxī (陝西). His ancestors came from Línyí Xiàn (臨沂縣), Lángyá Jùn (瑯琊郡).
In 734, at the age of 22, Yan Zhenqing qualified from the Imperial Examination and was granted the title of Jinshi (進士). With outstanding academic background, Yan Zhengqing rose rapidly through the ranks. His uprightness and outspoken style angered the corrupted officials. Consequently in 753, he was sent out of the capital as the governor of Pingyuan (平原). During the An Shi Rebellion (安史之亂), Yan was the first to lead his troops in fighting the rebels and thus earned a reputation as a brave and loyal official. His brother Yan Gaoqing (顏杲卿) and his nephew Yan Jiming (顏季明) were brutally executed by the rebels.
In 764, Emperor Daizong (唐代宗) conferred the title of Duke of Lu (魯公) on Yan Zhenqing in recognition of his firm loyalty to the government and bravery. In 784 Li Xilie (李希烈) rebelled. Yan Zhanqing was sent to negotiate with the rebels. He was also brutally killed by the Li Xilie in 785.
Contributions of Yan Zhenqing to Calligraphy
Of all the Tang calligraphers, Yan Zhenqing’s style was the most original. His style was a form of liberation from the past. His overriding desire was to impart the maximum power into his strokes – ‘dots like falling stones, horizontals like rain clouds, corners like bent metals, curves like extended bows.’ (豐腴雄渾、柔中帶剛。點畫爽利挺秀、骨力遒勁、結體嚴緊心。) The characters he executed were full of weight, achieved by enclosed forms which had the ideal solidity of the block or the cylinder. In this way he hoped to gain a greater fullness and a more pervasive movement. At the same time, he endowed his characters with an revitalising lustre – the brightness that is so essential to beauty.
Masterpieces like Record of the Duobao Pagoda (多寶塔碑) and Stele of the Yan Family Temple (顏家廟碑) show all this great features of Yan’s calligraphy. His standard scripts have been widely used as the copy books for children and beginners for the last 1250 years. However, they were not written just for children or beginners. Older calligraphers with more experience and expertise can equally appreciate Yan’s standard scripts to the full.
This is similar to Schumann’s Scene from Childhood (Kinderszenen) and Debussy’s Children’s Corner. These solo piano pieces are not intended to be played by children; rather they are meant to be evocative of childhood. Adults will enjoy them to the full.
Further readings or viewing :
http://baike.baidu.com/view/32111.htm (祭姪文稿) (Chinese translation)
http://www.npm.gov.tw/en/Article.aspx?sNo=04001003 Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew
https://tw.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081116000015KK09703 (Chinese translation)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STK1bsQh0kQ 20130614《殷瑗小聚》中國美術史–顏真卿的祭姪文稿 (蔣勳) Excellent lecture by Professor Chiang Xun
Ouyang Z and Wen C.F. (2008) Chinese Calligraphy, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-12107-0
McNair Amy (1998) The Upright Brush, Yan Zhenqing’s Calligraphy and Song Literati Politics, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0-8248-1922-5
http://www.asian-studies.org/EAA/EAA-Archives/4/3/251.pdf (Book Review of The Upright Brush)
Ch’en Chih-mai (1966) Chinese Calligraphers and Their Art (中國的書法), Melbourne University Press