A Woman Calligrapher: Looking at Calligraphy

COOL POEMS: Introduction > THE POEMS

Topic: A Woman Calligrapher

Author: Mei Yaochen (1002-1060), written in 1053 in praise of the woman calligrapher Wang Yingying

Looking at Calligraphy

Looking at this Shanyang girl’s big style script,
you see a different kind of woman from those who dress up their hair.
Leading proponent of the Cai Xiang style,
her silkworm dots are superb, like her Yan style script.
Exploring hemp paper’s touch, smooth and silky like moss,
powerful black dragons beneath an autumn pond.

Comments: This poem participates in the Song dynasty debate over the place of women in the arts (see Huang Tingjian’s poem elsewhere in this section). Considering that the propriety of women in the arts was still being debated in 19th century Europe, we should not be surprised that such a debate was necessary in 11th century China; rather we should be surprised that the topic was being debated at all in the 11th century! Like Huang Tingjian, Mei argues that women don’t have to devote themselves to looking pretty but can undertake serious cultural pursuits such as painting or calligraphy. In order to attack the stereotype, he necessarily emphasizes the masculinity of Wang Yingying’s calligraphy.

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