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Fu Shan’s World

Fu Shan’s World

The Transformation of Chinese Calligraphy in the Seventeenth Century

Qianshen Bai

ISBN 9780674010925

Publication date: 06/30/2003

For 1,300 years, Chinese calligraphy was based on the elegant art of Wang Xizhi (A.D. 303–361). But the seventeenth-century emergence of a style modeled on the rough, broken epigraphs of ancient bronzes and stone artifacts brought a revolution in calligraphic taste. By the eighteenth century, this led to the formation of the stele school of calligraphy, which continues to shape Chinese calligraphy today.

A dominant force in this school was the eminent calligrapher and art theorist Fu Shan (1607–1685). Because his work spans the late Ming–early Qing divide, it is an ideal prism through which to view the transformation in calligraphy.

Rather than seek a single explanation for the change in calligraphic taste, the author demonstrates and analyzes the heterogeneity of the cultural, social, and political processes behind it. Among other subjects, the book covers the late Ming interaction between high and low culture; the role of publishing; the Ming loyalist response to the Qing; and early Qing changes in intellectual discourse. In addition to the usual approach of art historians, it adopts the theoretical perspectives of such fields as material culture, print culture, and social and intellectual history.


  • This is an ambitious and wide-ranging book. Qianshen Bai endeavors to construct the historical circumstances under which the scholar-artist Fu Shan (1607–1684) contributed to dramatic changes in the practice of calligraphy during the late seventeenth century… There is much to be learned in the densely argued pages of this book. By analyzing the craft of Fu’s calligraphy, Bai generously shares his own expertise as a calligrapher, which doubtless aided his comprehension of Fu Shan’s famously difficult writing.

    —Anne Burkus-Chasson, China Review International


  • Qianshen Bai is Assistant Professor of Chinese and Asian Art at Boston University.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 8-1/2 x 10-3/4 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center