Even during his lifetime, he was considered God's gift to calligraphy. And certainly with the creation of the Orchid, the legend of Wang Xizhi would forever after be firmly established.
The year was 352 —and Master Wang invited forty-two literary figures of the day (who were also his friends and drinking buddies) to gather along a gently flowing stream to play the ultimate literati drinking game. Small cups made out of lotus leaves and filled with wine were floated downstream. The scholars, sitting spread out along the banks of the stream, were to compose poems on a set theme. If the floating cup of wine reached a scholar before he was able to complete his poem, then his task was to down the cup of wine. By the end of the day, the scholars composed thirty-seven poems, and Wang Xizhi, in a burst of energy, took up his brush and transcribed them all in his famed running script style of calligraphy, adding the famous preface for good measure. Inspired by the moment (not to mention the wine), Wang was unable to reproduce his mastery the following day when he sat down to try and re-write his work-- for he had discovered that it was already perfection.
The legend of this event was to have its effect on the Heian Court of Japan over 500 years after it originally took place. As early as the Nara period (710-794), formal Japanese gardens often included kyokusui 曲水- meaning a "meandering stream" as part of their design. This echoes the Chinese, Korean, and early Japanese tradition of a "stream banquet" (kyokusui no en) during which guests attempted to come up with an original poem before cups of wine, set floating upstream, arrived at their position along the riverbank.
During the Heian period, these stream banquets were officially held on March 3. Over the following stretch of time, paper dolls replaced wine cups, and prayers replaced poems as this ancient Chinese custom was transformed into—or perhaps was mapped into Japan's hina-nagashi. the custom on March 3rd of floating dolls down the river to ward against sickness and bad luck or omens; which itself was transformed (during the Edo period ) into the doll festival. So the floating dolls came first.
That is one possible story about the origins of the o-hina-matsuri March 3rd doll festival in Japan, when parents with daughters display beautiful sets of dolls in their homes to celebrate girls. (The custom where we lived in Tochigi demanded the dolls be put away immediately after the festival or the daughters might not easily marry…. Just between me and you, I like keeping my dolls up till Easter though.
And there you have it. My favorite story on my favorite day of the year.
In March, I have my first ever (and maybe last ever?) science fiction story coming out in the Michigan Quarterly Review—The story is called The Orchid and is in part about this most famous work of calligraphy, by Wang Xizhi.
News: Rare copy of work by Wang Xizhi found in Japan
NHK Hina Dolls: Prayer for Happy Children
Video of floating dolls in Kyoto
People also like eating chirashi-sushi on Girl’s Day
I love this recipe with shrimp and rapini
This recipe is more traditional.
Recommended reading: Taction : The Drama of the Stylus in Oriental Calligraphy
LOL astronomy! I have a giant telescope in my dining room belonging to a kid who is a film major. I've been wondering about its fate! I'm sure there is a connection between people who are good at math and love the stars, and people who make movies and love the arts, and people who have the innovative genius to run businesses! Rainbows fit in there somewhere, I believe....
oh dear! there is something going around, please take care! So happy to hear about your son, wahoo! What is he studying? So excited for him! I miss Hawaii, I haven't been back in so many years.
Just stay in bed today! お大事に！