Gravestone Epitaphs for the Wang Shi Er Family in Running Script
This 11th-century scroll combines two drafts for epitaphs written for two separate men by the celebrated Song-dynasty calligrapher Huang Tingjian. Epitaphs are written to describe the lives and acts of people who passed away; they are engraved into stone or metal tablets and then interred with the bodies.
The first man was Wang Zhong, a relative of Huang Tingjian on his mother’s side and a father to seven sons and three daughters. Huang was asked to write this epitaph by Wang Mao, who was one of those sons. The draft notes that Wang Zhong was a well-known man as the Wang family had been responsible for funerals and other religious rituals in their village for generations.
The second is the draft of the epitaph for Shi Fu. It tells us that he was from a poor family, and even though he took the exams to become a public official time and again, he was unable to pass. With the doors to his future barred, Shi Fu devoted himself to reading. However, the child of a government official asked Shi Fu to teach him for a monthly stipend. Shi Fu was particularly skilled at poetry and praised by those around him.
The calligrapher Huang Tingjian passed the exams to become a public official at the age of 23, but kept being caught up in political infighting and was frequently demoted. Huang loved learning and the arts, learning from Su Shi, one of the most celebrated men of letters of the era. Su Shi considered Huang one of his star pupils. The dates when the dead men were interred tells us that the first of these two works was written when Huang was around 42 years old, and the second when he was around 55. Both show signs of having been carefully revised and refined in numerous places, and we can see both Huang’s normal script and how his style changed as he aged. At the start and end of the scroll are records of viewings by collectors and enthusiasts, and the seals of people who owned this scroll through the centuries. These records and seals reveal how this scroll was carefully passed down through generations.