X-treme Politeness

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X-treme Politeness

Letter of Li Zhi on Chinese fan

This is a fan. It is also a letter. Or, more precisely, the copy of a letter. Li Zhi wrote the letter in the 7th Century. He later became a Chinese emperor. Back then, world leaders were polite.

The fan isn't by Li Zhi. The fan is by Zhu Da. Zhu Da copied the letter onto the fan in 1693. In addition to being beautiful to look upon, the letter is very, very funny. We'll have to quote from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online catalogue's translator, because we, alas, are lamentably deficient in the ancient and venerable Chinese language. Here's what the letter says, according to the esteemed expert:

Uncle, you possess a great many artistic talents and you are an outstanding, compassionate teacher. Your son Ai has thus received an exemplary education and he is receptive and diligent, especially in calligraphy. When I heard that he had lately become particularly fond of the "Flying white" technique, I playfully took up my brush to amuse him. What I wrote is far from the graceful forms of the Six Calligraphic Modes and remiss in elegant diction. Yet, soon afterward I received your letter in which you so generously praised my work. In truth, the work is mere "ink traces" and does not deserve such attention. Reading your letter repeatedly only added to my embarrassment.

Remember: The letter-writer grew up to become an emperor. There's a lesson in there somewhere, and we wish modern politicians would learn it.

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

13.08.18 Front Page

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