An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Hanlin yaojue 翰林要訣

Mar 15, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Hanlin yaojue 翰林要訣 "Important formulas of the brush forest" is an essay on calligraphy written during the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) by Chen Yizeng 陳繹曾 (1286-1345), courtesy name Bofu 伯敷, from Chuzhou 處州 (today's Lishui 麗水, Zhejiang). He was *assisting teacher in the Directorate of Education (guozi zhujiao 國子助教) and was famous for his mastery of the standard script (zhenshu 真書), the grass script (caoshu 草書), and the seal script (zhuanshu 篆書) styles. Apart from this essay, he also wrote several other texts on calligraphy and writing, like Wenshuo 文説, Wenquan 文筌, Xingwen xiaopu 行文小譜, Fashulun 法書論, Lun bafen 論八分, Lun zhangcao 論章草, Lun xingshu 論行書 or Lun lishu 論隸書.

The first part (Zhibifa 執筆法) of the Hanlin yaojue is dedicated to the correct handling of the brush and the tension of wrist and arm. The second one (Xuefa 血法) expounds the use of ink, which is interpreted as the “blood” of written words. The author goes on to discuss the "bones" (Gufa 骨法) that have to be given to written characters by supporting their structure and composition. Based on this, the artist had to add "muscles" (Jinfa 筋法) first by stressing the ends, and second, by giving strength to the middle part of brush strokes, and also by integrating all parts of a character. These parts had to be enriched by "fleshing out" (Roufa 肉法).

The next part of the essay focuses on the overall appearance of a calligraphic work. It must be well-balanced (Pingfa 平法) horizontally and vertically, and made perfectly round (Yuanfa 圓法) by the application of various writing techniques, fitting the available space (Fangfa 方法) in an ideal way. The relation of individual characters to each other is treated separately (Fenbu fa 分布法). The last few sections of the twelve paragraphs deal with rather metaphysical or interpretive aspects, namely emotion (qing 情), energy (qi 氣), shape (xing 形), and momentum (shi 勢). The text ends with recommendations for the imitation of (mole 摹勒) of outstanding artworks of the past.

The text is quoted in the book Shufa zhengzhuan 書法正傳 and included in the series Gezhi congshu 格致叢書, Meishu congshu 美術叢書 and Lidai shufa lunwen xuan 歷代書法論文選.

Hou Zhanhu 侯占虎 (1996). "Hanlin yaojue 翰林要訣", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Yishu 藝術卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 503.