Marrying the Imperial Elder

Chapter 10: Learning Penmanship

After serving Old Madame Zhen her dinner, Zhen Ting Yun accompanied Old Madame Zhen to chat. Only after amusing the elderly then did she pack up the tray and head downstairs.

The remaining bowl of chicken broth was kept warm in the kitchen. Zhen Ting Yun simultaneously brought it up together with dinner for Yuan Hui.

Of course, she did not forget to instruct Ba Zhen to send the two newly bought copybooks from noon in advance to Yuan Hui’s room. Zhen Ting Yun also had Ba Zhen send over the writing brush, ink stick, paper, and inkstone. After all, she was already bringing over the chicken soup, so she might as well take the opportunity to get some guidance from the other party. Only this way, would it not be a loss.

Yuan Hui spent the majority of the afternoon sleeping. Although his face was still pale, he looked more spirited. He was leaning against the bedpost, brows tightly scrunched together, lost in his thoughts. But upon seeing Zhen Ting Yun coming over, his furrowed brows relaxed and he gave her a smile.

Zhen Ting Yun smoothly placed the food on the bedside table. Considering that this man claimed to ‘not remember anything’, she perfunctorily asked, “Did you manage to remember anything?”

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Yuan Hui raised his hand and massaged his temple. A look of confusion flashed across his handsome face. He nodded and then shook his head, “I did recall some stuff, but it’s not of significance.”

Zhen Ting Yun also frowned after he spoke. In actuality, Yuan Hui was indeed a bit strange… Not to mention that he currently lost his memory but still remembered calligraphy, and playing the zither and flute. He could be said to be omnipotent. Yet, that night, he stole her horse only to be knocked out and brought back with injuries littered all over his body. Just this point itself was bizarre enough… 

This strangeness might also spell trouble. However, Zhen Ting Yun did not think too much about it, in fact, she was quite carefree. She felt that since her party was heading to the Imperial City, who cares what kind of trouble he would invite? When they arrived under the eye of the Son of Heaven, the ‘trouble’ would not dare to impulsively make a move. But of course, this was also because Yuan Hui had proven his usefulness earlier on. Otherwise, with Zhen Ting Yun’s personality of being unwilling to be at a disadvantage, she might not have picked up such a troublesome person.

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Mbl vos sq vblx olal zspv kd vblka kdekhkewyz vbswtbvp. Mbl assx oyp xsxldvyakzu czydjlvle kd pkzldnl okvb sdzu vbl pswde sq calyvbkdt vs cl blyae.

Gqvla y obkzl, Hbld Mkdt Zwd alxlxclale vbl nbknjld casvb. Fbl rwpble vbl bsv csoz sq nbknjld pswr vsoyaep Zwyd Twk yde pyke kd y oyax vsdl, “R lprlnkyzzu bye psxlsdl vs pkxxla vbkp nbknjld casvb qsa usw. R’hl yzalyeu pjkxxle sqq vbl yeekvksdyz zyula sq talypl. Vzlypl, byhl y vypvl.” 

Zwyd Twk eke dsv byhl vbl pyxl pbaloedlpp yp Xze Yyeyxl Hbld yde dyvwayzzu nswze dsv vlzz oblvbla vblal oyp y obszl sa byzq y nbknjld kd vbl csoz sq pswr. Tl nypwyzzu rknjle wr vbl prssd yde pnssrle psxl casvb clqsal pzsozu vyjkdt y pkr. Tl vbld tyhl y pzktbv dse, “Rv’p ynnlrvyczl.”

Hbld Mkdt Zwd nswze dsv blzr cwv calyvbl y pktb sq alzklq. Tla lulp wdnsdpnkswpzu qlzz sdvs vbl csoz sq nbknjld pswr kd Zwyd Twk’p byde.&dcpr;

Rq pbl olal vs cl bsdlpv, pbl eke dsv tlv vs byhl y tsse xlyz vblpl qlo eyup clnywpl vblu olal awpbkdt sd vblka fswadlu vs vbl Rxrlakyz Ukvu. Rv oyp sdzu yqvla yaakhkdt yv vbl kdd vbyv pbl qkdyzzu bye psxl oyax aknl yde ekpblp vs lyv. Ohld ps, vbkdtp zkjl nbknjld casvb olal swv sq vbl iwlpvksd. Mblalqsal, obld Hbld Mkdt Zwd zyke bla lulp sd vbl csoz sq tszeld yde qaytaydv nbknjld pswr, pbl pweeldzu qlzv y zkvvzl tzwvvsdswp. Kwpv dso, obld Xze Yyeyxl Hbld eaydj vbl nbknjld casvb, pbl eke dsv eyal zssj yv kv kd saela vs ekprzyu y qynyel vbyv pbl bye yzalyeu eaydj kv. Rv oyp byae vs clya wdvkz Xze Yyeyxl Hbld qkdyzzu qkdkpble bla csoz. Lso, sdnl ytykd, pbl bye vs oyvnb sd yp Zwyd Twk eaydj bkp csoz. Fbl xsxldvyakzu zspv bla rskpl yp bla lulp eakqvle vs vbl csoz sq nbknjld casvb yde pbl wdnsdpnkswpzu twzrle.

Zwyd Twk dyvwayzzu dsvknle Hbld Mkdt Zwd’p tygl. Tl nsdpkelale qsa y ckv clqsal vlzzkdt bla, “R fwpv eaydj xu xleknyvksd. R’x yqayke vbyv R oswzed’v cl yczl vs qkdkpb pwnb y ckt csoz sq pswr. Ebu esd’v usw byhl psxl yp olzz?”&dcpr;

Hbld Mkdt Zwd pvyale yv bkx okvb okel lulp. Tla yraknsv lulp olal ckt yde aswde, czynj yde nzlya, zkjl y qaktbvldle zkvvzl ydkxyz.

Fllkdt bla zkjl vbkp, Zwyd Twk oyp wdyczl vs alpvaykd y pxkzl.

Zhen Ting Yun finally reacted. She subconsciously glanced at the chicken soup again before forcibly tearing her gaze away. She dishonestly refused, “The chicken soup is purposely simmered for you as you’ve not fully recovered. How can I drink it?”

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“Females should drink more chicken soup as well.” Yuan Hui personally scooped a small bowl of chicken broth for Zhen Ting Yun before adding, “Plus, this is a big bowl of soup, I wouldn’t be able to finish it myself.”

Although Zhen Ting Yun knew it was not right. But listening to Yuan Hui’s words and catching a whiff of the aromatic chicken soup, she received the bowl and replied guilefully, “Since you’ve already scooped it… Then I’ll accompany you and drink some.”

Yuan Hui looked at her with a slight raise in his brow without commenting.

Zhen Ting Yun lifted the bowl and sat obediently at the side drinking the soup and eating some chicken meat. At the same time, she was admiring Yuan Hui’s appearance.

Yuan Hui’s body was slender and straight. When he sat on the bed, his back was straight with lifted shoulders, his contours looked nimble, and his demeanor was elegant and calm.

Even when he was dining on the bed, he still looked like a disciplined and distinctive individual. He strictly abided by the principle of ‘maintaining silence during meals and bedtimes’1<寝不言,食不语> This sentence is from [The Analects of Confucius], it emphasized propriety, where one does not disturb others when going to bed and does not talk when one has food in their mouth.. Although he was just joking with Zhen Ting Yun not too long ago, he immediately stopped the moment he picked up his bowl and chopsticks. Not even the clink of the bowls and chopsticks could be heard.

Although his actions looked unhurried, his speed was quite fast. In no time, he had already consumed most of his food.

Observing him, Zhen Ting Yun unconsciously wondered. 

It was rumored that ladies from aristocratic clans started learning decorum and propriety from their nannies from the moment they started to form memories. Their dining etiquette was most probably the same as Yuan Hui’s.

Thinking in this direction, Zhen Ting Yun could not swallow her chicken soup anymore. She pondered with much difficulty. 

If everyone was so good, did it not mean that she had no hope of getting admitted into a women’s academy?

Fortunately, Zhen Ting Yun was not someone who was willing to admit defeat so easily. Although she was worried, she quickly regained her spirits. She quickened her speed and finished the soup in her bowl. Then, she gathered the copybook, writing brush, and everything else she needed and placed them on the table in the room. She then prepared to grind ink and start practicing her calligraphy.

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Yuan Hui was almost done with his meal when he took a look in her direction. He said, “don’t rush to start practicing your calligraphy. As you currently don’t have a stable foundation, you haven’t reached the stage of characterizing your own script. One must first study the script, then can they progress to replicating the script. When they finally understood the script, then can they imbue their identity into their calligraphy. This is the proper way of penmanship. If one blindly draws a gourd from the model2Purely imitation without innovation., it would just be a blatantly copied script.” 

Zhen Ting Yun had always been muddling through it on her own. What she always lacked was someone pointing her in the correct direction. She quickly nodded her head. As she had finished grinding the ink, she picked up <The Records of Shi Ping Gong> and asked earnestly, “How does one ‘study’ the script?”

Yuan Hui put down the bowl and chopsticks and poured a cup of tea to cleanse his mouth, before he continued in a leisurely manner as he explained, “In the <Doctorine of Penmanship>3<笔论> is a book on calligraphy., it states that calligraphy must partake in various forms as it becomes the ‘body’ of the character. The structure calls for the resemblance of various forms and appearances, like sitting and walking, flying and moving, coming and going, sleeping and standing, sorrow and joy, bugs devouring leaves, sharp blades and long daggers, strong bows and arrows, water and fire, clouds and fog, and sun and moon. It is only when one’s brush strokes find their equivalent element can they be deemed as the ‘body’ of the character. When one finally understood the form of the stroke, then can one understand one’s heart…4<若坐若行,若飞若动,若往若来,若卧若起,若愁若喜,若虫食木叶,若利剑长戈,若强弓硬矢,若水火,若云雾,若日月>. The whole saying points out that the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, and birds and beasts in nature are all objects of writing. Therefore, Xu Shen pointed out that only when those vertical and horizontal strokes found their resembling counterpart, can they form the so-called ‘body’ of the character. This was what it meant in the further development of Xu Shen’s ‘likeness’ in calligraphy. Xu Shen was the compiler of the original Han dynasty dictionary.

Having said this, Yuan Hui took a pause. Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught a glimpse of the leftovers of Zhen Ting Yun’s chicken bones from the soup. He returned to the conversation and continued, “This is similar to making soup. Firstly, one has to know which ingredient one wants to use. Only then could they realize whether they want to simmer chicken, duck, or fish soup. If you chose to make chicken broth, then you would need to be able to distinguish the difference between chicken, duck, and fish; be able to discern the color of its flesh, the shape of its cockscomb, understand how the chicken feet look like when they shrink in cooking, know how the feather patterns of the chicken tail look like… Only this way, can you simmer a pot of real chicken broth and not a duck or fish soup.”

Listening to Yuan Hui’s explanation, Zhen Ting Yun tightened her grip on the copybook. She rested her fingers on the pages. Deep within, she knew that the concept was still very vague for her as she could not wholly grasp it. Her lips pursed unconsciously.

Seeing her reaction, Yuan Hui thought for a moment before adding, “incidentally, there is a rhyme for remembering when studying the brush strokes. I’ll describe, and you try to remember them.”

Zhen Ting Yun quickly nodded upon hearing this. 

She heard Yuan Hui saying, “the studying of scripts is divided into five aspects; the first stroke, the last stroke, its thickness, length, and flow. While the rhyme for remembering is comprised of these five, there are only two forms of lines5The two forms of lines comprise all the strokes from first to last. The strength used determines the thickness and length of each stroke. Being able to adapt would result in how smoothly one’s stroke flows.; when to increase or reduce one’s strength and knowing how to adapt.”

Zhen Ting Yun repeated this mnemonic phrase before looking down to examine the words in the copybook once more. 

Firstly, she looked at the word as a whole entity, then she intently studied its two forms of lines, the first and final strokes, comparing the thicknesses of the various strokes, their lengths, similarities, and differences.

Seeing that Zhen Ting Yun started to understand, Yuan Hui continued, “Replication of scripts can only happen after one fully studied and comprehend the script. There are two rhymes for remembering. But since you’ve decided to practice Wei Bei Script, you should remember ‘striving for accurate length and breadth strokes, to conform to their guidelines while maintaining the distinctive strokes of the character’.”

As it was more complicated to understand the replication of scripts, Yuan Hui decided to use another analogy, “For example, the structure of the words, ‘forest’ and ‘weapon’6Yuan Hui was pointing out that ‘forest’ <林> and ‘weapon’ <器> both use similar strokes in part of their word formation, but where those characters are positioned, the sizing and the way to write them are vastly different.. The brush strokes are very different. The spacing, and their vertical and horizontal positions. If you compare them, you should be able to differentiate their position. The spacing, and how they conform to the guidelines7This ‘conforming to the guideline’ is like imagining a box, the whole character, regardless of the number of strokes should all fit into this ‘box’ conforming to the size.. After you grasp how the stroke makes up the character, you’ll be able to unwittingly understand how they can change from one character to another, forming the base of your foundation.”

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Zhen Ting Yun simultaneously listened to his explanation while examining the copybook when she suddenly received enlightenment. 

At that very moment, she felt that the characters in the book looked cute. She gradually started to understand the meaning that the calligraphers wanted to convey between their lines of text. 

This character started off thicker and longer but became slightly pointed at the end.

This character was shorter and thinner at the beginning, but it ended with a perpendicular and sharp edge, looking very majestic.

~~~~

She was like a child who just discovered a brand new world. With her heart overflowing with unspeakable glee. She held the newly bought copybook and hungrily devoured every word.

Unable to contain her joy, she was too preoccupied to care about her surrounding. 


To be honest, Chinese calligraphy is such a fascinating subject. There is already so much meaning behind each brush stroke, let alone when they finally form a whole word. 

Zhen Ting Yun might’ve found it ‘cute’, BUT I DID NOT! I’d be lying if I say this didn’t give me a headache when translating!

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻


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1 Comment

  1. thesilentdarkangel

    the way he explained the essence of calligraphy…very illuminating! 👍👍👍👍
    Thank you for the chapter and your hard work! 💕💕💕💕💕