Asian Art
Artist: Sun Jing, Chinese, 1866–1952

Couplet in Oracle Bone Writing (Jiaguwen)


Pair of hanging scrolls, ink on paper

without mounting (each): 52 3/16 × 8 3/16 in. (132.6 × 20.8 cm)
with mounting (each): 72 11/16 × 12 3/16 in. (184.7 × 31 cm)
with rollers (each): 12 3/16 in. (31 cm)
Collection of H. Christopher Luce, B.A. 1972
Born in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, Sun Jing placed first in the national examinations and earned graduate degrees, becoming a government official. After the Revolution of 1911–12, he left government, returning home to establish a modern educational system and collect books. From his research, Sun became known for his “oracle bone” (jiaguwen, 甲骨文) calligraphy. More sophisticated than pictographs of objects, oracle bone script (ca. 1400–1100 B.C.E.) was the first complete Chinese written language. Characters carved on the undersides of tortoises and the shoulder blades of oxen were used by kings of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 B.C.E.) to communicate with their ancestors when they needed advice. Prognosticators inscribed names, dates, and requests, then heated them to cause cracks, which would point to the correct course of action. These fractured surfaces remain valuable historical texts. In his calligraphy, Sun uses straightforward brushwork modestly applied, creating a pleasing antiquarian effect. To the right, a character, meaning “wine” and now written 酒, depicts a ceramic jug with two drops; while on the left the same “jug” shape, now written 尊, depicts it held up by two arms, connoting its use in rituals.
Not on view
Republic period (1912–49)

Sotheby's Hong Kong sale HK0587/1432; purchased in 2015 by H. Christopher Luce, New York; gifted in 2017 to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


“Acquisitions July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018,” (accessed December 1, 2018).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.