Asian Art
Artist: Kang Youwei, Chinese, 1858–1927

Motto for Gengsheng

20th century

Pair of hanging scrolls: ink on paper, calligraphy in running-clerical script

without mounting: 56 3/4 × 14 7/16 in. (144.1 × 36.7 cm) with mounting: 81 1/2 × 19 1/4 in. (207 × 48.9 cm)
Collection of H. Christopher Luce, B.A. 1972
2018.78.9a-b
Born in Nanhai, Guangdong Province, Kang Youwei was a statesman, Confucian scholar, and calligrapher. Instilled with the Confucian ideal of humanitarianism (仁), he advocated democratic reform for China and led the “Hundred Days of Reform” (戊戌變法) movement of 1889. After it failed, the Dowager Empress Ci Xi ordered him executed. Kang fled to Japan, then traveled around the world for many years. After the Qing dynasty fell, he returned to China to study Chinese civilization using early writings scratched into hard surfaces. In particular, he admired three-thousand-year-old inscriptions on stone monuments and bronze vessels for their rustic, unrestrained, and dignified presence. Using their archaism to revitalize his calligraphy, he was able to forge an original style based on artlessness (拙). Three of the characters on view sweep down to the right, typical of early clerical script, while five characters are composed with hooks that bounce up to the left with great energy. Such brushwork was designed to convey both authenticity and enthusiasm. Datable to his mature style around 1920, this text demonstrates Kang’s hope that many “heroic talents” would one day reform China.
Culture: 
Chinese
Period: 
Republican period (1912–49)
Classification: 
Calligraphy
Geography: 
China
Status: 
Not on view
Bibliography: 

“Acquisitions July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018,” https://artgallery.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/bulletin/Pub-Bull-acquisitions-2018.pdf (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.