Shanhaiguan Pass - Calligraphy on Tablet

Today, when you visit the Shanhaiguan Pass of Great Wall, you will see a tablet hanging on the east gate with five large Chinese characters, Tian Xia Di Yi Guan, on it. These mean the First Pass under Heaven. The pass decorated with this tablet with these five characters looks both majestic and solemn. You may wonder, Who wrote the characters?

Shanhaiguan Pass - Calligraphy on Tablet

This is the work of Xiao Xian, one of the great calligraphers of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Xiao Xian was both an upright and honest official. Now his straightforward behavior at court meant that other corrupt officials often hated him. So Xiao Xian resigned his position at court and returned to his hometown.

At that time, the emperor ordered the creation of a tablet for the east gate of the Shanhaiguan Pass as a display of his country's power. The chief official of the pass was worried because he knew that nobody could take on such a task other than Xiao Xian. Every one knew that he was a great calligrapher. So the chief official went to beg him to create the characters for the tablet. Moved by his sincere words, Xiao Xian agreed to do it.

However, Xiao Xian did not make an immediate start on the work for the proposed handwriting. Instead, he was seen doing physical exercises every day. He also carried water on the farm and hoed in the field. This activity and lack of progress with the work for the tablet made the chief official very anxious!

Some time later, it was said an imperial envoy was coming to inspect the tablet. The chief official rushed to Xiao Xian's house. He saw Xiao Xian was still doing physical exercises. He was so anxious that he asked Xiao Xian When will you write the characters? Xiao Xian said, It is not an easy job to write such characters well. I have to practice for a period. That was what he did for several days, building his inner forces for the task. Now it is the time to write! he declared.

So saying, Xiao Xian took out his brush and paper and wrote down the Chinese characters, Tian Xia Di Yi Guan (the First Pass under Heaven). The chief official rushed to have the characters copied onto a tablet to hang on the east gate of the Shanhaiguan Pass.

Shanhaiguan Pass - Calligraphy on Tablet

When the tablet was in place, it was found that one stroke of one of the characters was missing. With great deliberation, Xiao Xian took out his handkerchief, screwed it up and dipped it into thick Chinese ink. He then threw it up at the hanging tablet. He hit it in the right place and thus completed the character, which made the whole inscription more harmonious and integrated. The popeyed chief official praised Xiao Xian saying that he had a supernatural hand .

There is a moral to this Great Wall story. Xiao Xian grasped one of the crucial essentials of calligraphy. He did not practice handwriting every day, but by doing farm work involving carrying water, brandishing a shoulder pole to exercise his muscles and hoeing in the field every day, he concentrated his internal energy. The lesson is Grasp the main point and enlarge your inner resources .

Virtual Field Trip: The Great Wall of China

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