Gui Dian

(China 1865 – 1958)

Mengzi in seal script (section)

Location
Not on display
Further information

The passage was taken from the chapter of Gao Zi Xia in Mengzi (Mencius), one of the Confucian classics, composed of conversations between Mengzi (372–289 BC or 385–303 or 302 BC) and rulers of the Warring States period ( 475 -221 BCE).

故天将降大任于是人也,必先苦其心志,劳其筋骨,饿其体肤,空乏其身,行拂乱其所为,所以动心忍性,曾益其所不能。
人恒过,然后能改,困于心衡于虑而后作,征于色发于声而后喻。入则无法家拂士,出则无敌国外患者,国恒亡,然后知生于忧患而死于安乐也。

Translation: Thus, when Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies. Men for the most part err, and are afterwards able to reform. They are distressed in mind and perplexed in their thoughts, and then they arise to vigorous reformation. When things have been evidenced in men's looks, and set forth in their words, then they understand them. If a prince have not about his court families attached to the laws and worthy counsellors, and if abroad there are not hostile States or other external calamities, his kingdom will generally come to ruin. From these things we see how life springs from sorrow and calamity, and death from ease and pleasure.' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mencius_(book), accessed on 28 August, 2019)

Phrases from this passage have become famous quotes in Chinese literature both in the past and present, such as “when Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies”, and “From these things we see how life springs from sorrow and calamity, and death from ease and pleasure”.

The passage was written in seal script. A typical feature of this script is the uniformity of size and shape of the characters. The brush strokes are round and have a supple quality. The evenness demonstrates painstaking execution.

Place of origin
China
Media
Calligraphy
Medium
ink on paper
Dimensions
126.5 x 30.5 cm image; 131.5 x 38.2 cm overall
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

Credit
Gift of Helen Suk-yue Wheeler in memory of her parents Li Tung and Fund Ching-fei
Accession number
183.2019
Copyright
© Estate of Gui Dian