Gui Dian

(China 1865 – 1958)

'Hou chu shi biao' in clerical script

Location
Not on display
Further information

The passage was taken from Hou chu shi biao [Later chu shi biao] by Zhuge Liang (181-234). Together with the Qian chu shi biao [Former chu shi biao], the main topics addressed in them included the reasons for the Northern Expeditions, as well as Zhuge Liang's personal advice to Emperor Liu Shan of Shu State during the Three Kingdom period (220-265) on how to govern and rule the state.

夫难平者,事也。昔先帝败军于楚,当此之昔,曹操拊手,谓天下已定。然后先帝东连吴越,西取巴蜀,举兵北征,夏侯授首,此操之失计,而汉事将成也。然后吴更违盟,关羽毁败,秭归蹉跌,曹丕称帝。凡事如是,难可逆料。臣鞠躬尽瘁,死而后已;至于成败利钝,非臣之明所能逆睹也。

Translation: War is very unpredictable. When the Late Emperor was defeated in Chu,[al] Cao Cao clapped his hands in joy and claimed that the Empire has been pacified. However, the Late Emperor later allied with Wu and Yue,[am] seized Ba and Shu in the west,[an] and led his forces to attack the north, and Xiahou lost his head.[ag] Cao had miscalculated, and it seemed that the great mission was about to be completed. However, later, Wu broke the alliance, Guan Yu was destroyed,[ao] we suffered losses at Zigui,[ap] and Cao Pi declared himself emperor.[aq] All things are like that; they are very unpredictable. I shall bend to the task until I am worn out, and not stop until I am dead. My ability is limited and does not permit me to foresee whether the future will be a smooth or an arduous journey, and whether we will succeed or not. (translation from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chu_Shi_Biao, accessed on 26 August, 2019)

The famous phase of “I shall bend to the task until I am worn out, and not stop until I am dead” in this paragraph is often used to describe one’s dedication to a calling.

Clerical script developed from small seal script of the first century BCE, but reached its peak during the Eastern Han dynasty. It experienced a revival since mid 18th century when scholars and calligraphers sought aesthetic renewal by way of returning to earlier traditions.

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-fai
Accession number
184.2019
Copyright
© Estate of Gui Dian