Protecting the Dharma through Calligraphy in Tang China

A Study of the Ji Wang shengjiao xu 集王聖教序

The Preface to the Buddhist Scriptures Engraved on Stone in Wang Xizhi’s Collated Characters

This is a study of the earliest and finest collated inscription in the history of Chinese calligraphy, the Ji Wang shengjiao xu 集王聖教序 (Preface to the Sacred Teaching Scriptures Translated by Xuanzang in Wang Xizhi’s Collated Characters), which was erected on January 1, 673. The stele records the two texts written by the Tang emperors Taizong (599–649) and Gaozong (628–683) in honor of the monk Xuanzang (d. 664) and the Buddhist scripture Xin jing (Heart Sutra), collated in the semi-cursive characters of the great master of Chinese calligraphy, Wang Xizhi (303–361). It is thus a Buddhist inscription that combines Buddhist authority, political power, and artistic charm in one single monument.

Buddhism and calligraphy are two key aspects of Chinese civilization, the former, albeit of foreign origin had a profound impact on the Chinese cultural world, whereas the latter is indigenous to China and epitomizes the aesthetic ideal of Chinese literati. Both of these dimensions interconnect symbiotically in the Ji Wang shengjiao xu. This inscription not only testifies to the varied manifestations that Buddhist art has produced in its encounter with different cultures, but it is also the greatest example of “Buddhist calligraphy.”

The book builds up a picture of the multifaceted context in which the inscription was devised, aiming at highlighting the specific role calligraphy played in the propagation and protection of Buddhism in medieval China. At the same time, it offers an insight into the stele’s artistic quality, as well as a reconstruction of the phases of the collation work supervised by the monk Huairen of the Hongfu Monastery in Chang’an.

“De Laurentis endeavors from the outset to ensure that the volume does not simply examine the technical aspects of the inscription and the significance and impact it had on Chinese calligraphy, but particularly seeks to also explore the wider background of the monument’s erection, its broader impact on the religious landscape, and the specific motivation behind its construction […] Although this volume will be of greatest worth to those interested in early Chinese Buddhism, those with a broader interest in Chinese religion as a whole will have much to gain from De Laurentis’ attention to the multifaceted context in which the stele was erected.”

Joseph Chadwin in Religious Studies Review 2022

For the author's video presentation, see here



Chapter One: Buddhism and Calligraphy in Medieval China

Chapter Two: Wang Xizhi’s Calligraphy and the Semi-cursive Script
          (Xingshu 行書)

Chapter Three: The Ji Wang shengjiao xu and Its Texts

Chapter Four: The Context of the Erection of the Ji Wang shengjiao xu

Chapter Five: A History of the Location of the Ji Wang shengjiao xu

Chapter Six: The Collation of Wang Xizhi’s Characters for the
          Ji Wang shengjiao xu

Chapter Seven: The Carving of the Ji Wang shengjiao xu

Chapter Eight: The Shape and the Calligraphy of the Ji Wang shengjiao xu






Glossary of Calligraphic Terms



Monumenta Serica
Monograph Series LXXII

ISBN  9781032136936 (hbk)
ISBN  9781032136950 (pbk)
ISBN  9781003230472 (ebk)
ISSN  0179-261X