Shanhaiguan - Calligraphy on Tablet

First Pass under Heaven Tablet at Shanhaiguan Pass
First Pass under Heaven
- Calligraphy on Tablet at Shanhaiguan

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?"

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

However, Xiao Xi'an 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!

Shanhaiguan gate tower
Shanhaiguan Gate Tower

Some time later, it was said an imperial envoy was coming to inspect the tablet. The chief official rushed to Xiao Xi'an's house. He saw Xiao Xi'an was still doing physical exercises. He was so anxious that he asked Xiao Xi'an "When will you write the characters?" Xiao Xi'an 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 Xi'an 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.

When the tablet was in place, it was found that one stroke of one of the characters was missing. With great deliberation, Xiao Xi'an 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 Xi'an saying that he had "a supernatural hand".

There is a moral to this Great Wall story. Xiao Xi'an 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".

- Last modified on Jun. 20, 2019 -
Questions & Answers on Calligraphy on Tablet of Shanhaiguan
Asked by pas from ENGLAND | Jul. 02, 2013 13:14Reply
i need some help on homework - plz tell me an interesting myth about the great wall of china
Answers (1)
Answered by Henry from SINGAPORE | Jul. 03, 2013 03:43

I only know a story about a woman who cried down the Great Wall.
Once there is a women called Meng Jiangnu. Her husband was forced to build the Great Wall. Her husband did not come although after the deadline, so she decided to go to find her husband. When she reached the Great Wall and she found that her husband was dead and buried just under the Wall. She was so sad, so she began to cry and cry for several days. Later 800li long was eroded by her tear and collapsed. After that she jumped into the sea and died.
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