Poets of the Orchid Pavilion, composed by Jing Xian, is a celebration of the ancient gentleman—but not just any gentleman; the one who plays drinking games.
To tell this story we have to go back to the year 353. It’s a perfect spring afternoon, and master calligrapher Wang Xizhi has invited some scholar friends to a celebration of spring beside the waters of the Orchid Pavilion.
Servants send floating cups of wine downstream. Whenever a cup stops drifting, the guest nearest it has to compose an impromptu poem—or drink three cups as penalty. In the end, the guests compose 37 poems, inspiring Wang to commemorate the event.
Still tipsy from the wine, he puts his brush to paper and composes an enduring treasure of Chinese literature—the “Preface to Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion.” Written in elegant cursive, it is a beautiful depiction of nature and contemplation of life.
In this episode we look at how calligraphy resembles Chinese music, such as when the erhu moves like brushstrokes across the page. And we discover how, in ancient China, to be a gentleman and a scholar meant also being a poet, a musician, a philosopher, strategist, and artist. Above all, it meant developing the virtuous bearing of a true gentleman, and leaving a legacy for the ages.