Lin Sanzhi 林散之 (Biographical details)

Lin Sanzhi 林散之 (scribe/calligrapher; Chinese; Male; 1898 - 1989)

Also known as

Lin Sanzhi


Lin Sanzhi was born into a peasant family living near Caishiji, a village located some fifty kilometres south of Nanjing, Anhui province. Despite his family's poor financial situation, Lin received quite a good classical education. In 1929, at the age of thirty-two, he moved to Shanghai, where he eked out a living while at the same time taking lessons from Huang Binhong (1864-1955), a famous landscape painter from Anhui. After two years, however, he was so impoverished that he was forced to rejoin his wife and young son in his home town and take up work as a school-teacher. In addition to painting, he took a keen interest in Buddhism and parctised martial arts. In 1947 his growing reputation as a painter and poet lead to the offer of a professorship of art and literature at the university of Hefei, the capital of Anhui province. He declined, preferring in those troubled days to stay close to Nanjing, which was then the seat of the Nationalist Government of Jian Jieshi. After the Communist takeover in 1949, Lin Sanzhi became a minor government official in Jiangpu and by 1956 he had been made deputy mayor. In 1959 he retired from politics and once again turned to art. In 1963 he became a teacher at the Jiangsu Academy of Chinese Painting in Nanjing, and began devoting an increasing amount of his time to mastering the fast-flowing cursive style of calligraphy (草书), which he believed best expressed both his skill and his spirit.During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards persecuted him and destroyed many of his works. His misery at this situation was soon compounded by the death of his wife. Over the next three years he lived in several different places across China, teaching calligraphy, until he decided that it was safe to return to his family village of Caishiji in 1969 to live with his son. His life was to be transformed yet again by a terrible accident. During a visit to a Chinese bath-house in 1970, he stumbled and plunged his right hand into boiling water. It was so badly burned that three of his fingers became fused together. After his wounds had healed, his brushwork was no longer elegant and fluid, but exhibited a certain rawness and naivety. Before long these qualities hardened into the so-called 'iron line' that became the defining feature of his work in his later years. With long, thin, hard brushstrokes, often executed with a dryish brush, he formed individual characters and strings of characters that were taunt with energy. In 1972, to mark the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Japan, one of Lin Sanzhi's pieces was arranged to be submitted to the selection committee, chaired by Guo Moruo, for the publishment of a special edition featuring the work of modern Chinese calligraphers in the magazine 'People's China'. It was widely agreed that his work was exceptional and he suddenly became quite famous, arranging the authorities for him to return to Nanjing in 1973. In 1978, at the age of eighty-one, he was appointed to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, where he met Deng Xiaoping, of whom he felt an enormous admiration. At the same time, Japan payed also homage to Lin Sanzhi, the man they saw as the 'sage of cursive script'. He died in 1989 and he was buried at Dangtu, not far from the tomb of the poet Li Bai, as was his wish.


Gordon S. Barrass, 'The Art of Calligraphy in Modern China' (BMP, London 2002)
De Gruyter