Yan Zhenqing (顔真卿): One of Four Great Masters of the Tang Dynasty


Yan Zhenqing (顔真卿) (709-785) was a renowned calligrapher of the Tang Dynasty, known as one of the Four Great Masters of the Tang Dynasty. His life is a legend in the history of Chinese calligraphy, and his works are still regarded as the pinnacle of calligraphic art. This article will explore in depth the life of Yan Zhenqing, his artistic achievements, and his influence on later generations.


Born in the Tang Dynasty, Yan Zhenqing was well educated in calligraphy in his family. His father was an imperial historian, which exposed him to the literati from an early age. As a young man, he studied in Chang’an and later passed the entrance examination to become an official. However, what Yan Zhenqing loved even more was the art of calligraphy. Later, he resigned from his official position and went into seclusion, concentrating on calligraphy.

Yan Zhenqing’s Style

Yan Zhenqing’s calligraphy is known for its robustness and grandeur, and he was especially good at cursive and regular script. His vigorous handwriting, rigorous style, and sparse and dense layout make his works a model of calligraphic art. His representative works include “甥供養稿 (Yan Zhenqing’s Manuscript of Offering to a Nephew)” and “甥供養稿 (Manuscript of Offering to a Nephew)”. His works are not only unique in font, but also in structure and layout. With his outstanding artistic achievements, Yan Zhenqing became a leading calligrapher of his time, and was regarded as the Four Great Masters of the Tang Dynasty by later generations.

Yan Zhenqing left behind works in both standard and cursive script. In the standard style, the most representative works are the inscriptions on monuments, such as the monument on “Yan Qinli Stele (顔氏家廟碑)”, which are characterized by the “向勢 (xiangsei)” style of writing and the “silkworm head and swallow tail (蚕頭燕尾)” style of writing. In cursive script, the “Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew (祭姪文稿)” and the “Letter to complain about the seating order (争坐位稿)” mainly show the line style of calligraphy.

The standard style of calligraphy by Yan Zhenqinghas been praised by many people for its distinctive brush strokes and unique style of writing. His calligraphy is marked by the characteristics of the brushstrokes used, which are based on the direct stroke, and the beginning and end of the writing, known as the silkworm head and swallow-tail. Together, these elements give his calligraphy its individuality and historical significance.


The influence of Yan Zhenqing was not limited to his time, but continues today. His works were regarded as classics and were studied and have been imitated by later generations of calligraphers. In the history of Chinese calligraphy, the position of Yan Zhenqing is irreplaceable, and his works are collected in many museums and private collectors. His works have also become the goal and example for future generations to pursue.

Places related to Yan Zhenqing and where his works are collected

Yan Zhenqing’s hometown is Yinchuan County, Henan Province. Yinchuan County is where Yan Zhenqing was born and raised, and many attractions and memorials feature him, such as the Yinchuan Yan Zhenqing Memorial Hall, which showcases Yan Zhenqing’s life story, his calligraphy works, and his contributions to culture and the arts, and attracts many tourists to visit.

Representative work of Yan Zhenqing, “Manuscript of Offering Nephews”, in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The Shaanxi Provincial Museum (Beilin) in Xi’an houses the original Yan Family Temple Stele. In Japan, the Tokyo National Museum also has a collection of topographies and other items from the Chifukuji Dabutu Stele.


Yan Zhenqing is a legendary figure in the history of Chinese calligraphy. With his unique style and far-reaching influence, his calligraphic works have become timeless classics in the history of Chinese calligraphic art. Although he has passed away for a thousand years, his spirit and art remain forever in the hearts of the world, inspiring future generations to continue to pursue excellence and pass on Chinese culture.