Zhang Xu, the eighth century poet whose letter about a stomach ache graced a Christian Dior dress, was also known as “Crazy Zhang.”1 And not without reason.
In Crazy Zhang’s time, it was the fashion among the Chinese literati to wear their hair long, but tied up in a bun with a cap and pin to keep everything in place. Crazy Zhang, however, would remove his headdress and let down his long tresses, especially after a few drinks. He would then dip his hair in a bucket of ink, and using his head as a brush, write calligraphy. He is one of the two masters of “wild cursive” calligraphy (kuangcao) in Chinese history, the other being Huai-su, a Buddhist monk.
Excerpt from A Song of Cursive Calligraphy: 2
Ten years of my life, spent at the window or beneath the lamp,
practicing calligraphy day and night without a break!
Beside the “ink pond” I’ve used up an oceanful of water;
my worn-out brushes, piled high, would make a Mount Omei!
When the spirit moves me, I pour out
eight hundred gallons of wine,
get drunk, go wild, and let my brush do whatever it will.
Rabbit-hairs in hand, I let the tip loose,
and sweep through a million sheets of tinted phoenix paper.
One stroke across,
one stroke down:
a gold spear thrust into the ground, an awl stuck through the wall.
–Ming dynasty poet Hsieh Chin, translation by Jonathan Chaves.