In the 18th century, the Korean court identified itself as a “Little China,” and claimed for itself the duty of preserving traditional Han Chinese cultural traditions after the establishment in 1644 of foreign (Manchu) rule in China. Chinese remained the diplomatic language of the Joseon dynasty, and the court official Jo Yun-hyeong brushed the 20 poetic verses in this album written in Chinese characters to commemorate a famous literary gathering of Chinese scholars held in 353. The scion of a great clan of scholar-officials—aristocratic landed gentry skilled in Chinese classical literature and calligraphy who entered government service—Jo is recorded as a noted calligrapher.
Following the introductory page, written in an archaic style of lettering on blue-dyed paper, Jo brushed each line of Chinese characters on the white paper of the first leaves of the album in a calculated, balanced manner called “standard script,” which is similar to the printed letter in Western texts. However, in the seventh leaf, Jo shifted to a cursive style with the strokes becoming fluid, and he simplified and combined the individual elements in such a way that complex characters, normally made up of many discrete strokes to form a single word, are reduced to linked sinuous expressions of line and ink. As one reads, the pace of Jo’s brush leads the viewer’s gaze down and across the page, creating a complex play between textual meaning and visual abstraction.