This calligraphic text by Ouyang Xun is about one of Confucius' most distinguished pupils, Bu Shang; he was often known by Zixia, his courtesy name. From the State of Wei, he lived during the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BCE). Showing excellence in philosophical reasoning, he would often engage in discourse with his master and diligently heeded his teachings.
Originally recorded in the Commentary on the Book of Documents (Shangshu dazhuan, alternately translated as Great Commentary on the Classic of History), the text describes when Bu Shang finished his studies and spoke with his master. Confucius asks his disciple about his studies, and Bu Shang responds saying that he has received great clarity and guidance from his studies and that he would never forget the teachings of his master.
This manuscript was accomplished by the celebrated calligrapher Ouyang Xun. The artist added the work to "Studying" (Dushu) in the section entitled "Miscellaneous Writings" (Zawen bu) in the fifty-fifth scroll of A Collection of Literature Arranged by Categories (Yiwen leiju). When compared with the original historical text, the calligraphic work has some discrepancies in the choice of characters.
The calligrapher used plentiful ink in this double-hook (shuanggou) style. While strictly executing his calligraphic method, the artist did not fail to include an air of vivacity. His beginning and ending strokes show strong squared characteristics in the hard turns of the brush. In his later years, Ouyang Xun combined brush techniques of the northern epigraphic style (called beibei) with the style of the Two Wangs (i.e., Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi). His unique mélange of northern and southern styles became known as the Ou style, and this piece of model calligraphy (tie, also known as an exemplar) in particular is a quintessential work of Ouyang Xun's regular script.
The known provenance of the piece begins in the imperial palace of Huizong (r. 1100-1135), the Song dynasty emperor. Centuries later, the work was added to the collection of An Qi during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and finally entered into the imperial collection of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795), who included it in his album entitled Splendid Array of Calligraphic Works (Fashu daguan). Additionally, the work is recorded in various art catalogues, namely, Gone with the Fleeting Clouds (Yunyan guoyan lu) by Zhou Mi of the Song dynasty; and Compilation of Writings on Calligraphy and Painting from the Shigu Studio (Shigu tang shuhua huikao) by Bian Yongyu, Record of Splendid Arrays (Daguan lu) by Wu Sheng, and A Collective View of Ink Works (Moyuan huiguan) by An Qi of the Qing.