A Soapstone Seal-paste Box with Official Script Calligraphy by Deng Shiru (1743-1805)
The inscription is a poem titled《謝許煉師惠圖書》Xie Xu Lian Shi Hui Tu Shu (In Appreciation of the Taoist Master Xui for Conferring the Book). It was written by Wei Jin in Ming dynasty.
The Xu family resides in Mao Shan, which lies amid white clouds like an immortal dwelling. A vague image of a crane is seen behind the painted screen at the back the bamboo trees. A gaggle of geese is swimming in the river surrounded by flowers. There are gold-colored characters carved on the deep green cliff. By the windlass stands the well that supplies water for refining the elixir of immortality for those listed in the scroll of eternity. The Kedou (tadpole) script is kept in the Dongguan palace hall. It cannot be widely spread and shared.
In the spring of the year of Renxu (1802)
Signed Wanbo Deng Shiru
The main body of the poem is the description of the environment of the Mao Shan where Master Xu practices Daoism. Xu received the Supreme Clarity (Shangqing) Scripture from Yang Xi (330-386). Xu and his son copied the scripture and passed it on. The scripture thus could be widely spread, while, in contrast, the Kedou script, mentioned in the last two verses, was kept exclusively for the authorities.
Deng Shiru (1743-1805) was a very important Chinese calligrapher and seal-carver. His name was Deng Yan; Shiru and Wanbo were his courtesy names. His pseudonym was Wanbai Shanren, Wanbai, Guwanzi, Youji Daoren, Fengshui Yuzhang, Longshan Qiaozhang. He was a native of Huaining, Anhui province. He is generally recognized as the founder of the stele studies (beixue) movement, which sought inspiration from the stele of the Northern Wei period (AD 386-534). He is also considered the founder of the Deng School of seal-carving. Deng spent most of his adult life as the guest of wealthy patrons, and supported himself at other times by selling his calligraphy and seals. His earliest and longest sojourn was with Mei Liu and lasted for eight years. Mei had an extensive collection of original bronze and stone objects and rubbings of stele from the Qin to the Three Kingdoms period (221 BC-AD 280). Deng familiarized himself with these through painstaking imitation: he is said to have devoted six months to copying the earliest dictionary, the Dictionary of Words and Phrases (Shuowen jiezi; AD 120), 20 times before he was satisfied. His assiduous copying of scores of early stele models produced one of the most distinctive hands in the history of Chinese calligraphy. He enriched the appearance of seals by the adoption of different calligraphic scripts and the application of his sophisticated skills and knowledge. He also imported calligraphic styles into his seal-engraving, and started a tradition of stylistic association between these two art forms.