Yan Zhenqing (顏真卿, 709–785) was a leading Chinese calligrapher and a loyal governor of the Tang Dynasty. His artistic accomplishment in Chinese calligraphy parallels the greatest master calligraphers throughout the history. His “Yan style” of the Regular Script is the textbook-style that most calligraphy beginners imitate today. The “Yan style”, which brought Chinese calligraphy to a new realm, emphasizes on strength, boldness and grandness. Like most of the master calligraphers, Yan Zhenqing learned his skill from various calligraphers. The development of his personal style can be basically divided into three stages:
In 752, he wrote one of his best-known pieces, Duobao Pagoda Stele (多寶塔碑). The stele has 34 lines, each containing 66 characters, and it was written for Emperor Xuanzong who was extremely pious to Buddhism at the moment. The style of the writing was close to that of the early Tang calligraphers, who emphasized elegance and "fancifulness"; yet it also pursues composure and firmness in the stroke of the brush, structuring characters on powerful frames with tender management on brushline.
In 784, the military commissioner of Huaixi (淮西節度使), Li Xilie (李希烈), rebelled. Lu Qi had held a grudge against Yan Zhenqing for a long time, so he sent Yan to negotiate with Li Xilie in the hope that Yan would be killed. As expected, Li Xilie tried all means to coax or threaten Yan to surrender, but Yan Zhenqing never wavered. According to the legend, Li Xilie set up a fire in the courtyard and told Yan that he would be burnt to death if not surrendering. Yet Yan Zhenqing did not show the slightest fear and walked towards the fire determinedly. Li Xilie could not help but to show respect to him. In 785, however, Yan Zhenqing was secretly strangled in Longxing Temple (龍興寺) in Caizhou, Henan.
Upon hearing his death, Emperor Daizong closed the assembly for five days and conferred the posthumous title Wenzhong (文忠) on Yan Zhenqing. He was also widely mourned by the army and the people. A temple was constructed to commemorate Yan. In the Song Dynasty, the temple was moved to Shandong and henceforth became a famous tourist attraction.