Thousand Character Classic (千字文, Qiānzìwén) is one of the most important classics in Chinese literature, as well as a profound source of Chinese calligraphy masterpieces. It is said to be composed by Zhou Xingsi (周興嗣) during the first half of the 6th century C.E., upon the order of the Emperor Wu of Liang (梁武帝, 464–549), the founder of the Liang Dynasty.
Emperor Wu was known to be well educated and enlightened ruler, who was promoting university level education, and, being a devout Buddhist, who opposed the animal sacrifices. It was Emperor Wu, who selected 1000 characters from works of the famous Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303–361), hence the original name of the text (次韻王羲之書千字), which he suggested to his princes to be used for practicing calligraphy, and he asked Zhou Xingsi to compose a poetic essay out of them.
The legend says that this task strained him so much, that Xingsi's hair turned completely white after completing it.
The Thousand Character Classis consists of exactly 1000 Chinese characters, and what is more, none of those characters is appearing more than once in the entire text. The text itself is a poetic journey through the history of China, it contains information on geography, astronomy, ethics, politics, and so on.
Thousand Character Classic was and still is used to teach kids Chinese characters. For calligraphers, this text is an invaluable source of knowledge, especially that so many great calligraphers copied it in their own style. What is more, the text usually was written in two or more scripts, which serves as a great reference for studying those. Placed side by side, Chinese characters in standard, semi-cursive, cursive, clerical or seal script, are a great way of familiarising with their various forms, as well as the ways of proper writing by the means of a calligraphy brush.
The above picture is a fragment of Thousand Character Classic by Zhi Yong (智永, birth and death dates unclear), the great calligrapher and theoretician of the Sui Dynasty (581–618). Zhi Yong was also the author of the 永字八法 theory, i.e. "the eight principles of the character 永 (eternity)". This classic is known as 真草千字文, as it comes in standard (真) and cursive (草) scripts. Yong's handwriting style is bold and powerful, and his standard script often crosses the border with semi-cursive (行書).
For those of you who wish to study contents of the Thousand Character Classic, there is an English translation created by the Nathan Sturman, of the University of Cambridge.
Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)