## Christian Dior's "Quiproquo" cocktail dress and the florid rhubarb prescription written on it

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has a very-well received exhibit, "China: Through the Looking Glass" (7 May–16 August, 2015), which "explores the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries."

One of the objects displayed is a (rather fetching) "Quiproquo" cocktail dress by Christian Dior (1951), the calligraphic pattern of which is based on 19th-century rubbing from a 10th-century stele inscription describing a sudden illness, an abdominal pain. (You can see both here; they're images 12 and 13 as you scroll down.)

Here's the dress:

Christian Dior (French, 1905–1957) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947)
"Quiproquo" cocktail dress, 1951
French
Silk, leather
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Byron C. Foy, 1953 (C.I.53.40.38a–d)

And here's the rubbing on which the calligraphy is based:

19th-century rubbing from a 10th-century stele describing a sudden illness, a stomach ache
Rubel Collection C-74
Photograph courtesy of Special Collections, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University

Jeff Weinberg, who called this dress to my attention, comments:

I'm not sure what that says about China, the West, aesthetics or fashion but I'd guess that it's probably a safe bet that not many haute couture items employ references to digestive maladies as part of their design.

It turns out that, although the calligraphy looks obscure and esoteric, it is a very well-known piece.  It is what historians of Chinese calligraphy informally and jocularly refer to as the "Bellyache letter" reputedly done by Zhang Xu (8th cent), a master of cursive (the "Cursive Saint") during the Tang dynasty.

Zhāng Xù 张旭,  Dù tòng tiè 肚痛帖
("calligraphic model of a note on abdominal pain")

The text is as follows:

Hū dù tòng bùkě kān / bùzhī shì lěng rè suǒ / zhì yù fú dàhuáng tāng / lěng rè jù yǒuyì / rúhé wéi jì / fēi línchuáng

Alternative ending in some versions:

…Rúhé wéi jì / fēi lěng zāi

I could, at this point, force a translation from both versions, but because there are some serious terminological issues and textual problems, I'll save the translation for the very end, after ironing out the philological obstacles to understanding the text.

A partial transcription of the text and large, clear photograph of the rubbing may be found here. A Chinese encyclopedia article on Zhang Xu's "Bellyache letter" may be found here, and a listing of Zhang's known calligraphy may be found hereThis review and this collector's website post provide additional information on the context and characteristics of the "Bellyache letter".

From a historian of Chinese calligraphy:

I don't know why it would be considered a 10th century stele, unless what is meant is that it was cut on stone for a tie collection in the 10th century, perhaps the Chunhuage tie?

Notes:

1. tiè 帖 ("a book containing models of handwriting or painting for learners to copy or individual specimens from such a book")

2. Chúnhuà gé tiē 淳化閣帖 (Model-Letter Compendia of the Chunhua Pavilion; 992 AD)

3. Chúnhuà 淳化 is the name of a reign period (990-994) of Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty.

4. Zhang Xu's "Bellyache" tiè 帖 was converted into a stele inscription in 1058.

Notes from Robert D. Mowry, Curator Emeritus of Asian Art at Harvard University and Senior Consultant at Christie's since 2013:

I had heard that the Chinese text on the dress had to do with "gastrointestinal problems" but I haven't seen a translation of the text and didn't know its source. And I had no idea that there was a rubbing of the text in Harvard's collection. (By the way, the rubbing collection, which used to belong to the Fogg—now renamed the Harvard Art Museums—has been transferred to the Rubel Collection in Harvard's Fine Arts Library. The rubbings did not come from C. Adrian Rubel; rather, for the most part, they were collected in China by Langdon Warner in the 1920s and early 1930s.) That collection certainly includes a lot of fine rubbings!

I note that the Dior dress was designed in 1951. I doubt that Dior's inspiration came from the Harvard rubbing, as those rubbings hadn't been properly catalogued at that time, let alone published. Rather, I suspect that Dior must have had an image of another rubbing taken from the same inscription on stone. Of course, it's possible that Dior somehow saw the rubbing at Harvard or a photo of it (that someone passed along), but I'd think it more likely that he actually saw another rubbing.

From Bob's note and from other sources, we glean that there are many extant rubbings of this famous work by Zhang Xu.  Only those who are intimately familiar with Christian Dior's biography might know which particular rubbing he might have seen.  Regardless of where Dior may have seen this divine specimen of calligraphy, he immortalized Zhang Xu's eccentric prescription by putting it on his oddly named cocktail dress.

Incidentally, if you look carefully at the writing on the dress, you will see that Dior has taken a few characters out of Zhang Xu's text and repeated them over and over the length of the dress, but varying the section chosen from row to row.  If this dress were ever worn, and even now when it is on display at the Met, I can only imagine how many people who would have thought that it is "saying" something profound.  Even those who know a fair amount of Chinese or are literate in quotidian Chinese writing would be stymied by trying to "read" the dress.  I dare say that the same thing would happen for the vast majority of people who look at the rubbing directly.  Perhaps this is why I've never yet come across a translation of Zhang Xu's prescription.

Not only is the calligraphy cursive to a degree that it is difficult for someone who is only familiar with standard script to make out many of the characters, there are several textual problems that need to be solved before it can be interpreted.  On top of that, it is necessary to have a grasp of certain concepts and practices of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) if the text is to be intelligible to us.

First of all, we must acquaint ourselves with the precepts of "heating" (rè 熱 ["hot"]) and "cooling" (liáng ["cool"]), properties which TCM practitioners ascribe to foods and medicines.  If these attributes of foods and medicines are not properly balanced, some sort of sickness is certain to ensue.  Conversely, if one is beset by illness resulting from such an imbalance or from other causes, the ingestion of foods and medicines with contrasting or compensating hot / cool qualities may well serve to improve one's condition.

We are now getting close to the point where we may attempt a translation, but there are two more major steps to take before we get there.  The most pressing is to recognize that the rhubarb in Zhang's prescription is not the same as the kind we put in pies (in season right now!).  The main ingredient of Zhang's autoprescription is dàhuáng 大黄 (lit., "big yellow"), which is Rheum palmatum L.

This is the celebrated plant medicine that the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) threatened to forbid further exports of to England, partly because Sir George Macartney (1737-1806), the first British envoy to China, refused to kowtow before him.  Chinese rhubarb is often used for treating constipation or the symptoms of intestinal diseases such as Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS).  This is significant, since strictly speaking Zhang Xu was experiencing dùtòng 肚痛 ("abdominal pain"), not 胃痛 ("stomach ache").

Zhang's prescription mentions dàhuáng tāng 大黄汤 (lit., "rhubarb soup"), but this doesn't mean that he wants to boil some rhubarb and consume it like soup.  Rather, he is referring to an herbal formula containing, among other items, rhubarb as the MAIN ingredient (or, in the argot of TCM practitioners, the "King" item).  See the Appendix for the complete recipe (in Chinese only).

The next thing that must be taken into account are the textual problems in the interpretation of the rubbing of Zhang Xu's note.  Here I wish to acknowledge that I have benefited from the advice of D. Pan, who received professional TCM training as a young man in China and who is currently writing a scholarly monograph on a TCM-related subject (he is also an authority on Chinese calligraphy).

Once the characters are deciphered, the text is not that difficult to comprehend, except for the last four characters in both versions.  For ease of reference, I repeat the text here:

Hū dù tòng bùkě kān / bùzhī shì lěng rè suǒ / zhì yù fú dàhuáng tāng / lěng rè jù yǒuyì / rúhé wéi jì / fēi línchuáng

Alternative ending in some versions:
…Rúhé wéi jì / fēi lěng zāi

Here's a forced translation of the first version:

[But] what should I do for a plan?  It's non-clinical.

And here's a forced translation of the second version:

[But] what should I do for a plan?  It's non-cooling!

Neither the first sentence nor the second sentence of these two versions makes much sense.  So we have to consider some emendations.  We shall find that, after emendation, the first version is superior, and, as D. Pan tells me, calligraphically it matches the rest of the rubbing better as well.  Fortunately, Christian Dior was relying on the first version for his dress.

Following this blog post by a contemporary calligrapher, let us emend chuáng 床 ("bed") to shì 市 ("market").  This gives the following reading, which makes perfect sense:  "I'm not near a market" (to get all the necessary ingredients for the formula).

D. Pan further feels that the character read as jì 计 ("plan") is actually zhī 汁 ("juice; extract", referring to the decoction), hence, "how to make the decoction?"

The contemporary calligrapher cited above also suggests that the character yù 欲 ("want; wish; desire") looks more like ruò 若 ("if; as; like"), meaning that Zhang Xu thought his condition could be cured IF he took this decoction.

The above reinterpretations render the entire piece more logical in that it conveys Zhang Xu's assumption or expectation about a possible herbal cure for his condition, but he was also worried that he had nothing available at hand to prepare the decoction (which is what rúhé wèi zhī 如何为汁 ["how to make the decoction?"] means) since his dwelling was not close to a local market (where he would have been able to buy all the ingredients for the herbal formula).

In premodern times (even in modern times), patients in China usually prepared herbal decoctions by themselves or had them prepared by family members at home, and bought herbal ingredients from local markets or herbal pharmacies (which would be located in local markets).

Finally, we may translate the whole text thus:

Suddenly [I feel] an unbearable pain in [my] abdomen.  [I] don't know whether it is caused by cold or by heat.  If I take a rhubarb preparation, it should be efficacious whether my condition is cold-related or heat-related.  [But] how to make the decoction, since I'm not near a market?

Now you can go show off at the Met!

Technical appendix:  sources for the rhubarb decoction formula

《证治准绳·疡医》卷二。

[Thanks to Robert Harrist, Qianshen Bai, Marta Hanson, and Pierce Salguero]

1. ### Rubrick said,

June 5, 2015 @ 8:09 pm

Adorning a cocktail dress with a tie must have been quite a bold move at the time. ;-)

2. ### Laura Morland said,

June 5, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

Delightful essay — even though I know no Chinese, I was impelled to read it all the way through.

It merits publication in a journal, and not simply here at Language Log!

3. ### Jeff W said,

June 5, 2015 @ 11:25 pm

Regardless of where Dior may have seen this divine specimen of calligraphy, he immortalized Zhang Xu's eccentric prescription by putting it on his oddly named cocktail dress.

If this dress were ever worn, and even now when it is on display at the Met, I can only imagine how many people who would have thought that it is "saying" something profound.

The word "Quiproquo" in the name of the dress might come from the Italian phrase qui pro quo which is given the meanings here of "an understanding of something that is not correct" or "putting the wrong interpretation on."

If that's the case, the name of the dress might be, in fact, a meta-comment on the dress itself and its design.

This quote from the South China Morning Post gives some additional context about the exhibit generally:

To put a name to it, the show is dealing with the concept of "orientalism" – a negative term that describes a false, exoticised view of China – and its imagistic counterpart, "chinoiserie".

The show's title, "China Through The Looking Glass", a direct reference to Lewis Carroll's novel, was chosen to reflect the theme of misrepresentation, according to Andrew Bolton, the curator of The Met's Costume Institute: "We took our cue from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There – which was an imaginary alternative universe.

"In this world, everything is topsy-turvy and back to front. Like Alice's make-believe world, the China reflected in the fashions in the exhibition is a fiction, a fabulous invention offering an alternative reality with a dreamlike nature. The show is not about China per se, but about a reflected fantasy of China," Bolton says.

[And thank you, Victor Mair, for the thoroughly illuminating post. I agree entirely with Laura Morland.]

4. ### Jeff W said,

June 5, 2015 @ 11:58 pm

This official video has gallery views of the "China: Through the Looking Glass" exhibition, with a thoughtful narration by Andy Bolton, the exhibition's curator. The "Quiproquo" cocktail dress is shown at the 4:32 point in the video.

5. ### Laura Morland said,

June 6, 2015 @ 2:43 am

@ Jeff W –

Occam's razor would suggest that since Christian Dior was French (very French indeed; I just learned quite a bit about his life in the new documentary "Dior and I"), he was more likely using the French word "quiproquo": "mistake, misunderstanding". Ex.: "C'est un quiproquo" = "We're at cross-purposes".
See: http://www.wordreference.com/fren/quiproquo

Your point holds, however, whether in Italian or in French!

6. ### Jeff W said,

June 6, 2015 @ 4:28 am

Thank you, Laura Morland. Yes, I agree with you, once again—that explanation is definitely better.

7. ### Victor Mair said,

June 6, 2015 @ 6:51 am

@Laura Morland @Jeff W

Thank you for the compliments on this post.

Laura suggests, "It merits publication in a journal, and not simply here at Language Log!"

I truly appreciate the sentiment, but Language Log has become my main focus of academic research. I can spend a few hours, days, or weeks on a post like this one, put it out and reach tens of thousands of readers instantly, and receive immediate feedback from the most knowledgeable people on earth, wherever they may be located. For a normal journal article, I would probably spend three to six months or more to write it, wait three to six months or more for the review process to be completed, then wait six months to eighteen months or more for actual printing and publication. All together, it often takes years to write and publish a journal article.

I have had a long career in which I have published hundreds of articles and reviews in all the major journals of my field and have published dozens of books from the best presses. But I can tell you that nothing is as intellectually thrilling as to write a Language Log post and receive comments from some of the smartest, best informed people in the world.

Times have changed, and I'm ever so grateful that I lived long enough to experience this new mode of sharing information and ideas.

8. ### Victor Mair said,

June 6, 2015 @ 8:17 am

From a colleague:

When Zhang Xu says "冷热俱有益," he means the Dahuang formula should be good for either "cold" or "hot" (pathological bodily) conditions. Here, "cold" condition and "hot" condition are part of the TCM parlance (i.e., argot), which generally refer to overexposure to cold or heat (They may not necessarily refer to temperature-related cold or heat but may also refer to metaphysical cold or heat, such as caused by overeating food items of a "cold" nature or "hot" nature.).

9. ### Victor Mair said,

June 6, 2015 @ 11:33 am

From a colleague:

Adorning a work of haute couture with Dutong tie reflects the designer's modernist / postmodernist aesthetics.

10. ### Bobbie said,

June 6, 2015 @ 7:24 pm

Rhubarb and soda was an antacid sold in pharmacies in the U. S., manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Squibb. Worked great. It was composed of rhubarb and bicarbonate of soda.

11. ### Jeff W said,

June 7, 2015 @ 1:33 am

Here, in the International Business Times, is an interview with Bryn Mawr College’s Associate Professor of History of Art Homay King, whose book Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier.

I was trying to get a feel for what people knew about the Quiproquo dress and when they knew it.

Starting with the obvious, it seems incredibly unlikely that Christian Dior, who was employing the rubbings, would have been unaware of the origin and general meaning of the calligraphy, especially if it’s as well-known as Victor Mair says it is.

On the other hand, someone like Richard Martin, then-curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, who wrote the book that accompanied the Met’s "Christian Dior" exhibition (December 1996–March 1997) marking the fiftieth anniversary of Christian Dior’s “New Look,”—who, you would think, would know at least the basics about it—very obviously did not:

In a dress unusual for Dior, Japanese characters are printed in black on a white ground…Dior's avowal of the European past is paramount. In this instance, the use of a Japanism in the form of Japanese script presented in poetic form is wholly superficial; the thinking is Western. This textile was originally shown as another model in the same collection, "Crimoire . " Presumably it was only at the initiative of the client that Dior created this slightly complicated version of "Quiproquo" from the fabric of the other dress.

Ouch.

And what of Mrs Bryon C Foy, who gave the dress as a gift to the Met in 1953?

The daughter of automobile maker, Walter Chrysler, Thelma Chrysler Foy married another automobile executive Byron Cecil Foy in 1924 and pursued the role of a dazzling New York socialite. She would be on the list of "best-dressed women" from 1935 on, for the next 20 years (although few, perhaps, recognized her effortless combination of classic sartorial elegance and timeless pharmacological guidance).

Mrs Foy, her father's biographer would note, “was a very fastidious person” and she had a bit pf a temper—she once grabbed a pair of scissors and tried to stab one of the assistants at Hattie Carnegie’s dress shop who had annoyed her. By 1953, becoming ill with leukemia (although she had yet to know the cause), she gave the Quiproquo dress to the Met, one of the 111 dresses and hats she would donate, according to this (apparently unofficial) reprint of a Vogue piece about her.

The following year, her illness progressing, she and her husband scaled back a bit, moving from their 51-room, five-story townhouse at East Ninety-third Street to an apartment in 740 Park Avenue, which has been called “the world’s richest apartment building.”* (According to this 2014 Business Insider piece, it’s still pretty exclusive—you need to show at least a liquid net worth of $100 million to even be considered for admission but wealth alone might not be enough; reportedly, Barbra Streisand, whose net worth is estimated at 3½ times that, did not make the cut.) There, if this quote from Wesley Towner’s book, The Elegant Auctioneers, is any indication, the Foys spent quiet evenings at home, as, no doubt, so many of us would: x-raying the family porcelain so that any piece the butler might have broken and then had surreptitiously mended would not go undetected. Mrs Foy died in August, 1957. (Christian Dior died a little over two months later.) Does all that point definitively to what Mrs Foy knew or did not know about the Quoproquo dress? Obviously, not exactly. But since haute couture requires that the items be made-to-order and handcrafted to the client's wishes, I suspect that she knew close to as much as Christian Dior did. Besides, Dior would likely not want to risk a stab to the hand if Mrs Foy were “annoyed” by any nondisclosure that she later discovered— and very little, it seems, escaped her and her husband's—at times ultra-spectral—gaze. *The Foys’ apartment—17B—was next occupied, with two additional floors, by John D., Jr. Rockefeller till 1971 (pictures of how it was furnished during his time are here) and later, by videogame magnate Greg Fishbach (think Mortal Kombat) and his wife Linda, who lived there for 17 years before unloading the place, in 2011, on developer William Lie Zeckendorf for a cool$27 million and trading down to a \$10.75 million pad in a brand-new building with hand-carved pear trees at the entrance.

12. ### Laura Morland said,

June 7, 2015 @ 5:17 am

Great research! I clicked on the link to "740 Park" without intending to, and I was riveted. The original owner of the "quiproquo" dress, Thelma Chrysler Foy, is described in that source as being voted *the* best-dressed woman in America (not just among the best-dressed) for 20 years running, largely due to being a grand "consommatrice" of French haute couture.

I agree that Thelma Foy would have been likely to have insisted on knowing every detail about a such a remarkable dress. And it seems that she could have used a regimen of Chinese medicine, whether "mistaken" or not. According to her niece, "the whole family was insane… and the most intense of all was Thelma. She was absolutely bizarre, self-absorbed, and fashion-conscious."

"She drove couturiers insane if things were not exactly as she wanted," states her father's biographer. "She was a *very* fastidious person."

13. ### Victor Mair said,

June 7, 2015 @ 6:58 am

More marvelous research by Jeff and Laura!

So it turns out that this fantastic dress was the brainchild of Thelma Foy. For an obsessive-compulsive person, it's highly unlikely that she would have been unaware of the content of Zhang Xu's piece; she had probably seen it in some exhibition in the course of her museum going. And let's not forget Bobbie's comment just above: Americans in those days were taking rhubarb and bicarbonate of soda. Moreover, Zhang Xu's wild calligraphy, both in content and form, well reflected Thelma's physical and psychological feelings.

I'm going to look into the history of the exhibition of this rubbing in its various exemplars.

14. ### Victor Mair said,

June 7, 2015 @ 7:24 am

From my colleague, Chi-ming Yang, a specialist on Chinese influence on European culture during the 18th century:

=====

Great piece and dialogue! I taught a unit on the magic of rhubarb to Europeans in the 18th century, and in that class one of my students also did a final blog project on "Haute Chinoiserie" and featured the Met exhibit heavily. I have yet to see it—have you gone? Another former student sent me this hilarious bit about it:

"this picture of Rihanna's dress from the Met Gala, which the Chinese blogosphere ridiculed as looking just like 煎饼 sold on the streets in China (ironically, it is one of the few dresses actually made by a Chinese designer)."

=====

15. ### Nuno said,

June 7, 2015 @ 8:14 am

Any chance the name is a pun on qipao?

16. ### Victor Mair said,

June 7, 2015 @ 10:19 am

From Petya Andreeva:

I managed to see the MET exhibition before I left for Europe and I was fascinated by the pieces. The Dior piece was really interesting. I am aware of the unsigned Stomachache Letter, a reengraving of a MIng date, being part of the Forest of Steles Museum (Beilin Museum) in Xi'an. I actually remember reading about this in Amy McNair's The Upright Brush (1998) (the information is on page 24).

I did not find any translations in English of the Bellyache letter.

17. ### Jeff W said,

June 7, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

@ Victor Mair

…she had probably seen [Zhang Xu's piece] in some exhibition in the course of her museum going

And, in addition, here's a reference from a dissertation about C.T. Loo [Loo Ching-Tsai], "the preeminent dealer of Chinese art and artifacts for the first half of the twentieth century," according to the Smithsonian National Portrait gallery:

With the rise of prominence of Chinese art in the West in the 1930s and the 1940s, the acquisition and display of Chinese objects by elite American women in a domestic setting was increasingly associated with social prestige and fashion. The Art News report of [C.T.] Loo's 1947 Song ceramic exhibition offers a case in point. As an advertisement for this exhibition, the report showed that Loo's major clients were aristocratic, cosmopolitan American women. In the first case, Mrs. Byron C. Foy, wife of the vice-president of Chrysler Corporation, placed her Chinese porcelain collection in her French eighteenth- century room with a Renoir masterpiece [citation omitted].

So Thelma Foy, like other elite American women at that time, was pretty involved in acquiring Chinese objects and probably had some working knowledge about them, especially given her compulsive nature. It's tempting to think that she knew full well about the meaning of the text—the "Bellyache letter" is, after all, how it is popularly known—and, while appreciating the exuberance of Zhang's calligraphy, enjoyed pulling one over on those who did not (which is to say, nearly everyone).

@ Laura Morland

Great research! I clicked on the link to "740 Park" without intending to, and I was riveted.

Thank you, Laura, for your kind words! I was actually trying to find some indication of what Mrs Foy said or thought about the dress, or, perhaps a picture of her in it, and came up empty-handed. So what you are seeing are the fruits of my colossal failure.

I included the links (as I tend to do in my comments) so that people can assess for themselves the sources I'm referring to—because, well, what the heck do I know?—but I'll concede that that practice, given the possibility of inadvertent clicking, is not without some attendant risk.

18. ### Robert D. Mowry said,

June 10, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

Very few Western museums have collections of Chinese rubbings. I believe the other major collection of Chinese rubbings in the U.S.—i.e., apart from the Warner rubbings in the Rubel Collection of Harvard's Fine Arts Library—is at the Field Museum in Chicago. I don't know whether or not any libraries have rubbings. It would be worthwhile to see if the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the Columbia University Library, the Yale University Library, the Princeton University Library, and the Hoover Institute at Stanford have such collections. You could also check to see whether or not the Freer and Sackler Galleries (Smithsonian Institution), Washington, DC, might have a collection; I doubt it, but I'm not sure.

To the best of my knowledge none of the Warner rubbings has been exhibited or published. I can't say for sure, but I really doubt it.

Now, most of the Warner rubbings have simple paper covers that suggest that they were purchased from a bookstore or an antique store in China. I am certain that Langdon Warner did not make the rubbings, just as I'm certain that they are not one-off rubbings. Rather, I'm certain that those rubbings likely were produced in some quantity in the 1920s and 1930s and sold inexpensively in commercial establishments (i.e., in bookstores, antique stores, perhaps even in traditional art-supply stores, along with brushes, ink, inkstones, and other materials of interest and use to calligraphers). If my assumption is correct, then there must have been many copies of the Zhang Xu rubbing in circulation—at least in China, if not in the West. Keep in mind that in his travels in China, Warner very much followed the lead of earlier Western "explorers" like Edouard Chavannes, Paul Pelliot, and Aurel Stein, etc. In that context, I suspect that in buying rubbings, Warner likely was following the lead of Pelliot, Stein, and others. If so, then there presumably are related collections of rubbings in England, France, and perhaps Germany, likely in the British Library, the British Museum, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Musée Guimet (Paris), etc. If so, then Christian Dior likely saw a similar—virtually identical—rubbing in Europe, presumably at the Bibliothèque nationale or perhaps in the Guimet. I really think that is a much more likely hypothesis to begin with than to think he might have seen the Harvard rubbing. And I'm sure many rubbings must have been prepared from the stone engraving over the centuries, with many of them in circulation in China, Europe, and the U.S. in the twentieth century.

By the way, do we know where the stone engraving is (from which the rubbings were prepared)? I think that is a very important question. Do we know why it was made?

My friend Carlos Chan—a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine who lives in Portugal and who is also interested in Chinese art, calligraphy, culture, and architecture—confirmed my suspicion that a rubbing of Zhang Xu's text was included in the late tenth-century Chunhuage Tie collection of rubbings. That being the case, it is a very famous text—i.e., famous for the quality of its calligraphy—so that it must have been known and "venerated" in China in all succeeding periods. Here's the text that Carlos passed along:

肚痛帖(局部). 傳唐張旭書。為草書"忽肚痛不可堪"云云六行。書法勁健，富變化，與《淳化閣帖》、《大觀帖》中所謂張旭書者，趣致殊异。對其書者有异說。

Also, searching Google for related rubbings, I found a lot of references.