Chinese Art


Hello !

In this page I have to add my main part of my research is on Japan and Korea but I LOVE Chinese painting and poetry and the relation between them always amaze me.

I wrote some poem myself that I inspired by paintings that I will put soon but I like to add my research based the poem and poetry in China in here and fist I start with a fantastic poem by Han Yu:



Han Yu (traditional Chinese: 韓愈; simplified Chinese: 韩愈; pinyinHán Yù) (768–824), born in NanyangHenanChina, was a precursor of Neo-Confucianism as well as an essayist and poet, during the Tang dynasty. The Indiana Companion calls him “comparable in stature to DanteShakespeare or Goethe” for his influence on the Chinese literary tradition (p. 397). He stood for strong central authority in politics and orthodoxy in cultural matters. He is also among China’s finest prose writers, second only to Sima Qian, and first among the “Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song”. Song Dynasty poet Su Shi praised Han Yu that he had written prose which “raised the standards after 8 dynasties of literary weaknesses” (文起八代之衰).

Snow in Spring
Han Yu

New year all not be luxuriant
2nd month first startle see grass shoot
White snow but suspect spring colour late
So penetrate pavilion tree make fly flower
The new year’s come, but still the plants don’t grow,
First in March I’m startled by grass shoots.
The white snow thinks the colours of spring are late,
So through the pavilion and trees it flies like blossom.


On the relationship of poetry and painting in China

Jonathan Chaves [source]

Su Tung-p’o once said of Wang Wei, the great T`ang poet and painter: “There is poetry in his painting and painting in his poetry.” This has become the standard dictum on the relationship of poetry and painting in China, a relationship that through the centuries has frequently concerned writers on both subjects.In the West careful distinctions have long been drawn between the literary and the pictorial arts, whereas in China poetry and painting have been nearly inseparable and have been related to each other in a variety of ways. The Chinese poet and painter might well be one and the same person, Su Tung-p’o and Wang Wei being the two supreme examples of artist-writers as highly esteemed for their skills as painters as for their verse. In the West, such figures are rare. Michelangelo was a fine poet, but in neither the critical nor the popular mind does his writing equal his painting or his sculpture. Perhaps only William Blake corresponds well to the Chinese conception of the poet-painter, an artist using similar themes and images in both his poems and his paintings and  The practice of inscribing poems on paintings, or on special sections of paper attached to the paintings for just this purpose, was another aspect of the close relationship between poetry and painting. The poem might be written by the painter himself by a friend of his, or by a later owner or connoisseur. Often, the poem includes images which do not appear in the painting, so that while the physical beauty of the picture is enhanced by the elegance of the calligraphy in which the poem is written, the imaginary world conjured up by the painting may be further expanded by the imagery of the poem. Sometimes the poem is the work of an earlier poet, but often it is an original poem by the artist himself A perfect example is the hand scroll by the Yuan artist Wu Chen (1280-1354), showing a fisherman seated in his boat gazing into the water.


Wu has inscribed the following poem of his own composition in the upper right-hand corner of the picture:

West of the village,
evening rays linger on red leaves
as the moon rises over yellow reeds on the sandbank.
The fisherman moves his paddle, thinking of home –
his pole, lying in its rack,
will catch no more fish today.

The poem adds an image that is entirely absent from the painting that of the village-and colors the leaves and reeds red and yellow, although in the picture they are done in shades of gray ink. We learn that it is sunset, and that the fisherman is thinking of returning home. Because these enhancements of the picture are expressed in words, they affect the viewer on a subtler level than the purely visual, and deepen his experience of the total work of art. Sometimes, when painter and poet are two different people, the picture will inspire the poet to reflect on his personal situation, as in the famous poem by Su Tung-p‘o, inscribed on the painting Misty River and Tiered Mountains by a contemporary, the landscapist Wang Shen. After a long description of the scene, Su recalls his  past happiness while living on the Yangtze River, and longs for the day when he will be able to return to nature (referring to himself as the Gentleman of the Eastern Slope):

Saddening my heart, a thousand tiers of mountains along the river
shimmer with blue-green colors across the sky like clouds or mist.
Are they mountains? Are they clouds? It’s hard to tell,
but when mist opens and clouds disperse, the mountains remain.
Here I see two verdant cliffs, shadowing a deep valley,
and a hundred cascades that fly down the cliffs,
twist through forests, coil around rocks, hide and reappear,
The stream grows calm, the mountains open, and the foothill forests end; `
a tiny bridge and rustic shops lean against the mountain.
Travelers pass beyond the tall trees;
a fishing boat floats, light as a leaf:
The river swallows the sky.
Where did the governor find this painting,
its limpid beauties brushed by such a sensitive hand?
Where in our world is there such a place?
I’d go there now, and buy myself an acre or two of land!
But I remember an isolated spot at Fan-k’ou, near Wu-ch’ang,
where the Gentleman of the Eastern Slope resided for fiveyears.
Spring breezes rippled the river; the sky was vast.
Summer rain clouds curled up at dusk; the mountain glowed.
Crows shook branches of red maple leaves before my riverhome.
Winter snows, dropping from towering pines, woke mefrom my drunken sleep.
The flowing waters of Peach Blossom Spring are in thisworld;
why insist that the Wu-ling story was only a fairy tale?
But the rivers and mountains are fresh and pure,
while I am covered with dust;
there may be a path that leads to them, but it’s hard to find.
With many a sigh, I return the scroll,
and wait for a friend who lives in these mountains
to send me a poem, “Come back!”

Although less frequent, the opposite phenomenon might also occur; that is, a painter might be inspired by a poem to do a picture based on the poem.


On a more profound level, Chinese poetry and painting are related in the fundamental similarity of their creative processes. Not only are the themes and images of both arts essentially conventional, or traditional, but those that appear in painting are the same as those used in poetry. For this reason, it is not surprising to find that a particular image-the fisherman, for instance, as an exemplar of Taoist freedom_will appear in a poem of the fourth century B. C., and again in a poem of the eighteenth century. Similarly, the same image of the fisherman will appear in a painting listed in aT’ang-dynasty catalogue and also in a picture by one of the Eight Eccentrics of Yang-chou, a group of Eighteenth-century

In fact, the standard images of both poetry and painting were catalogued in two important encyclopedias, both published in the early eighteenth century. One, the famous Chie tzu huan hua chuan  (The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), appeared in its final form in 1701. This work is a collection of all the traditional images of Chinese painting, including mountains and rocks painted in various styles, trees and flowers of many kinds, birds and insects, temples, villas, and scholars and fishermen in boats. The other encyclopedia was the P’ei-wen yun-fu (The P’ei-wen Treasury of Rhymes), published in 1711, but using material going back to the Yuan dynasty (1279-1363) This is a compendium of poetic images and phrases, each of which is quoted in chronologically arranged passages. Every image in The Mustard Seed Garden Manual can be found here as well. Under the heading “fisherman” (yu-fu), the passages quoted range from the earliest poem on this theme, found in the Ch’u tz’u anthology, much of which dates back to the fourth century B.C., to a Northern Sung poem by Su Tung-p’o_”I should meet the old fisherman here, / Winding his way through the reeds.” The second line of Su’s couplet is a quotation from a passage in the Taoist classic, the Chuang-tzu, also dating from the fourth century B.C., where Confucius meets a fisherman who “winds his way through the reeds.” Clearly, the Chinese mind was accustomed to leaping easily over centuries.

Yang Wan-li was particularly fond of creating new variations on old themes. One of his versions of the fisherman theme is novel in that it removes the fisherman and leaves us with only the boat:

It is a tiny fishing boat, light as a leaf?
no voices are heard from the reed cabin.
There is no one on board-no bamboo hat, no raincoat, no fishing rod.
The wind blows the boat, and the boat moves.

In a Western context, it would be unthinkable to illustrate a collection of Rimbaud’s poetry with the paintings oi say, Ingres. Even though the two men lived in the same century, their styles and modes of expression are so very divergent that any attempt to link them seems foolhardy. But there is nothing incongruous in juxtaposing, as in this book, a poem by a twelfth-century Chinese writer with a picture by a painter of the seventeenth or eighteenth century; though widely separated in time, the two artists might well share the same vocabulary and much the same perception of life and nature.

Jonathan Chaves
Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow
White Pine Press, 2004

Resource: poetry China 

Chinese Painting and Calligraphy
Though Chinese painting has much in common with western painting from an aesthetic point of view, it still possesses its unique character. Chinese traditional painting seldom follows the convention of central focus perspective or realistic portrayal, but gives the painter freedom on artistic conception, structural composition and method of expression so as to better express his subjective feelings. Chinese painting has absorbed the best of many forms of art, like poetry, calligraphy, and seal engraving.Take Mr. Qi Baishi (1863-1957), a great painter for example. Mr. Qi was a skillful poet, calligrapher and seal-cutter. Qi, a native of Hunan Province, injected his ink painting with typical Chinese farmers’ tastes — simple, pure, and humorous. All this made him an artistic giant of the 20th Century.qbs2


Qi Baishi painting


Chinese often consider a good painting a good poem, and vice versa. Hence we often say there is painting in poetry and poetry in painting. In the past, many great artists were also great poets and the calligraphers. The inscriptions and seal on the paintings not only can help us to understand the painter’s ideas and emotions, but also provide decorative beauty to the painting.

Pines, bamboo and plum blossoms are ‘bosom friends in winter.’ The three plants are upright and show rectitude. They become favorite objects for Chinese painters. Chinese painting is a combination in the same picture of the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal engraving. They were indispensable elements, which supplement and enrich each other in contributing to the beauty of the whole picture.


Chinese paintings can be divided into four categories according to its format: murals, screens, scrolls, and albums and fans. In addition, they are frequently mounted against exquisite backgrounds to enhance their aesthetic effect.

In terms of technique, Chinese painting can be divided into two broad categories: paintings minutely executed in a realistic style and those that employ freehand brushwork.

Classified according to subject matter, they can be divided into paintings of figures, landscapes, buildings, flowers, birds, animals, insects and fish. The brush techniques so much emphasized in Chinese painting include line and texture (cunfa), the dotting method (dianfa) and the application of color (ranfa).


It is very difficult, if not impossible, to appreciate Chinese paintings without a profound knowledge about different styles characteristic of the different historical periods.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the culture flourished with the economic development. Painting was elegant in style, reflecting the general prosperity of the golden age of Chinese feudal society. The paintings of Song Dynasty (960-1279AD), however, favored abstract, implied meanings rather than direct expressions, painting skills matured considerably, and the realistic style was in full blossom. The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) witnessed the flourish of the expressionist school and many painters indulged in painting solely for personal pleasure. The painters of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) took painting as a vehicle to express their interests and feelings. They painted with a vigorous boldness, caring little for meticulous refinement. Gradually, Chinese painting became artistically ‘perfect’ during the Qing Dynasty.

However, ‘perfection’ sometimes causes stagnation or even retrogression in art creation. That was why vigorous Chinese painting almost became stereotyped for a long period in the 19th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, some painters from Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Beijing started to challenge the old tradition of Chinese painting by introducing new art concepts from the West and establishing art school to train artists. The joint efforts were paid off. Most of these pioneer painters later became the backbone of New China’s Art after 1949. And some are still active even today.

The ink painting has conducted certain reforms earlier this century, which may fall into two types. One reform was to get rid of the morbid psychology of self-admiration that some scholar painters in feudal China harbored, and establishes a healthy style. In this respect, Qi Baishi, whose name we mentioned previously, stood high above his contemporaries.

Qi’s favorite subjects included flowers, insects, birds, landscapes and human figures. He not only studied the skills of these forerunners such as Xu Wei, Zhu Da, Yuan Ji and Wu Changshuo but also carefully observed the objects that he sketched. Outwardly he seemed to be very casual, but the flowers and birds that blossomed and flew from his brush all possessed the kind of characteristics they should have. With fluent lines and bright colors, he created a world full of life and rhythm.



Xu Wei painting

The second type of reform was to accept Western art concepts and techniques and combine them with good tradition of Chinese painting. The pioneers tried to create a brand new national painting form on the basis of the existing form. One of the representatives in this bold experiment was Xu Beihong (1895-1953), who served in his lifetime as president of the Central Fine Arts Institute and chairman of the Chinese Artists Association.



Xu Beihong painring

Xu was most famous for his painting of horses. With a solid foundation in Chinese painting, he borrowed the best techniques from Western painting. In his paintings of human figures or animals, he was most accurate in the depiction of both spirit and form. Xu’s works demonstrated not only his strong personality and creative spirit but also his patriotism, his sympathy with the working class, and his deep hatred for all evils.

Good paintings require good materials. The materials used in Chinese painting are writing brushes, ink sticks and slabs, and paper and silk, you can find all these materials in most of the souvenir shops.


Written by  writer Hao Zhuo.

source: Chinese culture

To be continues with more paintings  and painetrs and poems from China . . .