Wang Wei (Tang dynasty)

Wang Wei (699–759)[1] was a Chinese musician, painter, poet, and politician of the middle Tang dynasty. He is regarded as one of the most famous men of arts and letters of his era. Many of his poems survive and 29 of them are included in the 18th-century anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems. Many of his best poems were inspired by the local landscape.

Wang Wei
Qi County, Jinzhong, Shanxi
Died759 (aged 59–60)
Xi'an, Shaanxi
OccupationMusician, painter, poet, politician
PeriodTang dynasty
RelativesWang Jin (brother)
Wang Wei
Wang's name in Traditional (top) and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Householder Mojie
Traditional Chinese居士
Simplified Chinese居士
Literal meaningSee Householder

Wang Wei is especially known as a poet and painter of nature. About 400 of his poems survive. These were first collected and originally edited into a corpus by his next-youngest brother, Wang Jin, by imperial command. Of his paintings, no authenticated specimens survive, although there is evidence of his work through influences on later paintings and descriptive accounts of his paintings. His musical talents were regarded very highly, although nothing survives of his music except reports. He furthermore had a successful career as a court official. Eventually, he became a devout Zen Buddhist and a vegetarian.[2] Wang Wei spent ten years studying with Chán master Daoguang.

Names edit

His family name is Wang, and his given name is Wei. He chose the courtesy name Mojie, signing his works Wang Weimojie because Wei-mo-Jie (維摩詰) was a reference to Vimalakirti, the central figure of the Buddhist sutra by that name.[3] In this holy book of Buddhism, which is partly in the form of a debate with Mañjuśrī (the Bodhisattva of Wisdom), a lay person, Vimalakīrti, expounds the doctrine of Śūnyatā, or emptiness, to an assembly which includes arhats and bodhisattvas, and then culminates with the wordless teaching of silence.

Life edit

Early years edit

Born into an aristocratic family, of Han ethnicity, originally from Qixian (present-day Qi County in Shanxi province), Wang Wei's father moved east of the Yellow River to Puzhou, part of the historic Hedong Commandery (today's Yongji, Shanxi). Known for his youthful precocity,[4] Wang Wei, the eldest of five brothers,[5] set off for Chang’an, the imperial capital, at the age of nineteen, in order to study for the civil service examination. While residing in Chang'an, before taking the test, Wang won favor at the court thanks to his poetic and musical talents. (He played the pipa.)[6] He passed the palace examination in 721, and was awarded top marks (Zhuangyuan), launching him on a potentially lucrative civil service career. Wang Wei's career as an official had its ups and downs. His first appointment was as a court musician, or "Deputy Master of Music"; however, he was then demoted to a position of being in charge of a granary in the former province of Jizhou (now the name of a different town Jizhou, in Hebei).[7] The reason for this demotion, according to tradition, was Wang's breach of etiquette by performing a lion dance.[8]

In any case, this was only a minor setback to his career, and it had a compensation in that it did allow him to travel. Then, a series of promotions following this demotion was apparently attributable to a relationship with the prominent governmental minister, poet, and literary scholar Zhang Jiuling,[9] at least until Zhang's 727 demotion to a post in Jingzhou. By 728, Wang Wei was back in Chang'an, where he entertained the poet Meng Haoran,[10] who was to become a close friend and poetic colleague. At this point, Wang seems to have achieved the rank of Assistant Censor, and then a subsequent governmental promotion, but then later being demoted back to Assistant Censor, with the loss in imperial favor of Zhang Jiuling and the rising political ascendency of Li Linfu. After his wife's death in 731,[11] he never remarried. It was in his role as a government official that Wang Wei was dispatched to Liangzhou,[12] which was then the northwestern frontier of the Chinese empire, and the scene of constant military conflicts. By invitation of the local commander, Wang served in this location until returning to Chang'an in 738 or early 739.[13]

Middle years edit

After returning to Chang'an from Liangzhou, and lacking an official posting, Wang Wei took the opportunity to explore the countryside south of the capital, in the Lantian area within the Zhongnan Mountains. There, Wang Wei made friends with Pei Di.[14] In 740–741 Wang resumed his governmental career. This included an inspection tour of Xiangyang, Hubei (the home of Meng Haoran). Afterwards, Wang held various postings in Chang'an. Besides his governmental salary, he made money as an artist, thereby having the means to purchase the sizable Lantian estate, formerly owned by the poet Song Zhiwen, known as Wang Chuan.[15] After his mother's death in 747–748, Wang Wei erected a shrine in her honor at the estate, spending a traditional three-year period in mourning. Wang Wei was so afflicted by grief that he was reduced almost to a skeleton.[16] By 751–752 Wang Wei resumed his official duties. But, at this point, historical records are cloudy, the result of the devastating effects of the An Shi disorders.

War edit

Riders on Horseback, Northern Qi dynasty, the general area of the rebel heartland, although of an earlier date

The An-Shi rebellion (755 - 763), profoundly affected Chinese social culture in general and Wang Wei in particular. However, Nicolas Tackett has recently argued that it was not as destructive to the Tang aristocracy as had previously been thought.[17] In 756, Wang Wei was residing in the capital of Chang'an, where he was captured by the rebels when they took the city. Although the emperor Xuanzong and his court and most of the governmental officials had already evacuated to Sichuan, Wang Wei had come down with dysentery and at that time was an invalid and thus unable to travel,[18] especially not on this notoriously mountainous and difficult passage. The rebels then took their prize captive to their capital at Luoyang,[19] where the government of the rebellion sought his collaboration. According to some sources, he attempted to avoid actively serving the insurgents during the capital's occupation by pretending to be deaf; other sources state that, in an attempt to destroy his voice, he drank medicine that created cankers on his mouth. In any case, at Luoyang, Wang Wei was unable to avoid becoming officially one of the rebels, with an official title.[20] In 757, with the ascendency of Suzong, and the Tang recapture of Luoyang from the rebel forces, Wang Wei was arrested and imprisoned by the Tang government as a suspected traitor.[21]

The charges of disloyalty were eventually dropped, partly because of the intervention of his brother, Wang Jin, who held high government rank (as Undersecretary of the Board of Punishments[22]) and whose loyal efforts in the defense of Taiyuan were well known. Furthermore, the poems he had written during his captivity were produced, and accepted as evidence in favor of his loyalty.[23] Following his pardon, Wang Wei spent much of his time in his Buddhist practice and activities.[24] Then, with the further suppression of the rebellion, he again received a government position, in 758,[25] at first in a lower position than prior to the rebellion, as a tàizǐ zhōngchōng (太子中充), in the court of the crown prince rather than that of the emperor himself. In 759 Wang Wei was not only restored to his former position in the emperor's court, but he was eventually promoted. Over time, he was moved to the secretarial position of jǐshìzhōng (給事中) and his last position, which he held until his death in 761, was shàngshū yòuchéng (尚書右丞), or deputy prime minister. As these positions were in the city of Chang'an, they were not too far from his private estate to prevent him from visiting and repairing it. During all this time, he continued his artistic endeavors.

Later years edit

A modern picture from Mount Hua, in the Qinling Mountain Range, perhaps suggesting some of the area's wild and rugged features which still exist today, and that would have also been enjoyed by Wang Wei and his friends.

Wang Wei never lived to see the empire return to peace, as the An-Shi disturbances and their aftermath continued beyond his lifetime. However, at least he could enjoy a relative return to stability compared to the initial years of the rebellion, especially when he had the opportunity to spend time in the relative seclusion of his Lantian estate, which allowed him both a poetic and a Buddhist retreat, as well as a place to spend time with his friends and with nature, painting and writing. But, finally, his writing came to an end, and in the seventh month of 759, or in 761, Wang Wei requested writing implements, wrote several letters to his brother and to his friends, and then died.[26] He was then buried at his Lantian estate.[27]

Works edit

Wang Shimin: "After Wang Wei's 'Snow Over Rivers and Mountains'". Qing dynasty.

Wang Wei was famous for both his poetry and his paintings, about which Su Shi coined a phrase: "The quality of Wang Wei’s poems can be summed up as, 'a painting within a poem.' Observing his paintings you see, 'within the painting there is poetry.'"[28] He is especially known for his compositions in the Mountains and Streams (Shanshui) poetry genre, the landscape school of poetry, along with Meng Haoran; their family names were combined in a form of mutual reference and they are commonly referred to as "Wang Meng" due to their excellence in poetic composition, as contemporaries. In his later years, Wang Wei lost interest in being a statesman and became more involved in Buddhism and his poems reflected his focus on Chan practice, therefore he was posthumously referred to as the "Poet Buddha". His works are collected in Secretary General Wang's Anthology, which includes 400 poems. He excelled in painting images of people, bamboo forests and scenery of mountains and rivers. It is recorded that his landscape paintings have two different genres, one of the Father and Son of the Li Family (李氏父子) and the other being of strong brush strokes. His work of Picture of Wang River is of the latter, but unfortunately the original no longer exists. His works of Scenery of Snow and Creek and Jinan’s Fusheng Portrait are both realistic in their representation of the subjects.

At present 420 poems are attributed to Wang Wei, of which 370 are thought to be genuine.[29] Wang Wei was a "very great master" of the jueju:[30] many of his quatrains depict quiet scenes of water and mist, with few details and little human presence. The Indiana Companion comments that he affirms the world's beauty, while questioning its ultimate reality. It also draws a comparison between the deceptive simplicity of his works and the Chan path to enlightenment, which is built on careful preparation but is achieved without conscious effort.

One of Wang Wei's famous poems is "One-hearted" (Xiang Si 相思):

Original Chinese English Translation
When those red berries of the South,
Flush on the branches in the spring,
Take home an armful, for my sake,
As a symbol of our love.

Wang River Collection edit

Some of Wang Wei's most famous poetry was done as a series of 20 quatrains written by him to which his friend Pei Di wrote replies. Together, these form a group titled the Wang River Collection (輞川集; Wǎngchuān jí). These poems are sometimes referred to as the "Lantian poems", after the real name of Wang's estate's location, in what is now Lantian County.

Inspired in part by Wang's Lantian home and features of its neighborhood and by their correspondences with other places and features, the Wang River Collection includes such pieces as the poem often translated "Deer Park" (literally, "Deer Fence").[31] However, the poems tend to have a deceptive simplicity to them, while they actually have great depth and complexity upon closer examination. Below is a selection of several of Wang's 20 "Wang River Collection" quatrains, with English translations by the American sinologist Stephen Owen.[32]

Other poetry edit

Villa on Zhongnan Mountain (終南別業) [33][34][35][page needed]

Painting edit

Wang Wei has historically been regarded as the founder of the Southern School of Chinese landscape art,[36] a school which was characterised by strong brushstrokes contrasted with light ink washes.

Cultural references edit

Dong Qichang's painting of "Landscapes in the Manner of Old Masters" (Wang Wei). Album leaf. Nelson-Atkins Museum

Influence in the East edit

Wang Wei was of extensive influence in China and its area of cultural influence, particularly in terms of monochrome ink painting and in terms of his deceptively simple and insightful Buddhist-influenced poetry. Wang Shimin and Wang Yuanqi of the Six Masters of the early Qing period painted works in the style of Wang Wei, as well as copying his paintings as "copying former masters was seen as the cornerstone of artistic training."[37] In the Ming dynasty, Dong Qichang included Wang Wei's style in his paintings after the old masters.

One of Wang Wei's poems, called Weicheng Qu or "Song of the City of Wei" has been adapted to the famous music melody, Yangguan Sandie or "Three Refrains on the Yang Pass". The most famous version of this melody is based on a tune for guqin first published in 1864 but may be traced back to a version from 1530.[38]

Wang Wei's lasting influence is seen in the death poem of the Japanese haiku master Yosa Buson:

   winter warbler;
   long ago in Wang Wei's
   hedge also

Influence in the West edit

  • Wang Wei's poetry, in translation, formed the inspiration for the final Der Abschied movement of the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler's penultimate completed work, Das Lied von der Erde.[39] Der Abschied is set to a loose German translation of Wang Wei's Farewell (送别), a work addressed to fellow poet Meng Haoran on the occasion of his retirement (after a brief civil service career) to become a scholar-recluse (yinshi, 隱士).
"Alight and bide a while my friend,"
a cup of wine I recommend.
"Whither go ye on this journey?"
Disappointments, you confide —
"On South Hill's fringes I'll reside,
retire by the mountainside."
"Go, good friend," my queries end.
Yonder, white clouds time transcend.

See also edit

References edit

Citations edit

  1. ^ bio dates: Ch'en and Bullock, 49 and 53; Stimson, 22; Watson, 10 and 170; and Wu, 225. Note, however, other sources, such as Chang, 58, and Davis, x, give his years as 701–761
  2. ^ Wu, 49–51
  3. ^ Ferguson, 73
  4. ^ Chang, 58
  5. ^ Ch'en and Bullock, 49
  6. ^ Ch'en and Bullock, 50
  7. ^ Ch'en and Bullock, 50; Chang, 59
  8. ^ Chang, 59
  9. ^ Chen and Bullock, 50; Chang, 59
  10. ^ Chang, 59
  11. ^ Chang, 61
  12. ^ Chang, 60
  13. ^ Chang, 60
  14. ^ Chang, 60
  15. ^ Chang, 61
  16. ^ Chang, 61
  17. ^ Nicolas Tackett, The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy (Cambridge: Harvard Asia Center, 2014)
  18. ^ Ch'en and Bullock, 50
  19. ^ Ch'en and Bullock, 51
  20. ^ Chang, 62
  21. ^ Chang, 62
  22. ^ Chang, 62
  23. ^ Ch'en and Bullock, 51
  24. ^ Chang, 62
  25. ^ Chang, 62
  26. ^ Ch'en and Bullock, 53
  27. ^ Hinton, 158
  28. ^ 苏轼在《东坡志林》中说:“味摩诘之诗,诗中有画;观摩诘之画,画中有诗。”
  29. ^ Jaroslav Průšek and Zbigniew Słupski, eds., Dictionary of Oriental Literatures: East Asia (Charles Tuttle, 1978): 195.
  30. ^ Davis, x
  31. ^ Several Translations of One Poem by 王維 at the Wayback Machine (archived 11 June 2010)
  32. ^ Owen (1996), pp. 392–95.
  33. ^ "Asian Topics on Asia for Educators || Great Tang Poets: Wang Wei". Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  34. ^ Wei, Wang. "Villa at Mount Zhongnan by Wang Wei by Wang Wei". Retrieved 2023-10-05.
  35. ^ Owen 1996.
  36. ^ Davis, x
  37. ^ Jenny So, in "Antiques in Antiquity: Early Chinese Looks at the Past", a paper presented at Brown University, March 5, 2008.
  38. ^ "13. Thrice (Parting for) Yangguan".
  39. ^ Mitchell, Donald (1985), Gustav Mahler: Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death. London: Faber and Faber.
  40. ^ Nanshan (南山, "South Hill") likely refers to a particular geographical feature near Meng Haoran's hometown of Xiangyang, in modern day Hubei Province. Another interpretation is that Nanshan is short for Zhongnanshan (終南山), a well-known retreat for Daoist hermits.

Sources edit

  • Bynner, Witter (1929), trans. (from the texts of Kiang Kang-hu). The Jade Mountain, a Chinese Anthology: Being Three Hundred Poems of the T'ang Dynasty. New York: Knopf.
  • Chang, H.C. (1977), Chinese Literature 2: Nature Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-04288-4.
  • Chang, Yin-nan, and Lewis C. Walmsley (1958), trans. Poems by Wang Wei. Rutland, VT: Tuttle.
  • Ch'en, Jerome and Michael Bullock (1960), Poems of Solitude. London: Abelard-Schuman. ISBN 978-0-85331-260-4.
  • Cheng, Francois (1977), L'Ecriture poétique chinoise. Paris: Editions du Seuil. Trans. by Donald A. Riggs and Jerome P. Seaton as Chinese Poetic Writing: With an Anthology of T'ang Poetry Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.
  • Davis, A.R. (Albert Richard), Editor and Introduction (1970), The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse. Baltimore: Penguin Books.
  • Ferguson, John C. (1927), Chinese Painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Fletcher, W.J.B. (1919), trans. Gems of Chinese Verse, Translated into English Verse. Shanghai: Commercial Press.
  • Giles, Herbert (1884), ed. and trans. Chinese Poetry in English Verse. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh.
  • Hinton, David (2008), Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-10536-7, 978-0-374-10536-5.
  • Kenner, Hugh (1971), The Pound Era. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Mitchell, Donald (1985), Gustav Mahler: Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Owen, Stephen (1996). An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-97106-6.
  • Robinson, G.W. (1974), Wang Wei Poems Penguin Classics, ISBN 978-0-14-044296-0
  • Stimson, Hugh M. (1976), Fifty-five T'ang Poems. Far Eastern Publications: Yale University, New Haven, CN. ISBN 0-88710-026-0
  • Wagner, Marsha (1982), Wang Wei. Boston: Twayne.
  • Watson, Burton (1971), Chinese Lyricism: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-03464-4.
  • Weinberger, Eliot, and Octavio Paz (1987), Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem Is Translated. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell.
  • Wu, John C.H. (1972), The Four Seasons of Tang Poetry. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle. ISBN 978-0-8048-0197-3.
  • Yip, Wai-lim (1972), trans. Hiding the Universe: Poems by Wang Wei. New York: Munshinsha/Grossman.
  • Yip, Wai-lim (1993), Diffusion of Distances: Dialogues between Chinese and Western Poetics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Yu, Pauline (1980), The Poetry of Wang Wei: New Translations and Commentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Critical editions edit

  • Wang Youcheng Ji Jianzhu 《王右丞集箋注》 (An Annotated Edition of the Collected Works of Wang [Wei] the Right Assistant Secretary of State Affairs). Edited by Zhao Diancheng (趙殿成) (1683–1756). Shanghai: Shanghai Ancient Books Publishing House, 1961.

Further reading edit

External links edit