Huishi Fawei: The Theoretical Writing of Tangdai (1673-after 1752)

Lam, Yick Ying Susan 林亦英
Supervisor: Prof. J.H. Chou

As an art treatise, Huishi Fawei is best known to exist in a number of congshu. In these congshu, some compilers chose to include only the main text, others included prefaces by Chen Pengnian and Shen Zongjing in addition to Tangdai’s own. One also incorporated a passage about Tangdai taken from Zhang Geng’s Guochao Huazheng Xulu and another added a postscript.

There is also an independent volume printed in the time of Kangxi. This is probably the earliest edition and is important and unique in a number of ways. Firstly, it is only here that Tangdai’s self-preface comes with a date. Without it, some confusion has arisen with regard to the completion date of Huishi Fawei. Secondly, there is an additional preface written by Ejin who claims to be Tangdai’s elder cousin. Thirdly, thirteen art treatises have been incorporated as its appendixes. And finally, by the fact that nine out of its ten editors and proofreaders are shown to be Tangdai’s students, we know that Tangdai was once a painting teacher.

In tracing the circumstances which led to the birth of Huishi Fawei, Wang Yuanqi emerges as the person whose theoretical interest influenced Tangdai to also explore the art theories; his beliefs also served as the foundation of Tangdai’s beliefs. However, apparent differences exist between Huishi Fawei and Wang Yuanqi’s major theoretical writing, the Yuchuang Manbi, differences which can be interpreted as Tangdai’s response to his teacher’s criticism of his inability to integrate his ideas on the art of painting.

Wang Yuanqi’s theories can be summarized by longmo, kaihe and qifu which Tangdai inherited, but he simplified to delve only on kaihe. On the pictorial level, kaihe represents polarities in action, the placement and alternation of, for example, dense and sparse, light and shade, host and guest, front and back, etc. Alternatively, it also replicates the movement of the yin and yang forces of qi in the cosmos which brings about the formation of objects and determines their characteristics. This reflects Tangdai’s cosmological view which is in fact part of the legacy of early Qing Neo-Confucianism. Huishi Fawei is significant for reflecting the Qing philosophical outlook and assumptions.

Within the context of Chinese art theory, Huishi Fawei is important for being the first comprehensive art treatise from the Qing orthodox school. After the Song Dynasty, comprehensive treatises were rare and views on art usually took the form of inscriptions and disseminated notes. Huishi Fawei, by reverting back to the full-bodied format which had been abandoned for centuries, paved the way for comprehensive treatises from the orthodox school later in the Qing Dynasty, for example, Shen Zongqian’s Jiezhou Xuehua Bian a few decades later.

Huishi Fawei is also the first piece of art theoretical writing written by a Manchu. Through it, Tangdai set the precedent for later Manchu theorist like Buyantu, whose Huaxue Xinfa Wenda is likewise comprehensive, in that Manchu theorists do not attempt to rebel against Han art theories but rather form a part of this tradition.