Starlight Pavilion


Eugene Wang, “‘The Disarrayed Hills Conceal an Old Monastery’: The Dynamics of Poetry and Painting in the Northern Song”, from The Rhetoric of Hiddenness in Traditional Chinese Culture (2016), p. 279:

“Hiddenness” is not of our own making; it was a Northern Song (960–1127) problem. The term cangyi 藏意, a reasonable equivalent, appears in a well-known twelfth-century account of an imperial examination during the Huizong reign (1100–1125). Students of painting who were sitting for that exam were given a poetic line as a prompt for composition: “The disarrayed hills conceal an old monastery” 亂山藏古寺. Practically all of the candidates visualized the line literally by picturing a pagoda mast or a rooftop peeping over the mountain ridges. Some even presented front halls—a decision apparently considered to be in bad taste, precisely because the resulting paintings lacked the quality of “hints of concealment” (cangyi). One candidate, however, showed a monastic flagpole peeping over the rustic hilltops. His composition clinched the top prize.

January 2020