A&O READING – Qi in the Arts (excerpt from Huan & Rose 2001)


Excerpt about QI[i] in the ARTS

Zhang Yu Huan and Ken Rose (2001, chapter 2)[ii]


This quest for harmony with nature gained its preeminent  expression in the philosophy of the dào. Yet all this philosophizing  can scarcely compete with the experience of a work of art. After all, the idea that one picture is worth a thousand  words is intimately Chinese. Thus, throughout the ages, Chinese artists have sought to manifest the dào of nature in their lives and in their work. They applied their intellect to comprehend the changes of the natural  world and to transform their  perception  of the dào into the emotional power needed to fuel the expression of their art. This emotional vitality, in fact, is their own, individual qû.

They strove to cultivate and refine this so that their work could be created  directly  from  it.  This  aesthetic  yearning  for unity  and  harmony  is expressed in the phrase, yi  qû he chéng    which literally means, “one breath of and it is done.” It is used of literary compositions to imply a  particular  fluidity  of the  movement  of ideas from start  to  finish—the momentum  of qû. This concept is not limited to a single discipline or mode of expression. It runs throughout all of Chinese art. In fact, this phrase is commonly used to describe the accomplishment  of anything  done in one fell swoop, without interruption or pause. [communicating depth of insight and authenticity of its expression]


The following passage is from the Confucian classic known as the Book of Rites (Lý Jû) from the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C.E–476 B.C.E). In the volume entitled “Records of Music (Yuè Jû),” we read:

Poetry is the expression of the will or aspiration. Song is the recitation of sounds. Dance emotes and mobilizes form. These three originate in the heart, aroused by music. Thus deep feelings enlighten writing. It is the flourishing of qû that thus transforms the spirit. Its accumulation and harmonization in the center will draw out the excellence of the spirit. Thus must music be created without the slightest falsity.

Honesty and righteousness have long been fundamental requirements of Chinese art. They arise from an understanding of the forces involved in the process of artistic creation and reflect the profound roots of morality in Chinese culture. This morality is not based in the Western dichotomy of right versus wrong or good versus evil. It develops from inspection of nature and an understanding of how life should be lived to harmonize human action with the forces of the natural world.


[i] qi, (Chinese: “steam,” “breath,” “vital energy,” “vital force,” “material force,” “matter-energy,” “organic material energy,” or “pneuma”) Wade-Giles romanization ch’i, in Chinese philosophymedicine, and religion, the psychophysical energies that permeate the universe.   //  Early Daoist philosophers and alchemists, who regarded qi as a vital force inhering in the breath and bodily fluids, developed techniques to alter and control the movement of qi within the body; their aim was to achieve physical longevity and spiritual power. // Neo-Confucian philosophers of the Song dynasty (960–1279) regarded qi as emanating from taiji (the Great Ultimate) through li, the dynamic ordering pattern of the world. That tradition, whose ideas predominate in traditional Chinese thought, held that qi is manifest through yang (active) and yin (passive) modes as wuxing, or the Five Phases (wood, metal, earth, water, and fire), which in turn are the basic processes defining the cosmos. See also yinyang. 


[ii] A Brief History of Qi  by Zhang Yu Huan and Ken Rose (2001) ISBN # 0-912111-63-1  Paradigm Publications 44 Linden Street Brookline, Massachusetts 02445    Forward at http://www.paradigm-pubs.com/sites/www.paradigm-pubs.com/files/active/0/BHQ_Preface.pdf (not available)