Chinese Painting: Wen Tong, the Father of Painting Bamboo

Wen Tong would stroll in the bamboo forest, observing closely the way the bamboo grew, the way branches and leaves stretched from the trunk, and how they grew throughout the four seasons. (Image: via  Sun Mingguo)
Wen Tong would stroll in the bamboo forest, observing closely the way the bamboo grew, the way branches and leaves stretched from the trunk, and how they grew throughout the four seasons. (Image: via Sun Mingguo)

There is a famous Chinese idiom “Xiong You Cheng Zhu,” which literally means “having a finished bamboo in one’s mind.” This refers to having a well thought out plan or a clear vision of what one intends to accomplish before getting started. This is a critical requirement in all Chinese painting.

During the Northern Song Dynasty there lived a scholar named Wen Tong. He was very fond of bamboo. He would stroll in the bamboo forest, observing closely the way the bamboo grew, the way branches and leaves stretched from the trunk, and how they grew throughout the four seasons.

 

chinese painting

Wen Tong became so familiar with bamboo that he could visualize them with his eyes closed. Pictured above: “Bamboo in Monochrome Ink” by Wen Tong (1018–1079) currently located at National Palace Museum.

He became so familiar with bamboo that he could visualize them with his eyes closed. His reputation as a bamboo-drawing master and his illustrations of bamboo came to be known far and wide. One day, a young man approached Chao Buzhi, one of Wen Tong’s close friends, for tips on drawing bamboo. Chao Buzhi responded with a smile:

To create a painting, one must first learn to observe the rules of the art faithfully; and afterwards modify them according to one’s intelligence and capacity. In the end, the most skillful method is to have no method, and to refine one’s technique to flow as naturally as water in a mountain stream.

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