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Eugene Y. Wang . Chinese Art: The Story of Haze (Part One)


Chinese art discovered haze three times—in the 5th, 12th and 20th centuries, respectively—for different reasons. Each time it was a revolution and a marked departure from the entrenched practice, thereby blazing new paths in Chinese art. The first instance was inspired, in part, by a proverbial ‘Shadow Image’. Accounts of a ‘Shadow Cave’ in the region of Nagarahara (west of present-day Jalalabad, Afghanistan) reached China around 400 CE. The cave lore has it that the Buddha Shakyamuni, having subjugated a poisonous dragon, leapt into the grotto wall and stayed there as a Shadow Image, visible only from a distance. The Shadow Cave fired the Chinese imagination, attracting a succession of Chinese monk-pilgrims from the 5th to the 7th century. An eminent monk named Huiyuan (334–416) even built a replica cave on Mt Lu (in today’s Jiangxi province) with its own Shadow Image—a painted icon—inside. Although the painting is no longer extant, its properties can be inferred from eulogies to it composed by Huiyuan and his community. It exhibited notable formal qualities, such as chiaroscuro.

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May/June 2018
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