Painting Connecting To Spirits 繪畫通神

Zhang Sengyou of the Liang was skilled at drawing, and served as prefectural chief of Wuxing. Whenever Emperor Wu (464-549 CE) thought of one of his vassal princes, he would order Sengyou to go and draw their portrait, which was like a double of the subject’s face. Once, while in the Tianhuang Monastery in Jiangling, he painted the Buddha, Confucius and the Ten Sages, and the emperor asked: “Why draw these in a Buddhist temple?” He replied: “Some day this will benefit them.” Later, when Zhou burned out the Buddhists, in order to construct a Confucian hall, this alone was saved from the flames. Moreover, when he painted four dragons at the Jiangling Anle Monastery, he did not dot their eyes. People questioned this, and he replied: “If dotted they will fly off.” The crowd thought he was joking, and insisted he dot them. In an instant they heard a thunderclap, and two dragons climbed the clouds and soared upwards; only the two without the eye-dots remained behind. This is painting that connects to spirits.

Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories), 上1.14 (Tale 76):



Li Rong 李冗, Du yi zhi, 獨異志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories) in Du yi zhi, Xuanshi Zhi 獨異志,宣室志 (Outstanding Fantastic Stories, Stories from the Chamber of Dissemination), edited by Zhang Yongqin 张永钦 and Hou Zhiming 侯志明 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983)


Xingwen Beats A Scholar 興文杖士

When Li, a county governor of Nanchang, moved the Confucius hall to the south of the county, he lifted the statue of the master but was quite unable to move it, and many of his subordinates also tried but had the same problem. There was a scholar who spoke from beside him, saying: “The gentleman should be called Zhongni” (This is another name for Confucius, but seems to be a pun, as a different zhong 重 can mean ‘heavy’, and this ni can mean ‘stop’ or ‘prevent’). Warden Li grew angry, and rebuked him with a stern countenance. When night came, in a dream the scholar was suddenly taken by two yellow-robed people to a place where in a side-room a horizontal board read ‘Xingwen’. After a little while a person sat down there and said: “You claim to be a scholar, reading the books of past sages; how can you make jokes and slight the ancient master?” He ordered the attendants to punish him with twenty strokes of the stave, and ordered that he be removed from the Confucian classicists. When he awoke he was feeble-minded, and could not recognise a single character.

Those among the present generation who treat the sagely words as jokes should indeed treat this as a warning.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 後2.221 (Tale 392):



Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).