Notes to Self

February 7, 2013 | Posted By: | News |

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“Inscription – The Crude House”
by Liu Yu Xi

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It matters not the height; if an immortal resides in a mountain it becomes famous.

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It matters not the depth; if a dragon lives in a body of water it becomes magical.

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This is a crude house; only I appreciate its fragrance.

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Moss ascends the steps, turning them green,
grass’ color enters the blinds, turning them blue.

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In talk and laughter there are scholars with profound knowledge,
and among those coming andgoing there are no illiterate men.

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One can play the lute and read the golden scriptures.

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There is no string or wind instruments to confuse the ear,
and no desk paper work to strain the body.

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It’s Zhu Ge’s thatched house in Nanyang; it’s Zi Yun’s gazebo in West Shu.

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Confucius says, “What crudeness is there?”


As Minister of Rites at the imperial court, Liu Yu Xi (772 – 842 C.E.) took part in the Yong Zhen Reform, which attempted to limit the power of the palace eunuchs and the provincial governors. When the Reform failed he was demoted to be a mere county administrative officer out in one of the provinces.Upon seeing that he continued to openly espouse the Reform Movement, the county head placed Liu’s living quarters in the crudest little house with only one room, contrary to existing remuneration regulations for his rank, which called for three chambers and three living rooms. Unbowed, Liu wrote this piece and had it inscribed in stone and erected outside the little house.

John Berger points out the sexual inequality in western art. Here, I couldn’t help but notice that there is no nudity  at all in the culture I grew up with: in China. I studied paintings from ancient China, including major figurative paintings, bird-and-flower paintings. However. Chinese art’s greatest strength is in its landscape paintings. The landscape embodies the ideals of the Confucian[1] scholar and of Taoism[2]. The concept of withdrawal into the natural world always had been the major thematic focus of Chinese poets and painters. Faced with the failure of the human order, learned men sought permanence within the natural world, retreating into the mountains to find a sanctuary from the chaos of dynastic collapse. In picture art I see single figures drifting in the glorious landscape, or set in a tiny boat, flowing; or walking through gardens, searching; or disappearing in the cloudy mountains, waiting. They are often alone, never facing the viewer. Even the most figurative painting reminds us of spiritual distance from reality; the folds of their clothes embodied with the human figure; they become a metaphor for rocks, wind and water, emblems of the artist’s own character and spirit. I learned the traditional techniques of Chinese painting, Bimo, “brush and ink” at early age, which gave tangible substance to shape and surface. I was told that figures in Chinese art should dispersed with metaphor. In the ideal natural world.“GuiZhen” means the return to real. The art of mark-making embodied the cosmic human reality of Qi, the energy. The body is spirited away. Ancient Chinese artists believe a man’s studio or garden could be viewed as an extension of himself.  Paintings of such places often served to express the values of their owner. So painting was no longer about the description of the visible world but became a means of conveying the inner landscape of the artist’s heart and mind.