An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Bifaji 筆法記

Mar 2, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Bifaji 筆法記, also called Shanshui shoubi fa 山水受筆法 or Shanshuilu 山水錄, is a book on the "methods of using the brush", i.e. on painting, mainly of landscapes. It was written by Jing Hao 荊誥 (fl. 920), who lived in the state of Liang, one of the Five Dynasties.

The brief book is written as a dialogue with Master Stone Drum (Shigu Laoren 石鼓老人), who allegedly lived in Taihang Mountain Range 太行山. The dialogue expounds traditional methods and characteristics of painting, and thus reveals the rich experience of the author in this field of art. He stresses the need to search for "authenticity" (zhen 真), but not in the sense of reproducing the appearance of landscapes. Instead, the painter had to reflect the spiritual nature of his object, and had to balance out what was the innate authenticity of nature. Elements of this authenticity were "air", "energy" or "spirit" (qi 氣), "rhyme", or "mood and atmosphere" (yun 韻), thought (si 思), and scene (jing 景), while brush (bi 筆) and ink (mo 墨) had to deliver them on paper. Apart from these six requirements (liuyao 六要), a painter had to use "spirit" (shen 神), "subtlety" (miao 妙), "peculiarity" (qi 奇), and technical skills (qiao 巧), according to which his artwork would be rated. The brush itself was steered by the "four powers" (sishi 四勢), namely muscles (jin 筋), flesh (rou 肉), bones (gu 骨), and energy (qi 氣). In its overall impression, an artwork should reflect the correct dimension to have "shape" (you xing 有形), nor be "without shape" (wu xing 無形).

A similar imbalance occurred when water and ink were not applied in the right combination, for instance, in the paintings of Wu Daozi 吳道子 (685-758), who "used the brush, but not the ink", or Xiang Rong 項容 (early 8th cent.), who "used ink, but not the brush". Jing Hao called this "the halo of water and the patterns of ink" (shui yun mo zhang 水暈墨章). He used the example of pine trees to demonstrate that they were neither withered nor lush, but just pine trees. At the end of his book, the author assumes that only men of moral principles and of good education would be able to use the brush correctly.

The text is included in the series Wangshi shuhua yuan 王氏書畫苑, Peiwenzhai shuhua pu 佩文齋書畫譜 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

Quotation 1. Example from the Bifaji 筆法記
氣者,心隨筆運,取象不惑。韻者,隱跡立形,備儀不俗。思者,刪拔大要,凝想形物。景者,制度時因,搜妙創真。 Spirit means the mind moving along, guiding the brush in perfect control. Mood and atmosphere means to suggest forms without all the details and create an effect which is not drab and common. Thought means to have a grasp of the compositional scheme, and have insight into the scene. Scene means to have regard for the changing seasons and catch the reality.
筆者,雖依法則,運轉變通,不質不形,如飛如動。墨者,高低暈淡,品物淺深,文采自然,似非因筆。 The brush-work moves according to rules, but it makes adjustments and changes as it goes along. It is neither substance, nor form. It is a movement, a flight. Ink-work gives variations in shading to give a sense of the location and depth of objects, thus forming a natural pattern. It does not seem to come from the brush.
Translation Lin 1967: 65, slightly changed.
Chen Chiyu 陳池瑜 (2013). "Jing Hao Bifaji zhong de huihua meixue sixiang 荆浩《筆法記》中的繪畫美學思想", Dongnan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 東南大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 2013 (2): 82-90+135-136.
Gu Ping 顧平 (1998). "Jing Hao Bifaji dui Zhongguo shanshuihua lilun fazhan de gongxian 荆浩《筆法記》對中國山水畫理論發展的貢獻", Anhui Shifan Daxue xuebao (Renwen shehui kexue) 安徽師範大學學報(人文社會科學), 1998 (3).
Hu Zongyong 胡宗勇 (2006). "Jing Hao Bifaji dui huihua meixue sixiang de chengxu yu tuozhan 荆浩《筆法記》對繪畫美學思想的承續與拓展", Yushu tansuo 藝術探索, 2006 (4): 45-46+142.
Jiaoyu da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 《教育大辭典》編纂委員會, ed. (1991). Jiaoyu da cidian 教育大辭典, part 8, Zhongguo gudai jiaoyu shi 中國古代教育史 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 263.
Kong Zhongqi 孔仲起, Wang Lin 王霖 (2000). "Xin sui bi yun yin ji li xing: Jing Hao Bifaji ji liluyao jianlun 心隨筆運 隱迹立形──荆浩《筆法記》及“六要”簡論", Xin meishu 新美术, 2000 (3): 69-72.
Lin Yutang (1967). The Chinese Theory of Art: Translations from the Masters of Chinese Art (New York: Putnam).
Qi Tinggui 戚廷貴, Liu Xiaoyan 劉孝嚴, Tang Shufan 唐樹凡, eds. (1992). Dong-Xifang yishu cidian 東西方藝術辭典 (Changchun: Jilin jiaoyu chubanshe), 520.
Cui Jin 崔錦 (1997). "Bifaji 筆法記", in Men Kui 門巋, Zhang Yanjin 張燕瑾, eds. Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Xianggang: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi), 810.
Tao Mingjun 陶明君, ed. (1993). Zhongguo hualun cidian 中國畫論辭典 (Changsha: Hunan chubanshe), 287.
Zhang Shuhua 張樹華 (1993). "Bifaji 筆法記", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長, ed. Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 773.
Shuai Benhua 帥本華, ed. (1991). Zhong-wai wenyijia ji mingzuo cidian 中外文藝家及名作辭典 (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe), 964.
Xing Zhishan 邢志善 (1987). "Bifaji 筆法記", in Wang Xianfeng 王向峰, ed. Wenyi meishu cidian 文藝美學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning daxue chubanshe), 634.
Xue Yongnian 薛永年 (1979). "Jing Hao Bifaji de lilun chengjiu 荆浩《筆法記》的理論成就", Meixue yanjiu 美術研究, 1979 (2): 65-71.
Zhang Jing 張晶 (2020a). "Du xiang qu zhen yu hua you li yao: Wudai Jing Hao Bifaji jiexi (1) “度象取真”與“畫有六要”——五代荆浩《筆法記》解析(上)", Mingzuo xinshang 名作欣賞, 2020 (7): 122-126.
Zhang Jing 張晶 (2020b). "Shen miao qi qiao yu sishi erbing: Wudai Jing Hua Bifaji jiexi (2). “神、妙、奇、巧”與“四勢”“二病”——五代荆浩《筆法記》解析(下)", Mingzuo xinshang 名作欣賞, 2020(10): 130-133