富春山居圖 [Wuyong version], c.1347-1350. Handscroll, ink on paper, 33 x 639.9 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei.
Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains
A famous Chinese landscape painting, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, has cast immense influence on my envisioning of an ideal life. Echoing the Chinese philosophy of oneness between human and nature, it is a 6.4-meter long handscroll painting portraying the stunning scenery along the Fuchun River in East China.
The lingering charm of this composition lies in the artist’s spirit hidden in every brush and ink. This form of Chinese painting, handscroll painting, is a unique form of art in China. Unlike western paintings which can be viewed in one sight, to view this 6.4-meter long masterpiece, one must begin by holding it in hands and unfold it gradually, making it into a journey of discovery that involves intimate physical movement of the viewer. Bit by bit, panorama of sceneries along the river is unveiled, like a range of camera shots: wide shots, medium shots, close ups, and so on. Hence, the viewing process itself has already been included in the appreciation of the artwork.
This painting is an expression of the artist’s personal aesthetics of nature connecting with the life experience and his contemplation of the spiritually sublime through rejoicing in the landscape. It becomes an enlightenment to me, as I have been long interested in humans’ relationship with nature. Taoist view of oneness between man and nature is part of my fundamental belief. On an individual level, intimacy with nature can result in, for example, longevity and inner peace. Admittedly, compare to urban people in a fast-paced modern life, it is easier for people in the past to achieve it. In ancient times, our living conditions are fully dependent on nature, so we adored it and were reverent to imaginary gods. After centuries of evolution, some people were enlightened to reach a harmonious state, realizing the consistence between the cycle of their own body and periodical changes in nature. During the Axial Age, Taoism originates, along with other major classic philosophies. However, as time goes by, humans started to turn over their relationship with nature. Industrialization brought along the idea that man should have dominant power over the environment, and many of us pursued an urban life. So I reflect on myself whether I will be hedonic trapped amidst all skyscrapers, air-conditioners, clubs and light for 24 hours. Or, is it more enjoyable to sip a cup of tea in a greenish bamboo grove and feel the gentle breeze? Just like the artist of Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, Huang Gongwang, who has experienced dramatic ups and downs in his life, and finally reclused in the mountains and rivers. He developed profound understanding of all three major philosophies in China at that time, namely Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, naturally integrating all his life experience and insights into this masterpiece.
On the societal level, as is depicted in ‘Silent Spring’, recent decades saw the rapid deterioration of ecosystems and ominous warnings from the nature. Neoliberalism leads to excessive consumption, mass production, and neglection of exploitation of the environment. On the contrary, sustainable development lies in the harmonious relationship with nature, which includes moderate use of natural resources, organic agriculture and regulated emissions. As Taoism promotes, “Never dry the lake for fishing, never chop the whole forest for timber”. Furthermore, for ordinary people, distance from nature may bring about lots of issues. Children may not recognize where their food come from; people in metropolitans produce millions of tons of rubbish without knowing how horrible and immense landfills are. In the long-term development process, humans should seek for a way out. While the Garden City movement drew people’s attention to the power of naturalistic elements in urban planning, a more mature and ultimate way lies in humans’ inseparable bonding with nature.
The breath-taking landscapes in this masterpiece, through perfect configuration and skillful brush and ink work, enlightened me with the poetic philosophy behind nature and humans. Humans’ spiritual rejoice in nature, conforming to the cycles and “Dao” of nature, mirrors the ideal state of living.