xiě qì tú mào 写气图貌
Depict Outward Features to Convey an Innate Liveliness
This term refers to the act of depicting the outward features of an object to convey its innate character in literary writing. It stresses the need not only to reproduce in words whatever appears before one’s eyes but also to capture it with one’s soul, thus achieving a close communion with the object depicted. The point is to bring out the hidden impact and spirit of things, or to express a profound feeling toward them. Only thus can an excellent work of art be produced.
In depicting the external traits of an object and capturing its hidden momentum or spirit, it is advisable to vary one’s style in accordance with circumstances; in choosing one’s wording and poetic rhythm, one should mentally weigh all possibilities before deciding on the best one in response to a call from deep within. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)