The term refers to the entrusting of the poet’s subjective understanding or sentiments to imagery in poetic works. It can also stir responsive appreciation of the reader. Ji (寄) means having a specific thought or individual feelings, and tuo (托) means giving expression to such thought or feelings through the channel of an object. It is a literary term first used by a group of ci (词 lyric) poets from Changzhou during the Qing Dynasty. Zhang Huiyan stressed that lyric writing should follow the tradition of analogies, associations and allegories in The Book of Songs. Zhou Ji further suggested that an aspiring poet should entrust his thought to imagery in order to raise the artistic appeal of his work and stimulate the imagination of the reader. After having established himself, however, the poet should not be bound by the technique of entrusting to imagery; rather, his words and sentiments should blend seamlessly. This view emphasized the primacy of nature of literature as opposed to the primacy of concept and provided a new guidance for literary creation at the time.
When writing ci poetry, one cannot effectively express one’s thoughts and sentiments without entrusting them to imagery. On the other hand, overreliance on imagery will make it hard for one to clearly express his idea. (Zhou Ji: Preface to Contents of Selected Poems of the Four Poets of the Song Dynasty)