nǐ wù lì xiàng 拟物立象
Image Creation Through Object Imitation
This refers to the process in which an artist creates his unique artistic representations of concrete objects, found in the natural world and social life, by mimicking, refining, and synthesizing their perceptual images. This concept for artistic creation comes from The Book of Changes, which uses images of hexagrams to symbolize everything in nature and their rules of change. The Book of Changes has inspired literature and art to make use of concrete artistic images to interpret and describe nature and human beings themselves. This mode of thinking has exerted a far-reaching influence on literary and artistic theories in ancient China, nurturing the birth of the theory of imagery.
Hexagrams and trigrams described in The Book of Changes allowed sages to survey the subtleties of all things under heaven to determine what was fitting through simulation of the shapes of things. That is why they were called likenesses. (The Book of Changes)
Confucius says: “Writing cannot fully express what is spoken, and what is spoken cannot fully express a speaker’s thoughts.” Then is it ever possible to know the thoughts of a sage? Confucius says: “Sages expressed their thoughts fully through establishing images…” (The Book of Changes)