The Chinese Character: Wang




Wang (): A Chinese character found throughout the ancient poetry in a multitude of poems. It means to look at, or gaze far into the distance. It also means to look into the future.

A typical Tang or Song Dynasty painting, either flat or in a scroll, is of a landscape. The Chinese, compared to the European painters, did very few portraits. The scenery inside these landscapes are most often of mountains, clouds and mists, forests, rivers and waterfalls, sometimes the water is a lake, a small building or two blended into the trees, outcroppings of rock, maybe a bridge, perhaps a fishing boat, and a single person, or small group of people.

One of the major components of the landscape painting is the expression of wang (). The black ink, watercolor painting, uses the technique of fading and layers of washes to give the viewer the perception of distance and depth. Often the painting would be oriented to the vertical, with nearby objects painted with detail and boldness at the bottom of the picture, gradually becoming less detailed and faint as the eyes follow the scene upward. The top one third to one half of the painting usually incorporated clouds and mists to move the attention of the viewer into the distant horizon and white space.

This pattern of expression was also used by the ancient Chinese poets. Their words created mental pictures and imagery duplicating this perception of depth and fading into the distance. This not only placed the readers into the landscape scene, but also encouraged them to let their imaginations move away like the expanding ripples of lake water spreading out from a rock, or outcropping of rock.


“Distant men have no eyes, distant trees have no branches.
Distant mountains have no stones, and the are as fine and
delicate as eyebrows.
Distant water has no ripples, and reaches up to the clouds.
These are the secrets.”
—Wang Wei