chuán shén xiě zhào 传神写照
Convey the Spirit and Capture the Person
This term refers to literary descriptions of characters which are accurate both in form and in spirit. Chuan shen (传神), to “convey the spirit,” is to fully express the spiritual world within the character, so that he comes to life; xie zhao (写照), to “capture the person,” is to create a vivid physical depiction of him. These expressions were originally used in discussions of art but were later introduced into literature. They represent an artistic state which artists and writers try to achieve as they create images of people as well as all artistic images.
The heights of artistry do not lie in whether or not someone’s physical shape is well portrayed. Rather, it is the eyes which convey the spirit and capture the person. (Liu Yiqing: A New Account of the Tales of the World)
It is a subtle trick of great writers to deliberately change the subject or to leave something unsaid. Where one thought can give rise to another, the author deliberately refrains from doing so, and instead turns to other descriptions or narratives, thus creating a void which conveys the spirit and captures the person. By doing so, lyrical expression becomes even more vivid and lifelike. (Liu Xizai: Overview of Literary Theories)
The image of Lu Zhishen portrayed by the author remains lifelike even after a thousand years. He is truly a master who can convey the spirit and capture the person! (Li Zhi’s Annotations on Outlaws of the Marsh)