jìnɡ shēnɡ xiànɡ wài 境生象外
Aesthetic Conception Transcends Concrete Objects Described.
The aesthetic conception evoked by a poem or prose transcends what a physical object denotes, and a reader needs to perceive and appreciate the beauty of such aesthetic conception. Jing (境) here refers to an aesthetic conception created by a poem or prose, while xiang (象) refers to the image of a concrete object portrayed in such writing. Composed of words, a poem describes individual objects through which it evokes a coherent poetic conception beyond the physical appearance of such objects. This proposition was first put forward by poet Liu Yuxi of the Tang Dynasty to express his understanding of poetry. He pointed out that words and images were concrete while aesthetic conceptions were abstract and subtle and therefore hard to describe. Liu’s proposition, namely, aesthetic conception transcending concrete objects described, marked an important stage in the development of the theory of aesthetic conception in classical Chinese poetry.
Aesthetic conception and imagery are not the same thing, and it is not always easy to distinguish between what is actual and what is implied. Some things like scenery can be seen but not taken, while others such as wind can be heard but not seen. Still others are like thought: it exists in our body but is not restricted by the body. Some pervades everything but possesses no particular shape, like color. All these can be expressed concretely or indirectly by implication. (Jiaoran: Comments on Poetry)
Is poetry highly condensed prose? A poem can convey the same meaning of a prose without using many words. Therefore, poetry is implicit and subtle, an art that is hard to master. Poetic conception often transcends what is denoted by the objects described, therefore it is subtle and difficult to achieve. (Liu Yuxi: Preface to Dong’s Wu Ling Ji)