wén yǐ yì wéi zhǔ 文以意为主
The Message Matters More than the Rhetoric.
Writing is done mainly to convey a meaning. Here, “meaning” refers to what an article is essentially about. This is an important theoretic notion in ancient Chinese literary theory. It was often emphasized in essays of the Song, Jin, Yuan and Ming dynasties and accepted by scholars of later generations. According to this theory, the meaning is weightier than the rhetoric; it should always be put first. The theory is closely associated with the ideas of “writing to illuminate Dao” and “writing to convey the truth” first raised by Tang and Song scholars. It continues the fine literary theoretical tradition of ancient China. However, the word “meaning” covers far wider implications than Dao or truth.
I often say that a person’s feelings and aspiration dwell in his writing. Essays should focus much more on content and use rhetoric to better serve content. As long as an essay’s focus is on content, its message will be clearly conveyed. When rhetoric is used to convey the message, it will not fall into disarray. (Fan Ye: A Letter Written In Prison to My Nephews)
Whether it is poetry or a longer piece of writing, the author’s main concern should be with its core message. A core message is like the commander-in-chief of an army. Without a commander-in-chief, soldiers will be reduced to a badlyorganized crowd. (Wang Fuzhi: Desultory Remarks on Poetry from Ginger Studio)