The term refers to a state of mind in the process of literary and artistic creation. It suggests that the author, fully inspired by emotions, transcends the constraint of time and space, and enters into a state of free imagination or a special mood for literary and artistic creation, before producing a natural and beautiful work of literature or art, either in language or in imagery. This term was popularly used in literary and artistic theories of the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern dynasties. Liu Xie of the Southern Dynasties devoted one chapter especially to this term in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons. With emphasis on the unique mental activity in literary and artistic creation, imaginative contemplation is different from other cognitive activities.
An ancient saying goes, “Though he lives among the common folks, deep in his heart he concerns himself with affairs of the imperial court.” This is called imaginative contemplation. When one writes, his imaginations and thoughts may transcend time and space. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)
The guiding principles for literary creation come from imaginative contemplation. Man’s feelings and thoughts about the external world are formless and highly changeable. (Xiao Zixian: The Book of Southern Qi)