huì shì hòu sù 绘事后素
The White Silk First, the Painting Afterwards
The original meaning of this phrase is that a piece of white silk must be prepared before one can paint. The concept was then extended to mean that beauty comes from natural simplicity. From this, Confucius put forward the notion that benevolence and righteousness are fundamental and the code of ethics secondary, emphasizing that the teaching of the rites originates in human nature. This concept was later introduced into literary and artistic creation and criticism, which advocates that elaboration should be based on substance, and that style and substance should be compatible and complement each other to bring out the natural beauty.
Zixia asked: “A seductive smile with pretty dimples, her lovely eyes sparkling, like a beautiful painting on white silk. What do these lines mean?” Confucius replied: “To paint, one must have a piece of white silk first.” (The Analects)
The ethical code must be based on loyalty and faithfulness, like a painting that must be done on a piece of white silk prepared. (Zhu Xi: The Analects Variorum)