Disharmony / Harmony

“Disharmony” here means an insincere articulation of feeling or an unnatural depiction of scenery. This happens when there is a lack of complete blend of feeling and scenery, causing readers to feel at odds, or unable to identify, with what they are reading. “Harmony,” on the other hand, means a true expression of feeling or a natural depiction of scenery, creating an aesthetic feeling of “being right there to witness.” This pair of contrasting terms was first used by Wang Guowei (1877-1927) in his critical work Poetic Remarks in the Human World, where he combines the appreciation of natural beauty and the emphasis on the reading experience favored by ancient China's literati along with the influence of Western notions of artistic intuition. Intuition relates to artistic experience and psychological habit, and discussion of this pair of opposites shows the convergence of Chinese and Western literary aesthetic thought.


While picking chrysanthemums beneath the eastern fence the poet sees the southern mountains – a harmony between the idyllic scenery his eyes casually fall on and a sense of leisurely contentment. “I see the southern mountains” is a most wonderful phrase. However, in recent block-print editions this has been changed to “I survey the southern mountains” which takes away the charm of the entire poem.

It suffices for an essay to convey its author’s meaning with well-chosen words. Ancient men of letters disdained empty rhetoric. They chose their words and constructed sentences on the basis of content, free from unnecessary modifiers. Even though they found it hard, once in a while, to articulate themselves effectively, so long as they could lay bare their hearts in words, it was to be the highest attainment in writing.