He Haixia, As I Read Him by Jia Pingwa ~ 贾平凹 《我读何海霞》 with English Translations


贾平凹 《我读何海霞》










He Haixia, As I Read Him
Jia Pingwa

The year I moved to Xi’an from the country, He Haixia moved from Xi’an to Beijing. While Beijing boasts a great artist, the capital city of the ancient Qin dynasty finds itself deserted. Though I had the good fortune to be contemporaries with him, I had regretfully missed making his acquaintance within the city walls of Xi’an.

I went up to Mt. Huashan and, drinking up a bottle of Xifeng to the howling of Qin opera by some uncouth fellow by the Chess Pavilion, I had the feeling that Zhao Kuangyin, the Founding Emperor of the ancient Song dynasty, was sitting in the pavilion, playing chess with Chen Tuan, a Taoist hermit. I was wondering whether Zhao Kuangyin was He Haixia, or He Haixia, by simple transposition, was Chen Tuan. I turned up to the sky with a deep sigh: Why on earth did he have to leave Xi’an?

As the saying goes, you are prepared to end up anywhere in the land but, since ancient times, Xi’an has not been able to keep people from leaving. He Haixia, too, had left, but since then there have been hosts of legendary stories told about him.

Over a long period of time, geniuses and “clowns” have been mixed up on the bustling (or hectic) arena of the art, like rocks and sand mixed and driven by stormy waves along the shore. We have not seen much of He Haixia on the TV or in the newspapers, but as rumor from Beijing has it, he is still around. Around as he is, there has not been much mention of him, because the mere mention of his name makes one feel sad. Ghosts are hideously clamorous while God is silent. He Haixia’s art is the art of conquest; the fact that he is still around is awe-inspiring.

I am qualified to comment on any particular aspect of his works, for whatever I say would be short of its professionalism, turning technical terms into frivolities, thus laying bare a layman’s follies. At this point I think of Xiang Yu, the ancient heroic general, who had unusual physical strength and overwhelming will power. It has braced me up from the suffering of ailments, turning what is cowardly in me into courage. In this era characterized by too much pettiness and flightiness, it is really a miracle that we should find such imposing forcefulness and artistic excellence as shown in his works. I remember once sitting at home alone, with his album open in front of me, my mind wandering about in the artistic nature created by the artist, feeling as if I were Zhuangzi transformed into a butterfly fluttering around. But the first time I saw a recent photo of his, emaciated and aged, I sensed a lonely soul in him. Ah, but it is the loneliness of his soul that makes his art great.

Without the Tao, never is there wonder in poetry. The sea is big, its wide expanses spread out to the horizon where the sun casts its glorious rays. And that, is He Haixia.

Of the Chinese landscape painting in its genuine sense, He Haixia is probably the only master that has survived.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *