Xu Wei

Xu Wei (Chinese: 徐渭; pinyin: Xú Wèi; Wade–Giles: Hsü Wei, 1521—1593) was a Ming Chinese painter, poet, writer and dramatist famed for his artistic expressiveness. Revolutionary for its time, his painting style influenced and inspired countless subsequent painters, such as Bada Shanren, the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, and the modern masters Wu Changshuo and Qi Baishi. Qi once exclaimed in a poem that "How I wish to be born 300 years earlier so I could grind ink and prepare paper for Green Vine ( A Xu Wei pen name)" (恨不生三百年前,為青藤磨墨理紙). Xu Wei can be considered as the founder of modern painting in China. His influence continues to exert itself. Despite his posthumous recognition, Xu was manifestly mentally ill and unsuccessful in life, ending his life in poverty after the murder of his third wife and several attempts at suicide.

His style names were Wenqing (文清)and then later Wenchang (文長). His pseudonyms were The Mountain-man of the Heavenly Pond (天池山人 Tiānchí Shānrén), Daoist of the Green Vine House (青藤道士 Qīngténg Dàoshì) and The Water and Moon of the Bureau's Farm (署田水月 Shǔtián Shuǐ Yuè). Born in Shanyin (山阴 - now Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province), Xu was raised by a single mother who died when he was 14. At 21, he married Pan-shi (潘氏), who died five years later. Though he passed the county civil examination at age 20, Xu was never able to pass the provincial civil service examinations, even after attempting it eight times. Nevertheless, Xu was employed by General Hu Zongxian (胡宗憲), Supreme Commander of the Jiangsu-Zhejiang-Fujian coastal defense against the wokou (倭寇) Japanese pirates.

After General Hu was arrested and lost his position, Xu Wei also feared a negative fate for himself. Xu became mentally distraught at this juncture, attempting to commit suicide nine times, such as by axeing himself in the skull and drilling both of his ears. His mental imbalance led to his killing of his second wife Zhang-shi (張氏) after becoming paranoid that she was having an affair. As a punishment for committing this murder, he was jailed for seven years until his friend Zhang Yuanbian (張元忭) from the Hanlin Imperial Academy managed to free him at age of 53. It is possible Xu Wei suffered from Bipolar Disorder, a condition actually recognized in China at this time. Xu spent the rest of his life painting, but with little financial success. However, his paintings have been highly sought after in modern times.

Xu was also a playwright, authoring the following four plays: The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father's Place (雌木蘭 Ci Mulan): describes Hua Mulan, A Female Degree Holder (女狀元 Nüzhuangyuan): The Adventures of the Intelligent Huang Chongjia (黃崇嘏), The History of the Mad Drum (狂鼓史 Kuanggu Shi): crimes of Cao Cao, and A Zen Master's Dream of the Land of Green Jade (翠鄉夢 Cuixiang Meng): a Buddhist story. Interestingly, Xu's dramatic efforts often deal with women's themes and Xu can be regarded as something of an early women's rights advocate.

Xu Wei was also a poet in shi style of considerable note. Xu's collected works in 30 chapters exists with a commentary by the late Ming writer Yuan Hongdao. Yuan Hongdao and the others of his literary movement were undoubtedly influenced by the writings of Xu. Of the various arts Xu Wei practised, he held his calligraphy in highest esteem. Next was his poetry. A modern typeset edition of Xu Wei's collected works, Xu Wei ji, was published by the Zhonghua Publishing House in Beijing in 1983. Previously a 17th century edition of his collected works known as the Xu Wenchang sanji was reproduced in Taiwan in 1968. In 1990 a book length study of Xu Wei by Xu Wei can be seen as the quintessential “scholar in cotton clothes” or buyi wenren, a scholar who could not pass the civil service examination, yet became active in the realm of literature and cultural achievement. Many such individuals appeared in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and attached themselves to successful officials or became independent in late Ming China.

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... After writing his first song, Xu abandoned university entrance exams to pursue his love of music ... At the end of 1987, Xu Wei joined the People's Liberation Army, working in the arts troupe of Shaanxi military region ... During the three years in the army, Xu taught himself to compose music and write songs, producing several pop songs ...
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