Wang Wei was a poet, painter, musician, and statesman during the Tang dynasty; combining the humanist ideals of a Chinese scholar-official, he served various bureaucratic posts in the Tang court, both in the capital and in the province in Shantung. After weathering the Anshi Rebellion (755–759) and grieving over the deaths of his wife and sister, he retired to his country villa on the Wang River, where he deepened his study of Buddhism and wrote many of his best poems.
Wei founded the Southern School of painter-poets. He is particularly known as a landscape painter, developing the possibilities of monochrome and pomo (“breaking the ink”), a technique in which ink is applied in patches or washes that leave blank spaces. None of his paintings are extant, though the spiritual quality of his landscapes influenced many painters. Wei’s poetry likewise embodied Zen Buddhist ideals of detachment and simplicity; in his poems, he uses details sparingly, frequently narrating natural phenomena such as water and mist rather than human presence. His poetry is widely anthologized, and he is frequently mentioned alongside other poets of the Tang dynasty, such as Li Po and Tu Fu.