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Wang Wei was an 8th-century poet, musician, painter, and statesman. He chose the courtesy name Mojie and signed his works Wang Weimojie, a reference to Vimalakirti ("vimala" stainless, undefiled + "kirti" fame, glory, reputation), the central figure in the Vimalakirti Sutra, which presented him as the ideal Mahayana Buddhist upāsaka ("lay practitioner") in debate with Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Though none of his paintings have survived, he was regarded as the founder of the Southern School (nanzhonghua) of Chinese landscape art by scholar-bureaucrats who had either retired from the professional world or who were never a part of it; the school was in opposition to the formal Northern School of professional painters. (The distinction was not geographic,and the classification was coined by the 17th-century scholar-artist Dong Qichang, who borrowed the concept from Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, which also has Northern and Southern Schools.) About 400 of his poems survive, collected by his brother by imperial command. His first imperial appointment was as a court musician, "Deputy Master of Music," but he was demoted to being in charge of a granary in a distant province because of his breach of etiquette due to performing a lion dance. However, he regained favor and returned to court to hold a number of positions. The An-Shi rebellion began in 755, and emperor Xuanzong and his court evacuated to Sichuan, but Wang was unable to leave due to dysentery . When the rebels took the capital Chang'an (Xian) in 756, he was captured and taken to Luoyang an d was given an official title despitepretending to be deaf and drinking medicine that cretated cankers on his mouth in an attempt to destroy his voice. In 1757 the Tang forces retook Luoyang and imprisoned him, but his younger brother, the undersecretary of the Board of Punishments, intervened and used the poems Wang had written in captivity to demonstrate his loyalty. After his pardon Wang concentrated on Cha'an Buddhist activities before returning to governmenent serviceually rising to shangshu youcheng (deputy prime minister), a post he held until his death.
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