"The Chinese painters refer to vital energy or Ch'i (or qi), the breath of Tao, the life-breath that pervades and gives form to everything in the universe, in the sky and on earth, day and night, mountain and water, man and beast, tree and rock, summer and winter. The Chinese painter had to capture this breath of life in each one of his brush strokes. Ch'i was actually the first of the Six Principles of Chinese Painting, and is a term that cannot be understood outside Chinese life and thought, especially Taoism.
"Through a few Taoist quotes, we may be able to grasp, more intuitively than rationally, the meaning of Tao (Dao), generally translated as the Way.
" 'There was something formless, yet complete, that existed before heaven and earth, without sound, without substance, dependent on nothing, unchanging, all-pervading, unfailing. One might think of it as mother of all things under heaven. Its true name we do not know. Tao is the name that we give it.'
— G. Rowley, Principles of Chinese Painting
"The Tao of the origins is also conceived as the supreme void, from which the One emerged, which gave birth to the two complementary breaths of yin and yang. The association, correspondence, complementary nature and interaction of both animate all creation.
"The pictograph of Tao consists of a left foot — ch'o — taking a step, and a head — shou — implying the choice taken by the head. The combination of head and foot symbolizes the idea of wholeness, of spiritual and physical step by step growth. The notion of Tao thus implies more the idea of knowing how to walk than that of reaching a goal.
"In all Chinese treatises, one reads about the painter who worked in the spirit of the Tao, evoking the creative power of nature and partaking of it, showing the vital breath of nature in operation. The Ch'i (or the Qi) was the manifestation of the Tao. As Lin Tao, a painter of the Sung period, said, the action of the Ch'i and the powerful brush stroke go together. For the painter Shih-t'ao (or Tao-chi) the Ch'i had to be captured with 'a single stroke of the brush,' which is at the root of all representation.
"In Chinese Taoist thought there is neither a concept for 'being' nor for 'truth,' which are, on the contrary, at the root of all Greek and Western philosophy. Everything is conceived in constant transformation. Both painter and beholder have to learn to live in harmony with nature, hence conform to that which is in constant motion."