‘Spirit consonance engendering a sense of life’ (Qi Yun Sheng Dong) as the first law of Chinese painting, originally proposed by Xie He (active 500–535?) in his six laws of painting, has been commonly echoed
by numerous later Chinese artists up to this day. Tracing back the meaning of each character of ‘Qi Yun Sheng Dong’ from Pre-Qin up to the Six Dynasties, along with a comparative analysis on the renderings of ‘Qi Yun Sheng Dong’ by experts in Western academia, I establish ‘spirit consonance’ as the rendering of ‘Qi Yun’. By examining texts on painting by significant critics in Chinese art history, and by referring to specific works by painters from the Six Dynasties up to the Yuan Dynasty, I present the merits and demerits of the different interpretations by Western experts, and explore the essence of ‘Qi Yun’. Once the painter successfully captures ‘spirit consonance’ as the essential character or ‘internal reality’ of the object, and transmits it into the work, ‘Qi Yun’ further implies the expressive quality of the work beyond formal representation. Additionally, the fusion of expressive and representative functions also leaves space for further explaining the aesthetic interaction among artist, object, work, and audience. From the Six Dynasties onwards, Chinese painters have practised the expressive pursuit beyond epresentation on the basis of the unification of ‘Qi Yun’ (spirit consonance) and formal representation, although spirit consonance was valued more highly than formal likeness.