“How Wang-Fo Was Saved” By Marguerite Yourcenar


In the story “How Wang-Fo Was Saved,” Marguerite Yourcenar addresses the nature of beauty and truth. He tells the story of a Chinese artist, Wang-Fo, who was imprisoned and later saved by a kindhearted monk. Wang-Fo’s experience in prison changed him profoundly; he came to realize that his obsession with creating beautiful objects was a distraction from the truth of life. In the end, Wang-Fo was able to see beauty in simplicity and truth in suffering. This transformation was possible because he let go of his ego and saw himself for what he truly was: an insignificant part of a vast universe. In the case of death, it is always difficult to divert someone’s attention to positivity, but through artistic work that focuses on the already existing elements in the world, such as people and objects. The ordinary world’s beauty is extensively greater since, through the drawn world-elements pictures, the viewers find happiness.

Beautiful Wang Fo Drawings

According to Yourcena in the story, Wang-Fo was a great painter who drew the world more beautifully than in real life. He was so talented that his paintings were mistaken for scenes from nature, and people admired them for their realism. “So when he finds out that the real world is not as beautiful as he perceives in the paintings, he becomes outraged and condemns Wang Fo for being a liar, an old imposter” (Zhu 1280). This quote meant that Wang-Fo was seeing the world more beautifully than others were viewing it. Ling similarly supported Wang-Fo by explaining that the world’s beauty varies from one person to the other. However, Wang-Fo’s life turned for the worse when he became ill and could no longer paint. He became so despondent that he decided to take his own life. But before he could do so, he had a change of heart and asked a friend to help him paint one last picture. And it was that last painting that finally restored his faith in life and made him happy, thus denoting that according to Wang-Fo’s perception, the world’s beauty was excellent.

Similarly, Wang Fo’s drawings were always more appealing than the real objects. Ling was fixated on the portrait of his wife and paid no attention to the poor woman in real life (Wang 171). The real world disappointed the emperor since it was not as attractive as Wang Fo’s photographs. “The beauty in Wang-Fo’s paintings is more appealing than the beauty of the natural world” (Wang 172). The fact that these portraits were more beautiful in the picture than in the real world meant that the world had a greater extent of beauty. The difference between the drawn images and the real objects could be that the people were not protecting or enhancing the things they had in the environment. Wang Fo’s pictures confirmed that the world elements were beautiful since they pleased all the viewers.

Beautiful Art Work Overshadowing Death Sorrows

Ling believed that there were more beautiful things in the world and thus joined Wang Fo in mixing colors without shedding tears for his dead wife. Ling’s focus on aesthetics was admirable; his use of light and color was inspired, and their compositions were pleasing to the eye. “He joins Wang Fo and is busy mixing the colors, and the task needs “such concentration” that he forgets to shed tears for her diseased wife at all” (Zhu 1282). Possibly the most significant reason why Ling was more concerned with painting than with mourning his dead wife was that he viewed painting as a means of immortality. By creating a beautiful and surely unforgettable work of art, Ling believed that he could keep his wife’s memory alive forever. Additionally, through his art, Ling continued to feel close to his wife in a way that simply grieving would never allow. For him, art provided a source of solace and comfort that nothing else could match. Ling believed that activities such as painting were more beautiful than focusing on death.

Similarly, when Zhuangzi’s wife passed on, his friends came to condole with him, but he was not mourning. “When Zhuangzi’s wife dies, Huizi goes to condole with him. To his surprise, he finds him squatting on the ground, drumming on the basin, and singing, instead of lamenting” (Zhu 1282). Huizi thinks it is a strange and excessive demonstration, but Zhuangzi denies it. Zhuangzi, the protagonist, is not grieving his wife’s death because he has realized that she was a temporary part of his life. She was there for a brief moment, and now she was gone. He knows that he must keep living and focus on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or future. This realization allowed him to see the beauty in life and find joy even in death. In this way, Zhuangzi and Ling had a common way of absorbing the grief pain which was engaging in artistic work. This meant that the two individuals found the world to be having several beautiful things, and they ought not to focus on the few sad instances of death.

Ling’s Beautiful Possessions

Moreover, before Ling started understanding Wang Fo’s way of perceiving the beauty of the world, he believed that his possessions were beautiful. According to Ling, some of the things he considered beautiful included his garden, house, crystal clear-hearted wife, sexual pleasure, sensual enjoyment, virtuous compassion, and emotional attachment (Wang 183). “When he starts to follow Wang-Fo’s descriptions to observe the colors, the lines, the shape of people, only then does he start to see the beauty in his life” (Wang 184). Ling being able to witness these diverse beauty features was a sign that the world was beautiful to a greater extent. He went ahead to abandon everything to only follow his master (Wang Fo) after his introduction to the arts, insinuating that Ling experienced a fulfilling beauty that could not be matched with anything.


In conclusion, the ordinary world is beautiful to a greater extent. Wang Fo’s images were normally attractive, and it was true that he was drawing the objects within his surroundings, which meant that the world had beautiful components. In some of the most painful times of death, people can indeed find solace in artistic work. Upon the death of their wives, both Ling and Zhuangzi chose to focus on their artistry rather than engage in traditional mourning practices. For Ling, his wife was his muse, and he felt that by continuing to create art, he was keeping her memory alive. Zhuangzi, on the other hand, embraced the transient nature of life and saw no point in dwelling on sorrow. He believed that to sincerely honor his wife’s memory, he needed to live fully in the present moment and celebrate all that life had to offer.

Works Cited

Wang, Xiaodi. Introducing Modernist Short Stories Through Participatory Drama to Chinese Students in Higher Education. Diss. University of Warwick, 2016. Web.

Zhu, Jing. “Art and Daoism in” How Wang Fo Was Saved”.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 2016. Web.