"Eye-dotting"- Origin of the Tradition

"Eye-dotting"- Origin of the Tradition


It is generally believed that the tradition of "eye-dotting" originated from two Chinese stories concerning printing pictures. During the Eastern Jin Dynasty [314-420 A.D.], a painter named Gu Kai Zhi was famous for painting portraits. However, he had a strange habit of leaving the eyeballs out for several years after the rest of the painting was finished. When he was asked why, he said, "The most life-like strokes of a subtle portrait come from the eyes." He was actually implying that even a single stroke should not be done casually.

A little later, a painter called Zhang Seng You was asked to paint a mural for the An Le Monastery in Nanjing during the Southern Dynasty [420-589 A.D.], when he had finished it was noticed that all the dragons on the wall paintings lacked pupils in their eyes. Wen the Abbot invited him to add the pupils, Zhang said, "It must not be done, otherwise they will fly away from the wall into the sky."

The Abbot was not convinced. Eventually the dragons with eyeballs painted on them emerged and flew away, while those without stayed on the wall - (This is the origin of the Chinese proverb "Draw the dragons, dot the eyes".)

In fact, when we dot the eyes, we are dotting out the essence. When extended to literature, we may say that the most vivid words are "the stroke that dots the eyes."

When we dot the eyes for dragon boats, lions or masks, the meaning is the same: We draw the eyes, we give them life! We are conveying our personal feelings!

[Chinese Text from Ming Pao Daily, date unknown, possibly around 1993/94, Translated by Edwin Hou]

Mr C.K Ng, Commissioner of Correctional Services, dots the eyes for the dragon boats in Stanley 2000