A voracious reader from a poor family, Liu Xie (lee-EW SHEE-eh) studied Buddhism from Sengyou (445-518 c.e.) in Dinglin Temple and spent much of his early years rectifying Buddhist scriptures with his teacher. His learning was soon recognized by two influential people: Shenyue, a philologist who first theorized the Chinese tonic system and its applications in verse, and Xiaodong, prince of Emperor Wudi of Liang (502-577 c.e.). Liu Xie was assigned a privileged position enabling him to attend the imperial court and became the prince’s messenger and edict draftsman. In his later years, Liu Xie chose to become a monk and adopted the Buddhist name Huidi (wisdom of the earth).
Liu Xie’s magnum opus Wenxin Diaolong (sixth century c.e.; The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, 1959) contained fifty essays of literary criticism divided into four parts: the source of literary inspiration (Daoism), literary genres, style, and the postlude. These essays discredit the practice of clinging obstinately to formal definitions of beauty followed by earlier writers, emphasize the unity of content and form, and propose six criteria for literary criticism.