Photography BA (hons)

Haijian Cai

Brushwork text by Weizhao Chen


Digital photographic imagery on Chinese paper, cloth and dowel

Both Taoism and Buddhism philosophies try to find “Perfection” which only includes absolute quietness and pure thought processes. They are usually connected to nature, the mountain and water, which are also common elements in Chinese painting.

I have used photoshop and collage to portray a traditional Chinese mountain landscape painting, with no buildings or industrial elements. I combined these images with Chinese Calligraphy, a tradition often connected with paintings and religious meanings.

The whole process is a kind of meditation which helps people find mental peace. 

Translation of text from work

T’ien ti pu jen

Heaven and Earth are not kind;
The ten thousand things are straw dogs to them.

Shang shan jo shui

Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend.
It pools where humans disdain to dwell,
Close to the Tao.


Humans follow earth
Earth follows heaven
Heaven follows Tao.

Tao follows its own nature.
Tao fa tzu jan.

Tao sheng i.

Tao engenders One,
One engenders Two,
Two engenders Three,
Three engenders the ten thousands things.

The ten thousand things carry shade
And embrace sunlight.
Shade and sunlight, yin and yang,
Breath blending into harmony.



Source material

Robert K. Douglas, Confucianism and Taouism, (London, 1879)
DiscoverEd URL

Shelf mark

Special Collections: C*15/1.20

Haijian Cai

Portrait & interview

1. What was it about this project and brief that originally appealed to you?  

I can work with some old books that really makes me excited.

2. What was your approach in searching for material that you wanted to work with?

I planned to do some artwork about religions especially eastern religions therefore I tried to find some books about this field in the Playfair Library. 

3. Did you find anything about the project challenging? 

It is hard to combine every elements together, like religious concepts, photography, and making the whole thing as a book or books.

4. What unexpected discoveries did you make during your research?  

My work is making photographs look like traditional Chinese scrolls combined with calligraphy. At first, I did not think there would be any other Chinese artists or photographers doing things like me, because most of them, of course including me, we are influenced by western or Japanese photography concepts and young artist like modern art more. I am really happy with it, which means there are many young artists in China still loving traditional art. 

5. How has this project had impact on your art practice?

It help me to develop the skill to combine different elements together. 

6. Did your final output end up as you’d envisaged?

Yes! They are one of my favourite project I had done. I love it. 

7. What advice would you give to someone doing this project next year? 

The advice for people doing this project next year: choose the right book! 

Copyright & open licence

Copyright © Haijian Cai, The University of Edinburgh 2020 CC BY-SA

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

CC BY-SA license