Bense (Original Character)
The term originally referred to true colors and has been extended to mean true appearance. As a term of literary critique, bense (本色) has three meanings: 1) the artistic style and literary features that are compatible with a given genre; 2) the style and literary features that remain true to the writer’s individual character; and 3) the style that makes it possible for the writing to remain true to the author’s own experience and that gives truthful expression to his thoughts and feelings. Bense is not only a requirement for the writer but also for his works. In the literary criticism of the Song Dynasty, bense was often used to describe and evaluate the special qualities of different genres. In the literary criticism of the Ming and Qing dynasties, bense usually referred to the individual style of poets and writers and also those styles of writing that remained true to life experience and eschewed literary embellishment. Bense is often used together with danghang (当行) to mean “original and genuine”; it is often associated with the Dao of nature in classical Daoist philosophy, in opposition to the attitude and styles that stress literary embellishment.
- 退之以文为诗，子瞻以诗为词，如教坊雷大使之舞，虽极天下之工，要非本色。 （陈师道《后山诗话》） （韩愈以写文章的方法来写诗，苏轼以写诗的方法来写词，就像教坊里的艺人雷大使跳女子舞蹈，虽然技巧高明无比，但并不符合诗词的本色。）
Poems written by Han Yu read like essays and ci lyrics by Su Shi read like poems. This is like Master Dancer Lei of the Song Palace Music School performing dances choreographed for women. Although they were good writers, what they wrote was incompatible with the original characters of the genres. (Chen Shidao: Houshan’s Understanding of Poetry)
- 近来觉得诗文之事只是直写胸臆，如谚语诗所谓开口见喉咙者。使后人读之，如真见其面目，瑜瑕俱不容掩，所谓本色。此为上乘文字。 （唐顺之《与洪方洲书》） （最近觉得写诗作文只需要直接写出心中所想，就像俗语所说的“开口看见喉咙”。让后人读到这样的作品，就能看到作者的真面目，优点、缺点都不掩饰，这就是本色。能体现本色的作品才是最好的文字。）
Recently I have come to realize that in writing poetry or prose, all that is needed is to write what I have in mind. This is like the Chinese saying, “When you open the mouth, others can see your throat.” When readers read such works, they will come to know what the author is actually like. Without hiding either strengths or weaknesses, the author makes his true character fully apparent. The writing that best embodies the author’s original character is most desirable. (Tang Shunzhi: Letter to Hong Fangzhou)
- 世事莫不有本色，有相色。本色，犹言正身也；相色，替身也。 （徐渭《〈西厢〉序》） （世上之事莫不有本色，有相色。本色，好比说是本来之我；而相色，好比替身。）
Everything in the world has its true appearance and its surrogate. True appearance is what I am, while a surrogate is a substitute. (Xu Wei: Foreword to Romance of the West Chamber)