This article examines the discourse and representation of canshan shengshui (devastated landscape) in early Qing literature and culture through a focused interpretation of the works of Ming loyalists Zhang Dai (1597–1684) and Wang Fuzhi (1619–92). Connecting aesthetics with ethics, these authors symbolically translate the devastated landscape (aesthetically objectified) into ethical sites, namely, the mutilated body and the shattered psyche. They push beyond the orthodox discourse of canshan shengshui, which seeks to supplement the natural landscape with artistic representation and thereby re-create nature. Zhang and Wang stand as outliers of this tradition as they explore the nuances of creation through destruction—their symbiosis, the dark forces behind creation, and destruction beyond redemption. Their insights liberate the aesthetics of the devastated landscape from the immediate political context, evoke social and intellectual trends predating the dynasty's demise, and infuse new and lasting life into the writings of the loyalists.

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