Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mirror of Morality

Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology

Julia K. Murray
Copyright Date: 2007
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mirror of Morality
    Book Description:

    Mirror of Morality takes an interdisciplinary look at an important form of pictorial art produced during two millennia of Chinese imperial rule. Ideas about individual morality and state ideology were based on the ancient teachings of Confucius with modifications by later interpreters and government institutions. Throughout the imperial period, members of the elite made, sponsored, and inscribed or used illustrations of themes taken from history, literature, and recent events to promote desired conduct among various social groups. This dimension of Chinese art history has never before been broadly covered or investigated in historical context. The first half of the study examines the nature of narrative illustration in China and traces the evolution of its functions, conventions, and rhetorical strategies from the second century BCE through the eleventh century. Under the stimulus of Buddhism, sophisticated techniques developed for representing stories in visual form. While tracing changes in the social functions and cultural positions of narrative illustration, the second half of the book argues that narrative illustration continued to play a vital role in elite visual culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6364-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction The Social Status of Narrative Illustrations in China
    (pp. 1-6)

    In traditional China, as in many other cultures, the visual representation of stories served as a medium for creating, expressing, disseminating, and affirming cultural values. Starting around the second century BCE, Chinese pictorial art frequently portrayed human beings and deities with some relation to moralizing texts, whether written down or orally transmitted. Eminent artists painted such subjects, historical accounts recorded them, and critics praised them for inspiring viewers to greater moral awareness and attainment. Such pictures are rarely identified as a separate category by premodern writers, who are more likely to classify paintings by subject matter. It is largely due...

  6. Chapter 1 Redrawing the Concept of Chinese Narrative Illustration
    (pp. 7-26)

    Chinese narrative illustration” is an elusive concept. In modern Chinese the term most often used to mean “narrative illustration” or “narrative painting” isgushi hua, which literally means “ancient-matter painting” or “story painting,” depending on whichshicharacter is used.¹ Although Ming writers occasionally mention paintings with the wordgushiin the title, referring to illustrations of specific stories,²gushi huaas a formal classification dates only to the early eighteenth century. The category first appears in Chen Bangyan’sClassified Poems Inscribed on Paintings throughout the Ages, Imperially Prescribed(Yuding Lidai tihua shilei) of 1707, a large collection of poems...

  7. Chapter 2 Early Narrative Illustration and Moral Suasion
    (pp. 27-36)

    The practice of displaying pictures based on didactic narratives reflects a belief, promoted by followers of Confucius, that historical events embody moral lessons. Properly interpreted, the past could serve as a guide for the present.¹ Just as instructive stories conveyed moral precepts more vividly than vague homilies, depictions of exemplary individuals might also impress the viewer forcefully and stimulate him or her to appropriate action. The occasional references to pictorial representations in late Zhou and Han writings imply that pictures were deemed capable of influencing people’s conduct. Of course, this effect depended on the viewer’s ability to identify the image...

  8. Chapter 3 New Strategies for Narrative Illustration in the Post-Han Period
    (pp. 37-49)

    The introduction of Buddhism from India brought a wealth of ideas and cultural forms into China, including a large body of stories and new kinds of visual representation.¹ Although the first signs of Buddhist presence in China date to the first century BCE, many years passed before Buddhist teachings took root in this new setting.² During the Eastern Han period, a small community of Buddhists translated Indian scriptures into Chinese in the capital at Luo-yang, but the religion become widely known only after the collapse of the dynasty in the early third century. As Wu Hung has shown, the earliest...

  9. Chapter 4 Institutionalizing Narrative Illustration Under the Tang Dyansly
    (pp. 50-59)

    The period from the late sixth century to just after the middle of the eighth has long been considered a “golden age” of Chinese history and civilization. The reunification of the Chinese empire by the Sui and Tang dynasties enabled the diverse innovations of the Period of Disunion to come together into an integrated and coherent culture.¹ Early emperors drew upon a widespread devotion to Buddhism and Daoism to unify regions that had long been ruled by separate regimes and gained the support of the religious establishment. At the same time, the imperial court and the central government consolidated statist...

  10. Chapter 5 Turnig Point and Competing values
    (pp. 60-73)

    Because stories require protagonists, changes in the cultural prestige of figural representation directly affected the status of narrative illustration. Traditional and modern accounts, both Chinese and foreign, agree that the Tang dynasty marked the zenith of figure painting.¹ Zhu Jingxuan states that Tang painters gave priority to the human figure, and many tomb paintings of the period support his assertion.² Figural subjects also dominate Zhang Yanyuan’s inventory of temple murals and portable works, as well as the lists of paintings under the names of individual artists.³ Through the Tang period, not only did eminent masters engage in figure painting, but...

  11. Chapter 6 Later Narrative Illustration at Court: Legitimation, Remonstrance, and Indoctrinaion
    (pp. 74-93)

    After the Northern Song period, critics and historians of painting rarely had much to say about narrative illustration. Traditional and modern writers alike have tended to focus on paintings that are presumed to embody the superior character of a literatus in ways that only the cognoscenti could fully appreciate. Savoring a work of art required viewers to attune themselves to the rhythms of the artist’s brushwork and decode the poetic symbolism through which he expressed his inner thoughts and emotions. When the name of an acclaimed master happened to be linked with a narrative subject, critics and commentators typically discussed...

  12. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  13. Chapter 7 Later Narrative Illustration Outside the Court: Persuasion, Pleasure, Prestige, and Piety
    (pp. 94-118)

    For a variety of reasons, narrative illustrations on Confucian themes became exceptionally widespread and popular during the last century of the Ming dynasty. Social and economic forces supported a thriving consumer culture and encouraged an upsurge in storytelling genres, in which scholars were deeply involved.¹ The sixteenth century saw the maturation of a commercialized economy and a new concentration of population in urban centers, as well as increased rates of literacy and a surge of activity in the printing industry. At the same time, strict examination quotas prevented many educated men from pursuing careers as governmental officials. Even those who...

  14. Chapter 8 Epilogue
    (pp. 119-124)

    The foregoing discussions amply demonstrate that narrative illustration continued to hold a significant place in the elite visual culture of late imperial China. Illustrated stories offered highly educated male viewers admonition and guidance, as well as inspiration and enjoyment. Much of the time such pictures can be clearly distinguished from paintings whose primary purpose was to be “artistic.” The difference involves the discursive categories oftuandhua.¹ Visual depiction (tu) showed what things look like and was complementary to verbal representation (shu),² while visual expression (hua) was the counterpart of verbal poetry (shi).³Turelated to public concerns and...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 125-158)
  16. Chinese Character Glossary
    (pp. 159-168)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-184)
  18. Credits for Figures and Plates
    (pp. 185-186)
  19. Index
    (pp. 187-194)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-196)