images: Heaven, Earth, and Beyond: Prints and Illustrations of Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist Figures
Selection: Introduction
Selection: Legends of Buddhas and Deities
Selection: The Mysterious Path to Immortality
Selection: Surpassing the Ordinary and Transforming into a Sages
Selection: Home
Title: Surpassing the Ordinary and Transforming into a Sages  

Confucius' and Mencius' philosophies deeply influenced future generations. Around 200 BCE, after Emperor Wudi of the Western Han exclusively followed the Confucian school, its teachings became the mainstream of Chinese thoughts and ideals. Many rare books in the NPM's collection advocate and publicize such Confucian principles as loyalty, filial piety, righteousness, wisdom, and courage, as can be seen in Dijiantushuo ("Illustrated Sayings on the Mirror of Ruling"), Sancaituhui ("Assembled Illustrations of the Three Realms of Heaven, Earth and Man"), Ershisixiaoti shituhekan ("Illustrated Poetry of Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety"), Lienvzhuan ("Lives of Eminent Women"), and Shengyu xiangjie ("Illustrations to the Maxims of Kangxi, with Explanations"). The figures and characters in the paintings remind people of karma, filial piety, and the proper role of women in society. The abundance of stories and images is not only a feast for the eyes, but also serves as a mirror to teach and admonish its audience. The exquisite and poignant prints are mostly masterpieces from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Confucius Asking Laozi about Propriety (New window)   Confucius Asking Laozi about Propriety
Sancai Tuhui (Assembled Illustrations of the Three Realms of Heaven, Earth and Man)
Written by Wang Qi (1529-1612)
Ming imprint of the 37th year the Wanli reign (1609) with handwritten supplements
Donated by the Ministry of National Defense

Shengmiao sidiantukao (Sacrificial Canon of Confucian Temples with Portraits)
Compiled by Gu Yuan, Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
Qing imprint between the 6th–10th years of the Daoguang Reign (1826-1830) by the Gu family


Confucius (551-479BCE), whose name is Qui and style name is Zhongni, founder of Confucianism, taught his disciples about rituals and was known as the "Great Sage Teacher".  Confucius' disciples collected his sayings and edited a book, Lun Yu (Analects of Confucious), which conveys the fundamental thoughts of Confucianism. None of the ancient books available depicts the appearance of Confucius. On limited information and through imaginations, the author of this book painted Confucius' half-length portrait. The Confucius in this portrait looks elegant and is dressed in a civilized manner with clasped hands held at breast level. According to Shi Ji (Records of Historian), Confucius has consulted Laozi about Dao and he taught Confucius the principle of humbleness and hiding one's wisdom. In this story, Confucius appraised Laozi by saying that "I know the ability of flying of a bird, the ability of swimming of a fish and the ability of running of a beast. Those who can run, can swim, and can fly could be captured by a nest. As to a dragon that flies above the cloud by wind, I do not know how one can capture it. As I understand, Laozi I met today is a dragon." One can see the respect Confucius paid to Laozi in this story. The picture "Confucius Asking Laozi about Propriety" is in "Shengmiao sidiantukao". The young scholar is Confucius, and the old sage with white hair and eyebrow is Laozi; this is a large meeting of Confucianism and Daoism.

Zhuge Kongming (New window)   Zhuge Kongming
Sancai Tuhui (Assembled Illustrations of the Three Realms of Heaven, Earth and Man)
Written by Wang Qi (1529-1612)
Ming imprint of the 37th year the Wanli reign (1609) with handwritten supplements
Donated by the Ministry of National Defense

Zhuge Liang, whose style name is Kongming is born in Shu County of Langye in The Three Kingdoms period. In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Kongming was an extremely famous military counselor. Liu Bei hired him only after Liu visited him personally for three times. Later, he helped Liu to defect Cao Cao in the Red Cliff, which caused the powers of the three kingdoms to become balance. According to Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Kongming was a tall and outstanding-looking man. This painting is from "Sancai Tuhui" in which Zhuge Kongming is portrayed as wearing a silk headdress, for he was famous for wearing such clothes while commanding his army. And he is also wearing the typical cloths of the learned of his time.

Imperial Edict for Preaching Confucianism (New window)  

Imperial Edict for Preaching Confucianism
Dijiantushuo (Illustrated Sayings on the Mirror of Ruling)
Edited by Zhang Juzheng and Lu Diaoyang, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Qing court painted manuscript edition in red-lined columns

Emperor Xuan of the Han dynasty summoned many Confucians to lecture on Confucian canons. Xiao Wangzhi and his colleagues concluded that I Jing (Classic of Changes), Shang Shu (Classic of History), Chun Qiu (Spring and Autumn Annals), Shi Jing (Classic of Poetry), and Li Ji (Classic of Rites) as the five classic canons. They established an official position for each canon to lecture these canons. Since then, the five canons became the paradigm and standard of Confucianism. In this picture Emperor Xuan of the Han dynasty found the School of the Five Canons and Confucian scholars commentated on the canons, such as Xiao Wangzhi. Their commentaries make these canons more important to Confucianism and should be studied and lectured on.
Tang Emperor Xuanzong's Banquet for the Elderly (New window)   Tang Emperor Xuanzong's Banquet for the Elderly
Qinding yuanwanyun chenghuashilue butu (Illustrated Version of Wang Yun's Overview of Chinese Matters)
Compiled on imperial commission by Xu Fu and others, Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
Qing imprint of the Wuying Pavilion in the Guangxu reign (1875-1908)

This picture, from " Qinding yuanwanyun chenghuashilue butu", portrays that Tang Emperor Xuanzong giving a banquet to elderly between 80 to 90 years old in his inner court in Chang'an at 714CE. The elders are also given ranks of nobility and cranes, and grains. He also ordered their descendents to take care of them carefully. And if they had only one son, the son could be exempt from being enlisted; and those whose parents are over 70 could withdraw from the military. At 754CE, he also ordered that every family should keep a copy of the Xixo Jing (Canon of Filial Piety). The tradition of respecting the elder is an age-old essence of the Chinese culture; even emperors cannot be exempted from it. In the painting, Tang Emperor Xuanzong is sitting on his throne, and the hall is full of elders and their descendents. The atmosphere is warm and cheerful.

Wife of Tao Dazi (New window)  

Wife of Tao Dazi
Luxinwu xiansheng gueifan tushuo (Illustrations of Maidenly Rules from Lü Xinwu)
Written by Lü Kun (1536-1618)
Qing reprint by Lü Yingju of Ningpo in the Kangxi reign (1662-1722)
Donated by Xu Tingyao (ca. 1890-1973)


Tao Dazi worked as an official in a pottery manufacturing place for three years. He did not get famous, but increased his wealth by three times. His wife often admonished him, but without success. In the fifth year when he retired, he already has more than a hundred wagons; however, his wife kept to admonish him and his mother and wanted to leave home. Her mother in law was angry and forced them to divorce. A year later, Dazi was punished for corruption, but his ex-wife came back and served his mother until her mother dead. Dazi's wife was farsighted, for she could resist the temptation of fame and gain, and keep her life in order to fulfill her duty of filial piety despite violating ritual for leaving home. This painting is from "Luxinwu xiansheng gueifan tushuo" by Lü Kuan from the Ming dynasty, it carved style is simple and classic, though rather dull. But the design of the scene did accurately represent the spirit of the story.

Consort Feng (New window)  

Consort Feng
Lienüzhuan (Lives of Eminent Women)
Text written by Liu Xiang (77BCE-6CE)
Illustrated by Qiu Ying (1494-1552)
Qing imprint by the Zhibuzhuzhai Printhouse in the Qianlong reign (1736-1795)


A female official of the Emperor Xiaoyuan of the Eastern Han, Feng, who was selected to join the Imperial Consorts, saw an escaped bear wandering in the emperor's palace one day. At that time, all the other ladies fled in fear, but Feng went forward and stood between the bear and the throne. Later the emperor asked her about the reason of her action, and Feng answered that she did so to prevent the bear going near the throne" And then the emperor admired her courage and loyalty, and ascended her rank. In this picture Feng is standing in front of the bear, with three armed guards standing behind her. The four ladies are fleeing in fear. Behind the door are the emperor and his wife protected by other guards. The scene depicted is confusing; actions of the figures are very real and vivid.

Laolaizi Wearing Colourful Clothes (New window)  

Laolaizi Wearing Colourful Clothes
Ershisixiaoti shituhekan (Illustrated Poetry of Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety)
Text written by Xiao Peiyuan (1816-1873)
Illustrated by Li Xitong, Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
Qing imprint of the 8th year of the Tongzhi Reign (1869) by Ishengtang Printhouse

"Ershisixiaoti shituhekan" is a well-known folk story of China, which is an important material for early education. This painting illustrating by Li Xitong, is about Laolaizi serving his parents piously. When he was 70, he still wore colorful clothes with five colors in order to please his parents. Sometimes he imitated the sound of baby's crying or he spilt in water on purpose; the atmosphere of his family is amicable.









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