Curator's Words


Confucius, the great educator and philosopher, is considered as "the sage of sages" and "the teacher of all ages." As the first educator who pioneered private schooling, Confucius advocated the Five Constant Virtues of benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom and faith. Among his 3,000 students, 72 became noted scholars under his apprenticeship. He spent 14 years travelling the states with his disciples, and devoted his later years to editing and revising Shi (The Book of Songs), Shu (The Book of History), Li (The Book of Rites), Yue (The Book of Music), Yi (The Book of Changes), and Chun Qiu (Spring and Autumn Annals), and compiling them into teaching materials known as the Six Classics.

Confucius created a moral theory with benevolence at its core. He himself was a very kind person, compassionate, helpful, sincere and generous. "Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you;""a gentleman helps others fulfill good deeds and never helps them in bad deeds;""Be strict to yourself and lenient to others." These are all his principles of life.

        "At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I was unperturbed; at fifty I knew the mandate of heaven; at sixty my ear was obedient; at seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing the norm." This is Confucius' summary of his life stages.     


These paintings, statues and portraits were created either to remember the former sage by his disciples or to highlight the importance of enlightenment. They might also be created to serve for sacrificing purposes. As we examine these works across the ages, we can find that frescoes and statues are the main forms before the Tang dynasty (618-907). In the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220), they came as pictorial stones. After the Song dynasty (960-1279), scroll paintings and stone carvings prevailed. As Confucianism gained traction among the general public, his images were more widely seen after the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The development of book engraving industry has also led to the prevalence of "The Painting of the Sacred Sage of Confucius", and the deified spirit tablets of Confucius were found in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

There was no written record of his image when Confucius was alive. The earliest record can be found in Sima Qian's "Historical Records: Confucius Family," written after more than 300 years after the death of Confucius, which only said that he was "born with a noticeable bump on his head." Due to the lack of records, Confucius was beautified from the very beginning. He was completely deified as the spirit tablets of Confucius in the Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty showed.

The rise and fall of Confucius statues and portraits and the evolution of their patterns indicate how each emperor across the dynasties view Confucius and Confucianism as well as people's different understanding of Confucius in different historical periods. To some extent, they also reflected the social trends of in different historical periods. For the study of Confucius images, finding its symbolic meaning in the construction of thought and culture is more important than the exploration and reproduction of his image itself.