Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology
224pp. February 2007
Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology
Author: Murray, Julia K.;
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.

101 illus., 25 in color

"Images of Chinese stories are both intriguing and perplexing. To properly understand them, this richly appointed book, which is an insightful history of didactic art in premodern China, is a must. . . . An excellent work that will appeal to scholars of both premodern East Asia and religious art." —Religious Studies Review (35:1, March 2009)

"This book cogently presents the elusive connections between visual production, religious practice, and popular culture in a well-researched and thoughtfully written package . . . [it] should be eagerly welcomed by audiences interested in the interdisciplinary study of art history, religious studies, and Chinese culture." —Journal of Chinese Religions (2008)

"Mirror of Morality is the culmination of Julia K. Murray’s more than two decades of intellectual curiosity and careful research on the subject of Chinese narrative art. It is a welcome addition to a growing corpus of books using new approaches to Chinese art. Murray’s extensive experience with objects, familiarity with Chinese texts, and knowledge of published works yields delicious fruit for the reader and plants seeds that other scholars can use for years to come." —China Review International (14:2, fall 2007)

"A forceful, successful attempt to give paintings illustrating narratives a more significant role than traditionally accorded in most histories of Chinese art. . . . A welcome addition to the art historical approach that goes beyond the emphasis upon aesthetics. Highly recommended." —Choice (44:11, autumn 2007)

Author: Murray, Julia K.;
Julia K. Murray is professor of art history, East Asian studies, and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin.
Read the introduction (PDF).