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.