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Children in Chinese Art

Ann Barrott Wicks

Publication Year: 2002

Depictions of children have had a prominent place in Chinese art since the Song period (960-1279). Yet one would be hard pressed to find any significant discussion of children in art in the historical documents of imperial China or contemporary scholarship on Chinese art. Children in Chinese Art brings to the forefront themes and motifs that have crossed social boundaries for centuries but have been overlooked in scholarly treatises. In this volume, experts in the fields of art, religion, literature, and history introduce and elucidate many of the issues surrounding child imagery in China, including its use for didactic reinforcement of social values as well as the amuletic function of these works.

The introduction provides a thought-provoking overview of the history of depictions of children, exploring both stylistic development and the emergence of specific themes. In an insightful essay, China specialists combine expertise in literature and painting to propose that the focus on children in both genres during the Song is an indication of a truly humane society. Skillful use of visual and textual sources from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) period explains children's games and the meaning of depictions of boys at play. Gender issues are examined in an intriguing look at mothers and children in woodblock illustrations to Ming versions of the classical text Lie ni juan. Depictions of the childhood of saints and sages from murals and commemorative tablets in ancient temples are considered. The volume concludes with two highly original essays on child protectors and destroyers in Chinese folk religion and family portraits and their scarcity in China before the nineteenth century.

Contributors: Ellen B. Avril, Catherine Barnhart, Richard Barnhart, Terese Tse Bartholomew, Julia K. Murray, Ann Waltner, Ann Barrott Wicks.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii-x

More than ten years ago, I approached Ellen Avril, who was at that time assistant curator of Asian art at the Cincinnati Art Museum, about the possibility of organizing an exhibition of Chinese representations of children. Ellen was more than enthusiastic, and we began work almost immediately. A year later, our carefully ...

Periods in Chinese History

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pp. xi-xii

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1. Introduction: Children in Chinese Art

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pp. 1-30

Depictions of children have had a prominent place in Chinese art since the Song period (960–1279). The number of works commissioned at all levels of society indicates that child imagery was exceptionally meaningful to generations of people across China. Yet one would be hard-pressed to find in the carefully preserved ...

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2. Images of Children in Song Painting and Poetry [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 31-56

The sudden appearance of sophisticated images of children in painting and poetry during the Tang (618–907) and Song (960–1279) periods comes after millennia during which children only occasionally and randomly appeared in the arts. But briefly, between the eighth and twelfth centuries, a great many memorable pictorial and liter-...

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3. One Hundred Children: From Boys at Play to Icons of Good Fortune

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pp. 57-83

The theme of boys playing in a garden was an established subject in the paintings of the Song dynasty (960–1279). It continued to be a favorite among artists and craftsmen of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, but the iconography fluctuated ...

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4. Representations of Children in Three Stories from Biographies of Exemplary Women

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pp. 84-107

Images of children are not uncommon in Chinese art. Sometimes children are portrayed with their mothers; more often they are portrayed in an idealized, timeless plane where all adults are absent. But pictures of children in family groupings with both parents are rare. ...

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5. The Childhood of Gods and Sages

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pp. 108-132

Stories about deities who once lived on Earth are found in the literature of many cultures. Such accounts invariably claim that these divine beings were conceived and born in an unusual manner. It is also typical of hagiographical narratives to describe supernatural ...

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6: The Art of Deliverance and Protection: Folk Deities in Paintings and Woodblock Prints

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pp. 133-158

Art objects that celebrate and promote children as an essential family asset are widespread both geographically and chronologically in China. But individual members of the groups that produced these artworks had no effective control over the birth of healthy boys or the ...

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7. Family Pictures

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pp. 159-178

The most important institutional affiliation in imperial China was the family. It was regarded as both the embodiment of civilization and the means of transcending death. Yet who among us who have studied traditional Chinese art can name more than a handful of works that depict the family as a unit? Of the pictures ...


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pp. 179-192

Glossary of Chinese Characters

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pp. 193-200

Select Bibliography

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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-210


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pp. 211-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861810
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824823597

Publication Year: 2002