Twenty-Four Stories of Filial Piety 二十四孝 - ROM2018_16715_1


Twenty-Four Stories of Filial Piety 二十四孝

Medium:Woodblock print, mounted as hanging scroll, ink and colour on paper
Geography: Yangliuqing, Tianjin, China
Period: Nineteenth to mid-twentieth century
Ht 101.5 x Wt 28.5 cm
Object number: 970X82.28.A
On view
Gallery Location:Paper

“Filial piety” refers to the Chinese tradition of respecting and caring for parents and elders. As every family’s priority, filial piety was the basis of moral norms in ancient Chinese society. Chinese people believed that filial piety was fundamental to a person, a family, and ultimately the country. Throughout the ages, many classical texts and visual materials have promoted filial piety. Among them, the two most famous texts are Biographies of Dutiful Sons (Xiaozizhuan 孝子傳) and Book of Filial Piety (Xiaojing 孝經). The latter is regarded as one of the “Thirteen Classics” of Confucianism in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). In addition to texts, there are a large number of visual materials reflecting on filial piety. The most well-known one is a series of images called “Twenty-Four Stories of Filial Piety.” This series illustrates the poems in the “Complete Selection of the TwentyFour Filial Piety Poems” compiled by Guo Jujing (郭居敬, ?–1354).

New Year pictures themed on “Twenty-Four Stories of Filial Piety” were widely circulated across the country. This collection is from Yangliuqing in Tianjin (970x82.28.A-H). It consists of eight long striped screens, commonly known as “eight striped screens” (batiaoping 八條屏). Each screen has three scenes (top, middle, and bottom) representing three independent stories, resulting in a total of 24 scenes. 1 Light ink covers the border of each scene, increasing the depth of the frame and creating a three-dimensional effect. Each scene is an illustration of the most representative plot of one story. The long inscriptions added on the scenes make the screens resemble traditional paintings.

During the production process, the whole set of works were printed with ink, then overprinted with a light grey pigment. This technique was commonly known as “grey printing” (huitao 灰套), which solved the complication of filling a tiny space with colour and also made the prints more elegant and solid. Grey printing laid the foundation for multiple colour applications in later productions. The hand-painted technique used in this series was typically rough. Despite using the kailian technique 2 to reinforce the features of the face, the artists finished the pictures with swift and bold brushes. Overall, this collection bears a beauty of roughness.

1 In practical use, striped screens were usually numbered by the shop with the characters yuan 元, heng 亨, li 利, and zhen 貞. In this collection, scenes 21 to 24 were numbered as yuan 1, yuan 2, and yuan 3; scenes 19 to 21 were numbered as heng 1, heng 2, and heng 3; scenes 16 to 18 were numbered as li 1, li 2, and li 3. However, zhen or other numbering characters are not found.

2 For kailian, see cat. 1-1.

Publication: Wen-Chien Cheng, and Yanwen Jiang. Gods in my home: Chinese ancestor portraits and popular prints (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2019), 98-101.

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