This exhibition is devoted to the extraordinary philosopher, statesman and teacher known as Confucius (551- 479 BCE ). Entitled Confucius: His Life and Legacy in Art focuses on the life, teachings and continuing influence of Confucius, who has become increasingly synonymous with Chinese culture. Nearly 100 objects from the world of Confucius and his ennobled descendants are on view, including hanging scrolls, album leaves, bronze vessels, stone carvings, jade ceremonial implements, wood-block prints and textiles. The works are on loan for the first time in the U.S. from the Shandong Provincial Museum in Jinan and the Confucius Museum in his hometown of Qufu. Confucius: His Life and Legacy in Art is the first exhibition in the U.S. to explore the culture of Confucius. The show incorporates images and artifacts that were created to venerate the man himself, as well as the ideas associated with him, loosely called Confucianism. A fully illustrated scholarly catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
Confucius was born into humble circumstances in 551 BCE in Qufu, capital of the feudal state of Lu, which now forms part of the province of Shandong. Although he held a series of minor offices in his home state and for a brief period served as minister of justice (with the responsibilities of a prime minister), he eventually became frustrated with conditions in Lu. In middle age, Confucius left home to travel among the contending feudal states of North China, searching for an ideal ruler who would govern with benevolence and according to proper ritual. After 14 years, he returned to Lu and from the age of 65, devoted himself to teaching and scholarship. After his death at age 73, his most devoted disciples observed three years of mourning for him, as if for a father. Confucius’s own house became a memorial shrine, the precursor to the great Confucius Temple in Qufu today.
Pithy remarks attributed to Confucius have been transmitted from one generation to the next, and his advice still resonates today. “Study as if you will never learn, as if you were afraid of losing what you wish to learn,” the great teacher once said. He believed in the moral purpose of humanity and in the individual’s duty to strive to improve: “The only ones who do not change are sages and idiots.” Confucius’s practical approach to moral cultivation and his reflections on the personal and social basis of ethics and politics are exemplified in such sayings as “Do not inflict on others what you yourself would not wish done to you,” “Anyone who does not know the value of words will never understand men,” and “The full life seeks what is in itself; the empty life seeks what appears in others.” The humanity of his ideas and their ability to adapt to a great variety of needs and contexts have made Confucianism an enduring force in the cultural heritage of China and the world.
The exhibition is curated by Lu Wensheng, Director, Shandong Provincial Museum, and Julia K. Murray, Professor of Art History and East Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin, under the directorship of Willow Hai Chang, Director, China Institute Gallery.