Altar Cloth with Filial Piety Scenes Design
In Confucianism, the code of moral conduct associated with the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, or Kongzi 孔子, 551-479 B.C.E., filial piety is the most important principle to regulate human relationships and maintain social order. Filial piety is defined as the humane and ethical behavior that should guide interactions among individuals, families, and members of every level of government, the healthy balance of which will result in a peaceful and harmonious society.
The Classic of Filial Piety (Xiaojing 孝經), an anonymous text produced between the fourth and third century B.C.E., described proper behavior and became as influential in East Asia as sacred religious texts. The concept of filial piety was also promoted beyond Confucian doctrine: narratives of exemplary Buddhists touted their devotion to treating others with love and respect. Chinese stories about benevolence and loyalty express the deep-rooted conviction that a benevolent superior, whether ruler, official, or father, who does not abuse his power, but respects those in his care, will, in turn, enjoy the respect and obedience of his subjects and descendants.
During the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368), Guo Jujing (郭居敬) composed an illustrated manual featuring stories from Twenty-Four Paragons of Filial Piety (Ershisi Xiao二十四孝), which became the most prominent text used for teaching this concept. Designed to motivate the reader to emulate the behavior of virtuous individuals, the stories concentrate on the loyalty, obedience, and respect shown by those in the position of dependent.
In addition to the moral standards propagated in printed filial piety manuals, honor and respect for elders was often expressed at celebratory events, such as significant birthdays. The congratulatory paintings, wall hangings, and cards, and the festive attire worn on such occasions are often decorated with auspicious characters and images.
The selection of embroidered textiles depicting stories or scenes from the Twenty-Four Paragons included in this installation reflect the proliferation of the topic in Chinese literature and material culture. They are also included here as examples for various stitches of the exquisite embroideries in the Warner collection.