Filial modern women buy our towels!

I’ve included pictures from Yu Zhi’s Illustrated Stories of Twenty Four Filial Women here before. Those illustrations come from the 1872 woodblock print edition, available via Google Books*.

The University of Chicago library also has two editions of the text, with illustrations purportedly redrawn by none other than Wu Youru, the famous Shanghai lithographic print artist. Given the quality of the illustrations, I highly doubt the attribution, but it’s a nice extra bit of marketing on the part of whomever put it out.

In the 1872 edition, this demon from hell carries a mace.

In the 1936 edition, it appears to be carrying a marshmallow on a stick. Convenient if he’s from one of the fiery hells, no?

Anyway, what I find far more amusing about the 1936 edition is how its printing was sponsored, not by donors looking for religious merit, but by a cloth and paper towel company looking to attract customers.

The book opens with a paragraph listing the virtues of the cloth produced by Sanyou Industries LLC**, with the title “New Households.” Everything about Sanyou’s branding talks about its place in the modern family, packaged around these socially conservative tales about filial women suffering or dying for the sake of their families. It’s a great reminder that modern trappings don’t erase centuries of cultural values. After the 24 stories and pictures, the towel company gets in a few more pages of advertisements.

My favorites?

Four answers to the question, “Why does everybody love Triangle Brand West Lake towels?” (Answer: They are light, beautiful, fragrant, and strong.)

Use our blankets and have a happy marriage and long life.

Ten uses for toilet paper, including cleaning grime off park benches, in place of cotton balls, wiping oil and makeup from your face, and drying wine and tea cups at restaurants.

*It’s also on my shelf. I requested it from Harvard via interlibrary loan and was shocked to actually have them send it to me. ILL makes me giddy with power some days. Don’t even get me started.
** Which, I’m delighted to discover, was apparently a rather famous Chinese towel maker. Or so says the The Story of Towels (Part 1) at Snrk.

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