Quickly, because I really should be writing.
Thanks to following Shuge Library (@shugeorg) on Twitter, a group that hosts and shares high quality scans of Chinese works in the public domain, The Complete Work In Search of the Origins of the Deities of the Three Schools《三教源流搜神大全》came to my attention a few months ago.
With over 120 illustrations of deities and sages from the three religious traditions of late imperial China – Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism – this Qing imprint of a Ming text is stunning. You can, and should, download it from the link in its title above.
Of course it begins with Confucius (v.1 1a):
then Buddha (v.1 3a):
and finally Laozi (v.1 5a):
But it’s this image, towards the end of the whole collection, that made me pause in wonder (v7 12a):
It’s so powerful, arriving as it does after over a hundred images of deities holding court, in bizarre predicaments, doing battle, or staring off at nothing in particular.
This one rejects our gaze.
I know next to nothing about him (the text says he is 北極驅邪院左判官) but I love this illustration and find it surprisingly inspiring.
What’s your favorite image, either in this collection or in other premodern Chinese texts?
(The cute demons in 《消災延壽閻王卷》are probably my all-time second favorites.)