[FOUNTAIN]A makeover for Confucius

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[FOUNTAIN]A makeover for Confucius

The first artist to draw a portrait of Confucius was Wu Daozi of the Tang Dynasty. According to the “Masterpieces of the Tang Dynasty,” Wu Daozi drew Confucius by putting together accounts of the sage from various historical records. “He was a nine-foot-tall hunchback with an upturned nose and exposed gums.” Of course, Wu Daozi did not depict Confucius using that unappealing description, but the portrait was still a less than charming version of Confucius, with a protruding forehead and unlovely mouth and nose.
Wu Daozi is famous for his miraculous artistic power in drawing the scenery of the 150-kilometer-long Jiang River in one day at the commission of Emperor Xuanzong. Thanks to his fame, his painting of Confucius teaching his disciples became the standard of the Confucius portrait. Wu Daozi’s ugly version of Confucius had adorned the shrine for over 1,000 years.
However, Kong Xiang Lin, a 75th-generation descendant of Confucius and an expert in Confucian studies, argues that posterity distorted the appearance of Confucius into an unattractive man in order to make Confucius a mythical figure, insisting that Confucius was a handsome man and that all the portraits should therefore be changed.
Sima Qian wrote in “Shiji,” or “The Records of the Grand Historian,” that Confucius had a dent in the middle of his head, resembling a hill, and therefore, he was named “Qiu,” meaning hill. Xun Zi wrote Confucius was very tall and his face resembled monggi, a mask used to drive away ghosts. The mask used to be worn to ward off epidemics or at funerals. An exorcism mask has rough, intimidating features by nature, and monggi was no exception. Moreover, a monggi mask has a little dent on top of its head. Having succeeded in the teachings of Confucius, it must not have been easy for Xun Zi to frankly say that Confucius had a dent on his head and looked rugged. People reckon that Xun Zi euphemistically compared Confucius to the exorcism mask out of respect for the master.
Celebrating the 2,557th anniversary of the birth of Confucius on Sept. 28, the China Confucius Fund launched a standard image of the philosopher. Compared to the less charming portrait, the new image has wider nostrils, a bigger mouth, thicker eyebrows and a longer beard. The Confucius Fund explains that the new portrait reflects wisdom, gentleness and consideration of Confucius. In short, a better-looking version of Confucius is born. In the age of commercialization, appearance has become increasingly important, and even Confucius cannot be free from the trend.


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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