Religious Lore and Legends of the Supernatural
The tales and stories which abound in folklore and religious lore are revealing about human values and aspirations in China. But something else happens when the celebrated figures at the heart of these tales, re-imagined by painters, come to life again in pictorial images.
Sometimes, these figures become talismans with supernatural powers that are capable of warding off evil or calling forth beneficence on a household. Displayed at the right time and place, they could protect a household from malign influences, or else symbolise appropriate wishes at life’s transitional moments. Some figures stand for a loving marriage, others may represent family aspirations - that there will be many sons, all of them brilliant students who top the list in the civil service examinations, thereby guaranteeing wealth, honour and posterity for the clan.
Both in popular and elite culture, divisions between the three main religious traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism were not rigid, and it was possible to appeal to various deities in one’s rituals, prayers and incantations, or by unrolling auspicious paintings.