Teaching Moms as a Global Theme in Painting: A Comparison of Yefang shoujing tu (1725) and A Life Well Spent (1862)

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This paper intends to throw lights on the representation of teaching mothers in the painting tradition of different civilizations. In the West, paintings of maternal tenderness and mother-and-children themes were never rare. In China, kezi tu, a particular category of painting focusing on teaching mothers, became fashionable in the late imperial period. Acknowledging possible East-West artwork comparisons as a rewarding research direction, and believing that artworks have the power to promote value judgments and advocate moral standpoints of different nations, this paper argues that by looking into the paintings of teaching mothers, the different expectations of motherhood among different cultures become obvious. A preliminary observation is that teaching mothers portrayed in Western oil paintings look less anxious and more tender than mothers in Chinese kezi tu. This paper will compare two pieces of painting, one produced in eighteenth-century China and the other produced in nineteenth-century Britain. The Chinese work, Yefang shoujing tu, was authored by an artist Zheng Yu and was produced in honor of Chen Shu (1660-1736), distinguished artist and mother of the famous scholar-official Qian Chenqun (1686-1774). The British work, A Life Well Spent, was authored by the well-known painter Charles West Cope (1811-1890). Both pieces feature representation of the ideal housewife-mothers, who were typically busy at spinning (China) or knitting (British) while at the same time looking after/educating their children. Through interesting comparison of the two samples, this paper may offer insights into varied societal expectations on women’s behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2018
EventAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference 2018 - Washington DC, United States
Duration: 22 Aug 201825 Aug 2018


ConferenceAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference 2018
Abbreviated titleAAS 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityWashington DC
Internet address


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