Sets of narrative pictures portraying the life of Confucius (Fig. 1; all figures appear at the end of the text) first appeared in considerable numbers in the late Ming period, typically under the title Sheng-chi t'u (Pictures of the Sage's Traces; hereafter SCT) or some close variant. Produced at varying levels of expense, these illustrated biographies or hagiographies were made in a variety of media, such as woodblock prints, paintings on silk, and incised stone tablets. The various examples also exhibit a wide range of artistic quality. These differences in quality and form suggest that pictorial biographies were made for multiple purposes and for diverse audiences. Furthermore, the pictorial biographies differ in total numbers of scenes and in specific episodes selected for inclusion. These differences in content imply disparate conceptions of Confucius and the significance of his life.

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