Until 1530, sculptural images of Confucius and varying numbers of disciples and later followers received semiannual sacrifices in state-supported temples all over China. The icons' visual features were greatly influenced by the posthumous titles and ranks that emperors conferred on Confucius and his followers, the same as for deities in the Daoist and Buddhist pantheons. This convergence led to visual conflation and aroused objections from Neo-Confucian ritualists, culminating in the ritual reform of 1530, which replaced images with inscribed tablets and Confucius's kingly title with the designation Ultimate Sage and First Teacher. However, the ban on icons did not apply to the primordial temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong. Post-1530 gazetteers publicized the distinction by reproducing a line drawing of this temple's sculptural icon, and persistent replications of this image helped to popularize his cult. The same period saw a proliferation of non-godlike representations of Confucius, including his portrayal as a teacher, whose iconographic origins can be traced to a painted portrait handed down through generations of his descendants. In recent years, variations of this teacher image have become the basis for new sculptural representations, first in Taiwan, then in Hong Kong and the Chinese diaspora, and finally on the mainland. Now installed at sites around the world, statues of Confucius have become a contested symbol of Chinese civilization.

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