Ivory figure of Chi She

China, Qing dynasty, 17th-early 18th century AD

An icon of filial piety

Chi She is shown a woman suckling an old woman (her mother-in-law), a classic theme in Chinese history. Filial piety, respect for one's parents, is the supreme virtue in China, as taught in the Xiao Jing (Classic of Filial Piety) and many other works of philosophy and literature.

The virtuous young woman probably represents one of the Twenty-four Exemplars of Filial Piety. The only woman singled out of the twenty-four exemplary people, or paragons, she was a daughter-in-law in the Cui family. Her aged mother-in-law had no teeth, but survived for many years, nourished in this way.

There are holes drilled through the base of the older woman's chair, in the manner seen on Chinese toggles (although toggles representing stories about women are very rare). Images of filial piety were also popular in Japanese netsuke.

This is one of only two Chinese ivory figure carvings in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum. The other is a figure of Xiwangmu.

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More information

Bibliography

W. Watson (ed.), Chinese ivories from the Shang (London, Oriental Ceramic Society, Sotheby Publications, 1984)

J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

S. Jenyns, Chinese art: the minor arts, vol. 2 (London, 1965)

Dimensions

Height: 7.300 cm

Museum number

Asia OA SL 1004

RRC3756

Sloane Collection

Location

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