The Collection: General Guan Gong
Guan Gong was a famous general in the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 CE). In light of his bravery, wisdom, and military prowess—all graphically recorded in the Annals of the Three Kingdoms—later emperors awarded him various posthumous titles, including that of duke (gong). He is also widely seen as a model of Confucian virtues, especially benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom, faith, loyalty, righteousness, and courage. His many exploits have been handed down and extolled from generation to generation, culminating in his apotheosis during the Sui dynasty (581–618 CE). In Chinese Buddhist temples he is venerated as the bodhisattva Guan Di, one of the principal protectors of the Dharma. In Daoism he is venerated as the Guan Sheng Emperor. He is also worshipped as the God of War, and as a tutelary deity of wealth and literature. This piece is based on the famous story of Guan Gong reading at night. Guan Gong is depicted sitting on a chair draped with a tiger skin, dressed in resplendent attire; with one hand he strokes his beard, and with the other he holds a copy of The Art of War by Sun Zi, on which is engraved the line “Hence, to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting” underscoring his high level of attainment in both military science and diplomacy.