Member book: Murray, The Aura of Confucius

Julia K Murray's picture

Dear Colleagues,

    I would like to introduce my new book, The Aura of Confucius: Relics and Representations of the Sage at the Kongzhai Shrine in Shanghai, published by Cambridge University Press. In it I present an art-historical perspective to complement recent scholarship that challenges the conventional image of Confucius (Kongzi) as a secular paragon of learning and conceptions of Confucianism as simply a philosophy of ethical humanism and ideology of governance. Offering new insights on religious dimensions of Confucianism, I show how material and visual media were used in the veneration of Confucius in his hometown of Qufu, in official temples and private academies, and at a shrine called Kongzhai 孔宅 ("Kong Residence") that formerly stood on the outskirts of modern Shanghai.  Local tradition claimed that a 34th-generation descendant had buried Confucius's robe, cap, and jade ornaments at Kongzhai, over 1000 years after his death. These hidden relics later became the basis for a ritual complex that attracted scholarly pilgrims who came to experience the beneficent aura of Confucius, whose presence was made more tangible with sculptural icons, portraits, and biographical pictures.  Centered on the Tomb of the Robe and Cap and a sacrificial hall with sculptural icons (abolished from official temples in the 1530 ritual reform), Kongzhai was periodically repaired and occasionally expanded or modified to serve new functions. Ambitious officials and local literati used their patronage and interactions with Kongzhai to enhance their own prestige and to promote the surrounding area. Kongzhai was honored by the Kangxi emperor in 1705 and celebrated in the 19th century as the foremost "famous place" in its locality, Qingpu County.  However, Kongzhai's fortunes declined with modernization, and after becoming a target of Maoist campaigns against feudalism and superstition, it was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.  Unlike many other ruined sites of traditional culture, it has not been reconstructed, and its history has been largely expunged from official memory. 

Drawing on more than 25 years of research, my book identifies personal items and sites of specific events that functioned as relics of Confucius and examines his representation in sculptural icons, portraits, and pictorial biographies. Their deployment at Kongzhai shows how Confucian concepts and representations of Confucius himself could be used to create a ritual center, revealing connections with modes of veneration more often associated with Buddhism, Daoism, and popular cults. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, I also analyze the chronology of Kongzhai's physical configurations against its rhetorical construction as a "special place" and situates its rise and fall within the social, political, economic, and cultural conditions of the 12th through 20th centuries. The successive phases of Kongzhai's development and its eventual eradication from landscape and memory also illuminate the multivalent influence of the Kong lineage of Confucius's descendants on his veneration and point to some contradictions within the contemporary Confucian revival.  The book includes 121 illustrations of paintings, rubbings, woodblock-printed pictures, and photographs, many reproduced in color.  More details are available at, and a book-launch discussion can be accessed at