A set of six munjado paintings

approx. 1800-1900

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum
San Francisco, United States

In pictorial ideographs (munjado), Classical Chinese characters are integrated with images that relate to the characters’ meanings. This set illustrates six of the eight most important Confucian virtues. They represent (read from right to left) the characters for filial piety (hyo), brotherly love (je), trust (shin), propriety (ye), righteousness (eu), and integrity (yeom). The paintings were once part of a screen of eight panels, and two paintings from the set, loyalty (chung) and sensitivity (chi), are missing. Such screens were often displayed in a child’s room or a scholar’s study, as the images and meanings of the characters served to instruct and inspire proper Confucian values.

For example, the far-right painting depicts the character hyo, filial piety, which was the highest virtue in East Asian culture.Within and surrounding the character are four objects related to four stories of filial piety:

A zither (stringed musical instrument) represents the story of the mythical Chinese Emperor Shun. As a young man, Shun always obeyed his blind father and abusive stepfamily. Because of his good behavior, Shun was chosen as heir to the emperor and given a five-string zither
as a present.

The fish on top of the character symbolizes a filial son who, by lying on a frozen river, caught fresh carp to give to his unkind stepmother, earning her respect.

The bamboo shoot represents another son, who cried in a winter bamboo grove because he could not find a bamboo shoot to feed his ailing mother. His tears caused bamboo shoots to sprout up.

A fan resembling a lotus flower suggests a legendary figure who fanned his father’s bed in the summer and warmed the bed with his own body in the winter.

Although the stories in munjado screens are based on classic Chinese tales, the aesthetics and design elements are purely Korean, particularly in the way a single image symbolizes a complex narrative.


  • Title: A set of six munjado paintings
  • Date Created: approx. 1800-1900
  • Location Created: Korea
  • Physical Dimensions: H. 31 1/2 in x W. 11 1/4 in, H. 80.0 cm x W. 28.6 cm (each panel)
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Medium: Ink and colors on paper
  • Credit Line: Asian Art Museum, Gift of Andrews D. and Kay E. Black, 2018.76.1-.6

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