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The God of Fortune - 【ZiGong】

date. 2021

city. Amsterdam

size. 76 cm x 45 cm

Arches Watercolor 300g/m


Zigong, also known as Duanmu (端木)


Duanmu, a famed merchant revered in the ancient Chinese businessman’s credo, “陶朱事业,端木生涯”, (literally, Taozhu’s undertaking, Duanmu’s profession) was also known by the courtesy name Zigong (子贡). The above statement makes reference to Duanmu’s way of life, which is regarded as having been exemplary in many ways. Zigong’s family name was Duanmu, given name was Ci (赐),which translates literally as “great gift”. He lived in the state of Wei during the late Spring and Autumn Period. Raised in a merchant family, he went on to start his own business around the age of 20. Later, he achieved some renown studying under Confucius. He came to be known as one of the Ten Sages of the Confucian School (“孔门十哲”), a group of particularly adept students whose philosophical output became a key component of the Confucian canon.


Zigong was eloquent, knowledgeable, and erudite, possessing many excellent talents which led him to success in the political realm, as well as in commerce. During his life, he served as prime minister of both Lu and Wei. At the same time, he remained a humble disciple of Confucius, supporting him financially and protecting him throughout his life.


After Confucius passed away, with the exception of Zigong, the disciples all observed a three-year period of mourning typical of the loss of a parent before re-entering the world. Zigong’s devotion to his teacher was so sincere that he spent six years in mourning. Indeed, the ancient Chinese tradition was to revere your teacher as a parent, evidenced by the saying, “One who serves as a teacher for a single day is like a father for life” (“一日为师终生为父”). This filial piety and respect for his teacher is depicted by the spirit shrine hanging in front of Zigong’s chest, in which we can clearly see Confucius prominently figured.


He was also a progenitor of Confucianism in the business world. The integrity and business philosophy that Zi Gong pursued has been passed down to the world, acquiring the name of "The Relics of Duanmu". They have been much respected by later business circles and have over time augmented his legendary status to elevate him to the position of a “God of Wealth”, worshiped by the people.


Contrasted with the painting of Fan Yi, Zigong is depicted as having a more literary or scholarly temperament. In the depiction of his facial expressions and his mode of dress, he embodies the gentleness and elegance of the historical figure of Zigong. The six fingers of his left-hand are loosely connected to different symbolic images. There is also an underlying meaning that Zigong is proficient in six techniques (六术); the scriptural books, crane and bird fairies, ancient tree, and deer all around him bring out a quiet and relaxed atmosphere suitable for such a faithful and scholarly personage.


Learning so that one can partake in discourse, engaging in business for the greater enlightenment; such is the import of this legendary figure. Although people worship Zigong as the God of Wealth, the ancient Chinese businessman’s credo which holds up "Duanmu’s way of life" as exemplary also shows the fascination for Zigong's life and fame, as well as the reverence for its ethical excellence. Abandoning the traditional iconography of a God of Wealth, the decadence, the gloriously fancy outfits, etc., I hope to use this painting to depict and pay homage to a truly respectable sage.

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