Mortal Ancestors, Immortal Images: Zhang Dai’s Biographical Portraits

Duncan M. Campbell


Towards the end of his long life, the prolific late-Ming historian and essayist Zhang Dai 張岱 (1597-?1684) completed a book that he had been working on for many years. Entitled Portraits of the Eminent and Worthy Immortals of Zhejiang During the Ming Dynasty (You Ming yuyue san bu xiu tuzan 有明於越三不朽名賢圖贊) the book included the short biographies (with poetic panegyrics) and portraits of 109 men and women of Zhang Dai’s hometown of Shaoxing, one of the epicentres of China’s élite cultural life. The book was organised according to the “Three Immortalities of Life”: moral force, meritorious service, and wise words. Zhang also included a number of his own friends and family members in this collection.

This paper discusses aspects the relationship between text and image in this late-imperial Chinese work, both in the context of Zhang Dai’s practice as a biographer who had a strong visual sense and in regard to his particular historical plight as someone who had survived the collapse of one dynasty and who had lived on under its successor regime.


Zhang Dai, biographical writing, ancestor portraits

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