About the gallery
The Scholars Gallery explores Chinese systems of belief, philosophy and ritual, some of it derived from from Confucian ideas of propriety, through presentation of the courtly arts and objects collected and admired by scholars of the literati tradition. Many of these traditions still survive in some form in many Asian countries. Furniture, calligraphy, and paintings, along with decorative arts, reveal the tastes and pursuits of scholars and those who would emulate them.
For centuries, the scholar represented an ideal in Chinese culture. Great respect was accorded to individuals who could read classical texts, write and paint, play music, pursue academic studies, and demonstrate elegance and grace. Whether a civil servant, a successful merchant, or an overseas Chinese, learned individuals played a key role in Chinese culture.
The ideal of the scholar is derived from the texts attributed to Confucius (551-479 BC). In response to the political chaos and war of his time, Confucius advocated a moral philosophy that he felt would stabilise society. Beginning in the Tang dynasty (618-907), social mobility was possible through an examination system, which tested candidates on their knowledge of the Confucian classics and literary abilities. Scholar-officials, also called mandarins, were placed at the top of the social hierarchy.
The definition of the scholar class changed over time, and it became fused with the wealthy merchant class by the late Ming dynasty (early 17th century).