This is a bit of a departure from my usual subject matter. We are traveling far from the Greco-Romans and into Chinese Folklore. This painting, “Sacrifice of Shan”, was inspired by the story of Miao Shan.

The Story of Miao Shan

Miao Shan was the youngest daughter of the Emperor Miao. After defying her father’s demand for her to marry in her search for nirvana, she was put to death along with 500 nuns at the Nunnery of the White Bird with whom she had sought sanctuary. The gods were so impressed with Miao Shan’s piety that they made her immortal and she eventually reached nirvana. In this blessed state, despite the misdeeds of her father, she was willing to sacrifice both of her hands and gauge out her eyes to heal her father’s illness. Upon realizing what she had done, her father abdicated the throne and devoted the remainder of his life to seeking nirvana.

Like the other goddesses in “Destruction of the Goddess”, Miao Shan gained strength through her struggle. She was made more powerful, in this case immortal. In modern society women often sacrifice their own dreams for the needs of their families, Miao Shan should be an inspiration to those women. In a society where filial piety was one of the most important tenets, she was defiant and diligent. She stayed true to her dreams even in the face of death.

Intersection of East and West

In this painting I also consciously chose colors that created a junction of Eastern and Western cultures and their varying perceptions of color. The Chinese typically associate gold with completeness and god-consciousness, red with joy/luck/good fortune, yellow with Buddhism/royalty, and white with mourning. In the west gold is often representative of wealth, red is often sanguinary relating to blood killing/fire/passion, yellow is usually considered joyful, and white symbolizes purity. All of these ideas can be seen in the story of Miao Shan. She was of royal blood (yellow/gold). She was a joyful (red/yellow) and of a pure heart and a pious Buddhist (yellow/white) who had reached nirvana (gold/white) who was murdered (white/red). The pure Nuns of the White Birds (white) were burned to death (white/red)

I find these contrasts particularly interesting: Red is indicative of both joy and killing; white is indicative of both purity and death. East and West. Yin and Yang.

To read the entire story of Miao Shan, click here.

18″ x 24″ Oil on Canvas
Sacrifice of Shan