Themes and topics

production Evidence of image production Because a handful of scrolls in this study collection overlap in structure, content and style, we can begin to make speculations about the workshops that produced them. Some scrolls are nearly identical in structure, style and text, whereas others may be similar in structure and style but dissimilar in text, even to the point of differeing in which hell is being depicted. Still others are structurally the same but very different in style. Through side-by-side comparisons, we can start to develop questions about how these artisans carried out their craft.
narratives Narratives informing Chinese notions of hell

Popular narratives informed the general conception of hell in late imperial China, the two most common stories being Tang Emperor Taizong's acquittal before the judges of hell and Mulian rescue of his mother there. Yet there are many other stories referenced in these scrolls, several of which I have yet to identify as it's not my era of research. They seem to fall into two categories, namely stories of justice and stories of mercy/respite. I am here compiling an index of identifiable characters that appear in these scrolls and the stories to which they allude.

variances Content and structural variances No single set of scrolls includes every notable torture or every key theme, and while the focal set of scrolls in this study collection - the "A series" - is fairly representative of hell scrolls generally, it both includes unique features and misses common motifs. As for unique features, its second scroll struggles with portraying the role of intention (rather than simply good or bad behavior), and as for missed common motifs, its tenth scroll lacks the customary Mdm Meng who distributes her tea of forgetfulness (which is why none of us remember our previous lives and our time in hell). I endeavor to develop a full commentary to common motifs that appear in the focal scrolls through the images and stories included in each hotspot, but here I must resort to separate pages to address motifs not found in the A series.