Chinese Rubbings History

People record their histories in different ways. For many Western peoples, the pen and paper were the primary means of recording the past. Still, many civilizations and subcultures of civilizations were limited in their ability to read and write or their ability to obtain the tools necessary to write down their stories. Yet, history is always recorded. The Chinese began recording their histories as far back as 2000 BCE by making carvings on objects such as bone, bronze, wood, and the like. They found, however, that stone was the most durable material to preserve their inscriptions.

Unfortunately, stone inscriptions were not portable. People in remote villages could not benefit from religious and historical texts carved into temples and monuments. Historians believe that by the seventh century CE, the process of creating ink rubbings began. To make a rubbing of an important text or pictorial scene, a moist sheet of paper is placed over the stone inscription. When the paper is almost dry, an ink pad is tapped over the surface, creating an imprint of the image on the paper without the ink touching the stone. This process of rubbing became so popular that many of the original carvings have been worn down or destroyed. Luckily, Chinese artisans have re-carved the originals, either on the original rock face or on separate slabs. While trying to keep as true to the original as possible, these re-carvings are valued much more highly for their artistic than their historical value.

Chinese Rubbings

The Museum has a display of Chinese temple rubbings on rice paper. Temple rubbings such as these help bring the art of the Orient to the Western world without desecrating temples and shrines.

The Rubbings Collection at the International Museum of Art: The Wu Family Shrines

While the International Museum of Art has a collection of rubbings from all over China, perhaps the most interesting are rubbings of scenes originally carved on the Wu Family Shrines located in Shandong, China. These giants tombs were constructed at the height of Confucianism during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). Confucianism emphasized the reverence of ancestors (both dead and living), so giant tombs paying homage to the ancestors of the wealthy began to be constructed throughout China. These burial chambers, much like those of ancient Egypt, were loaded with art and treasures. The walls and ceilings of these shrines were carved with elaborate designs, showing scenes of the burial of the deceased, tributes to his life, or religious images.

Snake Tailed Rubbing - International Museum of Art

This image shows Fu Xi on the right, and his sister/wife Nüwa on the left. Fu Xi and Nüwa are mythological figures of great significance, as Fu Xi is widely credited as being the first sovereign of China. According to legend, Fu Xi and his sister Nüwa were the only survivors of a great flood. After prayer to a divine being, they set about re-populating the earth, but this was taking way too long, so they invented a way to create human beings out of clay. Once a new society emerged, Fu Xi came to rule. Under his rule, he instituted the practice of marriage and kingly rule, and brought social order to the land.

Chinese Rubbing - International Museum of Art

Another of the Museum’s rubbings collection. The high quality of the rubbing suggests that it was taken from a modern carved replica of a Wu Shrine relief.

International Museum of Art

Located in the Turney Mansion, circa 1910, the International Museum of Art is operated by The International Association for the Visual Arts. The museum features artwork by local and national artists. Exhibits included range from artifacts from Africa and Asia. Also included in the museum is the Mexican Revolution exhibit. A casita reproduction from the Mexican Revolution era is part of this exhibit.


Exhibiting: April 4th-27th


60th Annual EPISD Student Art Show


The El Paso Independent School District will holding its annual student art show from April 4th through the 27th.  This will be a district wide art show and will have approximate 500 participants!  Please come by and see what our future generations have to offer to our long history of artist.

 Come and see or Pancho Villa death mask, cast from the original mold. Or explore our past Sun Bowl Exhibit winners in the Red room. We have many interesting and unique artifacts from around the world. Maybe you are looking for an affordable venue for weddings, quinceneras, or parties. The International Museum of Art is always looking for people to rent its services to. Please see our upcoming calendar for latest news. The museum will be open from 1 – 5 p.m. We are located at 1211 Montana Avenue and entry to our museum or any exhibit is always free.