The paragons of filial piety are Chinese legendary or historical figures noted for their proven devotion to their parents. Filial piety as a social and cultural construct has been central to Chinese society since ancient times. It has also been adopted and propagated by the Japanese since the sixth century AD. Among the literary expressions of this philosophy, the "Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety" (Chinese: 二十四孝) stands out as a classic text demonstrating these Confucian principles. The work is usually credited to Guo Jujing (郭居敬) during the Yuan dynasty (1260–1368), although some sources suggest two other possible authors or editors: Guo Shouzheng (郭守正) and Guo Juye (郭居業). A Buddhist vernacular narrative titled Ershisi Xiao Yazuowen (二十四孝押座文), discovered among the manuscripts in Dunhuang's Mogao Caves, is the oldest extant text related to The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars. After the book was compiled by Guo Jujing during the Yuan dynasty, a new illustrated edition with drawings by Wang Kexiao (王克孝) was released, making the book even more popular. In China, various revised editions of the text and other similar works were published.
The present print by Shigeharu is part of the only known series on the subject of filial piety produced by an Osaka print artist. Importantly, it predates Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s better known Twenty-four paragon series (c. 1842- 43) by a decade or more.
The Inscription in Japanese reads:
唐夫人は姑につかへてかう／＼をつく せり姑長孫夫人年たけて歯もこと／゛ ＼くぬけおちよろづの食物を食に味な し唐夫人乳けをふくめて是をやしなひ あしたには背をなで夕には足をもちて まめやかにつかへける事久しある時長 孫夫人病に臥してすでに死すべく思ひ ければ一家一門をあつめて曰わが嫁わ れにつかへて孝行なる事たぐひなし子 孫嫁の孝義を見ならしおこなふならば 必らず末繁昌すべしといひて死せりは たして子孫おひ／＼立身出世して繁昌 したりひとへに唐夫人のかう／＼のと くによれり人の嫁たらんものは見なら ひ姑によくつかふべきことなり
The text recounts the tale of Madam Tang (唐夫人), the grandmother of a regional military governor named Cui Shannan (崔山南). Cui's great grandmother, Madam Zhangsun, was very old and had already lost all her teeth. Madam Tang took care of her mother-in-law and breastfed her for years. On her deathbed, Madam Zhangsun asked the entire family to treat Madam Tang with kindness, saying "I can never repay my daughter-in-law's kindness. I hope that all of you will treat her as well as she treated me."
Eshewing the conventions of the Osaka theatrical print, Shigaharu entered the realm of Chinese tales, using a figure-drawing style reminiscent of Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Many of the designs in the series succeed as imaginative renderings of the moralistic tales.