© 2015, Central South University Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Direct shear tests were conducted on the rock joints under constant normal load (CNL), while the acoustic emission (AE) signals generated during shear tests were monitored with PAC Micro-II system. Before and after shearing, the surfaces of rock joints were measured by the Talysurf CLI 2000. By correlating the AE events with the shear stress-shear displacement curve, one can observe four periods of the whole course of shearing of rock joints. By the contrast of AE location and actual damage zone, it is elucidated that the AE event is related to the morphology of the joint. With the increase of shearing times, the shear behavior of rock joints gradually presents from the response of brittle behavior to that of ductile behavior. By combining the results of topography measurement, four morphological parameters of joint surface, Sp (the maximum height of joint surface), N (number of islands), A (projection area) and V (volume of joint) were introduced, which decrease with shearing. Both the joint roughness coefficient (JRC) and joint matching coefficient (JMC) drop with shearing, and the shear strength of rock joints can be predicted by the JRC-JMC model. It establishes the relationship between micro-topography and macroscopic strength, which have the same change rule with shearing.