The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( continiu )






Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

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 Sunken Ship Found Treasure Ceramics and Jars from a old chinese Shipwreck in the South China Sea

Sunken Ship Found Treasure Ceramics and Jars from a old chinese Shipwreck in the South China Sea

3.3 Type and Motif Of Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork


Type And Motif Of Chinese Imperial Artwork Ceramic from

Shipwreck pottery

(By Sten Sjostrand)

Before sipwrecks were discovered there was little archaeological evidence available to help art historians date ancient pottery.

They theorised about origin, style of painting and choice of motifs, the kind of oxides used in the decorations and, in some cases, the density of the colour.

They also considered the type of clay used to mould the pot and the techniques involved in making the pottery.

But without a reference point much of this was educated guesswork mostly based on museum collections of unproven origin.  

 It was even thought that finer and more detailed decorations belonged to an earlier period and that somehow the art of decorating pots had devolved over time and become less refined 

The problem with this early method of dating is that it places too much emphasis on separating the different types of pottery into narrow time periods.

This has led to pieces that were actually made at the same time and place being given different dates. 

 Experts rarely considered the possibility that these different styles were produced contemporaneously.  

There was also little appreciation of the fact that not all of the potters and decorators would be equally skilled and that therefore some pots would look artistically superior to others.  

 In addition, these criteria were often applied to pieces in museum collections from unknown origins and so the research didn’t contribute to a long lasting chronology of ceramic ware. 

It’s in this area that historical shipwrecks have provided valuable new insights. 

 Most of the cargoes we’ve examined contained an array of pots, which according to the old way of dating, would have been made many years apart. 

But in fact most, if not all, of the objects found onboard these historic wrecks have revealed that a greater variety of ware was available than had previously been expected.

 It also seems clear that the production of different forms and styles of decoration overlapped and that each type was manufactured over a longer period than previously thought.

The contribution these shipwreck cargoes have made to the dating of ancient ceramics is one of the most important things to have come from their discovery and excavation.

Keramik Kapal Karam
(By Sten Sjostrand)

Sebelum sipwrecks ditemukan ada bukti arkeologi sedikit tersedia untuk membantu sejarawan seni saat tembikar kuno. Mereka berteori tentang asal, gaya lukisan dan pilihan motif, jenis oksida yang digunakan dalam dekorasi dan, dalam beberapa kasus, kepadatan warna. Mereka juga dianggap sebagai jenis tanah liat yang digunakan untuk cetakan panci dan teknik yang terlibat dalam pembuatan gerabah.

Tapi tanpa titik acuan banyak ini adalah dugaan berpendidikan sebagian besar didasarkan pada koleksi museum asal terbukti. Itu bahkan berpikir bahwa dekorasi halus dan lebih rinci milik periode sebelumnya dan bahwa entah bagaimana seni dekorasi pot telah diserahkan dari waktu ke waktu dan menjadi kurang halus

Masalah dengan metode ini awal kencan adalah bahwa hal itu menempatkan terlalu banyak penekanan pada memisahkan berbagai jenis gerabah dalam periode waktu yang sempit.

 Hal ini telah menyebabkan potongan-potongan yang benar-benar dilakukan pada waktu dan tempat yang sama diberi tanggal yang berbeda. Ahli jarang mempertimbangkan kemungkinan bahwa gaya yang berbeda yang diproduksi serentak. Ada juga sedikit apresiasi terhadap fakta bahwa tidak semua tembikar dan dekorator akan sama-sama terampil dan oleh karena itu beberapa pot akan terlihat artistik unggul dari orang lain. Selain itu, kriteria tersebut sering diterapkan untuk potongan dalam koleksi museum dari asal tidak diketahui sehingga penelitian tidak berkontribusi kronologi jangka panjang ware keramik.

Ini di daerah ini bahwa bangkai kapal sejarah telah memberikan wawasan baru yang berharga. Sebagian besar barang kami telah diperiksa berisi sebuah array pot, yang menurut cara lama berpacaran, akan telah dibuat bertahun-tahun terpisah. Namun pada kenyataannya sebagian besar, jika tidak semua, dari benda yang ditemukan onboard, ini bangkai kapal bersejarah telah mengungkapkan bahwa berbagai besar ware yang tersedia daripada yang sebelumnya telah diharapkan. Hal ini juga tampak jelas bahwa produksi berbagai bentuk dan gaya dekorasi tumpang tindih dan bahwa setiap jenis diproduksi periode yang lebih lama dari yang diperkirakan sebelumnya. Kontribusi tersebut kargo kapal karam telah dibuat untuk penanggalan keramik kuno adalah salah satu hal yang paling penting telah datang dari penemuan dan penggalian mereka


3.3.1 a


(11th century)

The Tanjung Simpang ship

Wreck location
Brown glazed kendi
Bronze gong
Copper ingot
Same marks on bronze & ceramics

The wreck found off Tanjung Simpangmangayau, in the north of Sabah, carried a cargo of Chinese ceramics tentatively dated to the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126 AD). Some pi


A 1000 year-old wreck site providing archeology and art history with new information

The Tanjung Simpang shipwreck site, the oldest in Malaysian waters, was unusual in many ways. 

 It was the only site the company discovered in shallow water and close to shore. The site was heavily looted by local fishermen.

Despite this looting, a number of Sung dynasty ceramic wares and few hundred kilos of pottery shards were recovered together with bronze gongs.

Some of these gongs were signed with Chinese characters, painted on the reverse

It has been known for a long time that the ancient Chinese potters made markings in the base of his pots to identify each individuals wares after its firing. These markings are referred to as “potters marks”.

Few of the Tg. Simpang ceramic wares had “potters marks” painted in the base of the pots. These characters are however masterly executed, and question its signing by a lesser educated potter

Luckily, the bronze gongs remaining on the site showed identical painted characters as those seen on the pottery. Such identical markings should start a new debate about whom and when the artifacts were signed and for what purpose. The main point of contention seems to be if the pots were ‘signed’ before or after it firing and if it should continually be referred to as “potters marks”.

One argument presented here, with the evidences from the Tanjung Simpang shipwreck, is that these markings were not “potters marks” but markings made by the Captain or an onboard merchants to identify their individual objects when reaching their destination.


Directed to an area off Tanjung Simpang-mangayau, the northwestern point of Sabah, by a local fisherman (who prefers to remain anonymous) the site was discovered on the 15th of April 2003. It was located 400 meters from the shore and in twelve meters of water.

The surface of the site is sandy but close to the fringing reef edge. The only indication of a shipwreck was stacks of bronze gongs that could be discerned above the flat seabed. This sandy layer varied between two and three feet in depth and is likely to have accumulated after the ship sunk.

This location is directly exposed to the northeast monsoon winds that generate large waves, which increases in height as they meet shallower water. After sinking, the ship appears to have landed on coral rocks. Pounding on these rocks by every wave, the ship is likely to have broken up almost immediately. This theory seems supported by the number of artefacts found scattered between the rocks.

Assuming that the ship sailed directly from China, it may have been damaged on the reefs extending east and west from Pulao Kalampunian and then sunk before the shore at Tanjung Simpangmangayau.

3.3.1 b



(AD. c. 1370)

Chinese Ceramics From the Shipwreck Turiang 14th Century

Around 1400, a Chinese ‘junk’ sank off the east coast of the Malaysian peninsula. The ship was probably sailing from Ayutthaya, then capital of Thailand, to Indonesia. The cargo was stoneware, mostly with green and brown glazes, from Thailand (57%), southern China (35%) and Vietnam (8%).

Archeology on this shipwreck site adds both information and confusion to today’s art history.

The archeology and the early Ming pottery found on the site suggest that present knowledge need review.  For More information about the importance of the Turiang shipwreck and its mixed ceramic cargo,

It was thought in the 70’s that potters moved from Sukhothai to start additional kilns at Sisatchanalai when sources for better clay were discovered in that area. Sisatchanalai, it was supposed, first made a few fishplates in imitation of Sukhothai and then concentrated their production on the main body of their ceramics, which included pottery like underglaze black and celadon wares


This chronology was adjusted in the 1980s after archaeological excavations at the Sisatchanalai kiln complex.

These showed that these kilns were more ancient, and definitely larger than Sukhothai.


Consequently, it became accepted that the Sisatchanalai site was the earliest producer of hign-fired ceramics and consistently manufactured larger numbers of ware than Sukhothai.


 Then it was thought that the Sukhothai kilns might not have made more ceramics until the 15th century, and that they produced only about 10-12% as much as Sisatchanali.

This seemed like a reasonable conclusion, since at least 800 kilns have been counted at Sisatchanalai but only 50 have been noted at Sukhothai.



There have however been no comprehensive excavations at the Sukhothai site, much of which was destroyed for the building of a new road within the Sukhothai Historical Park.


Various scholars devised theories to explain the differences in size and the relationships between the two kiln sites.


 It was thought that Sukhothai might have had insufficient clay resources and/or the Sisatchanalai site was simply better managed.


Shipwreck pottery recovered in the Bay of Thailand generally supported the idea that Sukhothai was a relatively minor producer.


This company’s discovery of four fully loaded wrecks, all with Thai pottery, did little to contradict the idea of lesser numbers of ware from Sukhothai.


The Longquan wreck did however indicate that the low percentage of Sukhothai exports might not be correct after all, at least not during all periods.


The cargo from this early Ming-period wreck comprised about 20% Sukhothai wares, and only 40% Sisatchanali ceramics.


The remainder of the wares came from China. In this one instance the proportion of Sukhothai wares to Sisatchanalai was 1:2.


Then came the discovery of the Turiang wreck. Not only is the proportion of wares surprising, the date for the founding of the Sukhothai kilns must also be revised.


Thousands of Sukhothai fish plates were seen on the first dive, without any example from Sisatchanalai in sight.


This, despite the fact that the ship was headed for Indonesia, a major market for Thai ceramics.


Further investigation did reveal Sisatchanalai wares but in limited numbers and from a time before the Sukhothai kilns are believed to have opened.


The obvious conclusion is that the Sukhothai kilns were in operation earlier than supposed, at the same time that the so-called ‘Mon’ wares (which are the type recovered) were being produced at Sisatchanalai.


 This Mon group of wares has been securely dated by radiocarbon samples from the kiln site to the mid 14th century. Thus it seems that the Sukhothai kilns must have begun exporting before the time of the Ming ban in AD. 1369.


The few Chinese ceramics recovered, indeed, are types traditionally assigned to the Yuan dynasty (AD. 1279-1368).


While the Turiang cargo may not exactly represent the proportions of production at the two main kiln centers in the Sukhothai kingdom, it gives pause for thought. It is even possible that brick-built kilns were first introduced at Sukhothai and then copied at Sisatchanalai, where in-ground non-brick kilns were previously in use.



The cargo also suggests that the first major exports of Thai pottery came from the Sukhothai rather than Sisatchanalai site.


 Of course, by the 15th century, when the Sisatchanalai potters were producing higher quality ceramics, they became the major source.


In suggesting a time when Sukhothai was the major supplier, it is interesting to review old data from the Philippines. H. Otley Beyer, who first looked at the presence of Thai ceramics in the islands, was convinced that Sukhothai wares typified lower stratigraphic levels.


Sisatchanalai wares, he believed, came later and were associated with 15th-century Chinese blue and white ceramics. It should be noted, incidentally, that 95% of the ceramics from the Turiang wreck are highly deteriorated after their long submersion in salt water. This makes the few intact examples extremely valuable.

In summary, it is believed that the Turiang wreck sank at a time in the 14th century, possibly around the very beginning of the Chinese Ming dynasty in AD. 1368.

3.3.1 c

Nanyang shipwreck

(AD. c. 1380)

Nanyang, a 14th century shipwreck was located in Malaysian Territorial water 11 miles from nearest island. She was loaded with now antique celadon wares from the famous Sisatchanalai kilns. The ship was found ten miles from Tioman island, a popular tourist spot and a popular stopover for seafarers since the 9th century.

The construction details noted thus far, which includes transversal bulkheads, joined with wooden dowels, fits a South China Sea type ship. The site has been surveyed but not yet excavated as much of the ships feature and the ceramics onboard are similar to that of the Royal Nanhai. The length of the vessel appear to be 18 meters and the beam 5 meters and it may have carried as much as 10.000 pieces of pottery, primarily celadon from the Sisatchanalai kilns, many of them showing scars from the use of spur discs.

Celadons dishes with spur marks have hardly ever been documented and seem to indicate an early production technique. Because the same type of dish, when found onboard the Royal Nanhai, does not have these spur marks, it is believed that the Nanyang is an earlier shipwreck perhaps dating to the later part of the 14th century. All evidence from the kiln site suggests that celadon dishes with spur marks are earlier than similar dishes without them. The larger storage jars on the Nanyang also suggest an earlier date. The tentative date for the loss of the Nanyang is therefore set to the period 1372-1390.

Four hundred and two pieces recovered from the wreck, for comparison purposes, were deposited in the collection of the Malacca Museum Corporation, State of Malacca. Malaysia. Without the promised conservation and registration, the artefacts were later returned to the company for proper treatment.



Early celadon cups from the Sisatchanalai kilns



Celadon jarlets and water dropper from Sisatchanalai



Incised decortaions in the early days at the Sisatchanali kilns was simple but elegant3.3.1 d

Longquan shipwreck

(AD. c. 1400)

The Longquan shipwreck was located in 63 meters of water, 22 nautical miles from the nearest Malaysian Island. She was loaded with 15th century antique celadon wares of the best quality. The site is only surface investigated but is expected  to provide archeology and art history with new archaeological data. The ship seems to have been a rather large Chinese junk seemingly measuring more than 30 meters in length, with a beam of 8 meters. The Longquan is the largest Ming-period shipwreck found fully loaded

Celadons from the Sisatchanalai kilns feature incised decorations. A smaller number of plates shows large tubular support scars, suggesting that the traditional stacking method is being phased out(Copy longqusn celadon with low quality colour Driwan found this plate at West Borneo and also the original  longquan celadon)

compare with the longquan original also found below


Chinese celadon from the famous Longquan kilns was probably loaded in China, where the ship is likely to have departed

3.3.1 e


(AD. c. 1460)

Over 20,000 ceramics were discovered in a vessel found north of the Turiang wreck.

The Royal Nanhai’s cargo consisted almost entirely of green- and brown-glazed stonewares of 1450-1500 made at Si Satchanalai in Thailand. The wares were probably being shipped to Indonesia. The discovery shows the success of the Si Satchanalai kilns in supplying this trade

The ceramic not upload because this werenot chinese imperial ware

3.3.1. f



(AD. c. 1540)

While the outline of the finds produced an acoustic image of a sea going vessel, approximately 28 x 8 meters in size, on site investigation did not produced any evidence of timber. Scattered ceramics on the surface of the seabed outlined the shape of a wreck but the finds extended only a few inches into the muddy sea floor. Despite extensive scanning with a sub-bottom profiler and a magnetometer, plus probing three meters into the sea bed with water jets, no wood fragments at all could be found.

The ceramics recovered include Chinese blue and white porcelain and monochrome white-glazed wares, Sisatchanalai celadon and underglaze black decorated wares, as well as Sukhothai underglaze black decorated bowls. Seven of the Chinese pieces display the reign mark of the emperor Xuande (AD 1426-1435). These pieces were probably made after the end of that reign, however, sometime in the late 15th century or mid 16th century. The Sukhothai samples, with their ‘solar whorl’ motifs, tend to confirm this later date. The whorl design is believed to belong to the later years of the Sukhothai kilns.

Excavation of the Xuande site was discontinued since no further evidence has warranted additional search and/or recovery attempts. Since the ceramics recovered from this site include examples of at least 20 different designs of Chinese ware, along with some Thai pieces, and the age of the pieces is still controversial, the assemblage should remain intact. One single museum is sought to accommodate the entire collection of some 250 artefacts.

…..It was therefore concluded that the ship sunk in the middle of the 16th century but carried a few ceramics that were already old. The concept of an early trade in antique ceramics, is beginning to be considered by some scholars.

Despite earlier date on the ceramics, it was the Sukhothai underglaze wares and these, Portuguese cannons that eventually confirmed an mid 16th century date for the shipwreck site.

Ewer without any Reignmark with Chrysanthenum moti


Chrysanthenum motif Ewer


with emperor Xuande’s (1425-1436) reign mark

in the base


Reign mark in bowls

3.3.1 g



(AD. c. 1550)

The Singtai shipwreck lies at a depth of 53 meters, 12 nautical miles from the island of Pulau Redang off the north-eastern coast of peninsular Malaysia.  The site was discovered in April 2001 and only a brief surface survey on the seabed has been conducted thus far.  The survey revealed a heavily loaded vessel perhaps 22 meters in length.  The construction of the ship which includes transverse bulkheads made from soft wood (joined by square iron nails) suggest that it may have been built in China.

the collections not upload because  this werenot chinese imperial ware

3.3.1 h



(AD. C. 1625)

The Wanli

Ming dynasty porcelain, kraak porcelain and other antique Chinese porcelain from the Wanli shipwreck. This site also offers information about Jingdezhen pottery development, other shipwreck pottery and antique Chinese export porcelain as well as pages for Chinese pottery marks and Asian antiques



A small kraak dish from the Wanli (c.1625) shipwreck. This dish is more than likely made at the Guangyinge kiln complex (Jingdezhen, China) where we have located production waster similar to this dish. The main decorative motifs are Chinese auspicious symbols wishing for a healthy and long life. The dish is totally intact with good glaze and soft decoration and limited ‘tender edges’



Zhushan butterfly bowl from the Wanli (c.1625) shipwreck. Similar butterfly bowls are reportedly found at the Zhushan (imperial) kilns at Jingdezhen, China, during excavations in the late 1990’s. Although not likely made at those kiln, it is possible that this bowl was made by an imperial Zhushan potter after the ‘official’ factory was closed in 1608. This bowl was found in two parts but now restored. The glaze surface is satin and the rendering in high contrast. The rim is smooth and free from ‘tender edges’. The base show a apocryphal six character (Chenghua Nian Zao) reign mark of emperor Chenghua (1464-1487)



A RARE peony dish painted in reserve where the background, rather than the motif, is painted in blue. The painting is crispy blue and well executed. The rim has, as it should, some ‘tender edges. The dish is intact although with some warping and limited glaze (surface) deterioration.


This kraak plate shows a grasshopper on a rock below a lotus arrangement. The plate is in good condition with contrasty decoration and no tender edges’  whilst here is a small, short, shallow rim repair at 7 o’clock. Grasshopper is a rather rare motif in the Wanli cargo. The plate will be delivered  with a Certificate of Authenticity



This fungus bowl belongs to the ‘best available’ group of ceramic artefacts from the Wanli shipwreck site. It shows a series of fungus liangcao motifs. This plant is a rare Chinese herbal medicine reputed as “elixir of life”. The bowl is totally intact with little ‘tender edges’along the rim. The glaze is in a very good glossy condition and the resonance of the bowl is very high pitch

Large Character Bowl


This RARE and much south after character type of bowl depicts Shou Lao, the God of longevity, riding a crane above crested waves in the well. The exterior decoration feature four medallions, each depicting two of the Eight Immortals, surrounded by repeated shou (longevity) characters.  This repeated use of the the shou character  is known as Bai Shou Tu in Chinese, meaning the ‘Picture of One Hundred shou characters’ and is very common in Chinese traditional work of art. These bowls are traditionally an excellent gift as they provide wishes for long life. The Eight Immortals are the favorite pantheon in Daoism.

Character bowl W-5908 is well made with all decorations perfectly executed and in high contrast This bowl is intact except for a rim repair which is hard to see. A fine hairline has been professionally mended and the resonance of the bowl is fully restored and now provide a high pitch sound when tapped. The base is glazed and show the (apocryphal) reign mark of emperor Chenghua whom ruled China between 1464 – 1487. The bowl will be delivered with a Certificate of Authenticity The diameter of the bowl is 22 centimeter.


Ming Wanli Turtle Motif Bowl.


The Chinese Imperial Artwork Found In Indonesia ( Continiu )






Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

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 Sunken Ship Found Treasure Ceramics and Jars from a old chinese Shipwreck in the South China Sea

Sunken Ship Found Treasure Ceramics and Jars from a old chinese Shipwreck in the South China Sea

3.3.1 i



Historical Shipwreck




Shipwrecks which remain undisturbed on the seabed for centuries provide vital information about the past. The challenge of archaeology is to understand the past by studying material traces.

On land, archaeologists may excavate burial sites, lost monuments or deposited waste.

At sea, marine archaeologists may excavate ships fully loaded with today’s antique pottery. Object on board are usually assumed to be contemporary products dating from the year of sinking. Antique pottery recovered from such dated assemblages in the South China Sea, yield important clues about Asia’s ceramics developments and associated maritime trade.

“As time capsules, each with content deposited at a single moment in time, these are more valid as dating evidence than are decades of scholarly guesswork based on unprovenanced museum collections” (Asian Ceramic Research Organization)

The European East India ships of the 17th century provided the first direct contact with Asia’s spices, silk and ceramics. The Wanli Shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Terengganu, Peninsular Malaysia in November 2003. It was fully excavated in mid-2005 in association with the then Malaysian Department of Museums and Antiquities. Believed to be a Portuguese vessel circa 1625, the ship was carrying an impressive cargo of late Ming Dynasty blue-&-white kraakware, a form of export porcelain produced during and following the reign of Emperor Wanli (1563-1619).

Kraak was the first blue & white porcelain to arrive in Europe in large quantities where it became highly sought after. The Ming


Wanli Kraak Porcelain with Bied on the rock symbol and surround by eight buddhist emblem and treasure emblem motif bigger palte 70 cm

porcelain of this period charmed buyers with its lively and spontaneous free painted images of deer, crickets and birds in natural settings.

The porcelain was named after the Carracks, the Portuguese ships that first transported this cargo. 

The Wanli Shipwreck bears testimony to the treacherous nature of maritime trade in the 17th Century. The distribution and condition of the porcelain cargo suggest that the ship’s gunpowder room may have exploded before sinking. It is thought that it was boarded and set alight by a ship from a rival nation.



Still Life with Fruit in a Wan-Li Bowl A Roemer c.1630

Detail from Tulips in a Wan-Li Vase c. 1619,


Chinese kraakware was far superior in terms of form and style to anything available at the time. It inspired the development of blue & white Delftware in Holland which emerged more than a century later. Prized Wanli bowls and plates featured prominently in the still lifes of the Dutch Masters of the 1600s who wanted to demonstrate their skill at depicting the delicate surfaces and intricate detailing of the exotic blue & white porcelain from the Far East.

Quoted from Sten Sjostrand essay:

“The ‘‘Ming ban’’ was officially abolished in 1567 and this allowed the Portuguese to openly trade with China.  By now Chinese potters were crafting exquisite blue and white porcelain ware that was as translucent as jade and almost as precious.  It captivated an ever-increasing group of European buyers and by the beginning of the 17th century blue and white porcelain was being exported to Portugal, Holland and England. From the beginning of the 18th century, more and more European merchant vessels were crossing the South China Sea with thousands of pieces of blue and white porcelain onboard. Many private European traders settled in Asia, using locally built ships to join in this lucrative commerce. “



The Bin Thuan Shipwreck Ceramics

Motif duck and lotus flower

Salvaged in 2001, from the Bin Thuan shipwreck situated 40 miles east of Phan Tiet, Vietnam, these Zhangzou (Swatow) ceramics were produced in China between 1550 and 1650

(3) The Camau Shipwrec’ 

The Ca Mau wreck


Tea bowl and saucer from the Ca Mau wreck, about 1725

A tea bowl and saucer.

Where and how it was made

This tea bowl and saucer were made in about 1725 at a porcelain works in Jingdezhen in southern China. The blue and white pattern is called ‘over the wall’. It shows a man climbing over a wall to meet two maidens, and may have been inspired by a Ming dynasty novel. While this is a Chinese design, some of the other ceramics found in the same shipwreck feature European motifs.

Two decorative dishes.

Left: These ‘Scheveningen’ dishes were recovered from the Ca Mau shipwreck. The decoration shows the Dutch fishing village of Scheveningen. Courtesy: Sothebys.

Where and how it was traded

It’s believed the wreck at Ca Mau was a Chinese merchant’s junk on its way from Canton (Guangzhou) to Batavia when it caught fire and sank in about 1725. The goods on board had been ordered by the merchant for Dutch traders who had limited access to China and its ports.

Engraving of a port.

Left: This engraving shows the port of Canton (Guangzhou) in China, about 1669. Courtesy: The Bridgeman Art Library.

22 ceramic dishes stuck together.

Right: Many of the ceramics in the Ca Mau wreck were tightly packed in 60-centimetre pinewood barrels. The fire on board was fierce enough to fuse some of the ceramics together. Courtesy: Sothebys.



(AD. c. 1830)

Pirates could have attacked the Desaru ship, killed her captain, captured passengers and crew, taken the most precious cargo, and set fire to the ship before selling the captured as slaves.

If this happened, the pirates would have been likely to take the ship’s cannons, valuable commodities at the time. Piracy was virtually uncontrolled during the first half of the 19th century. Writing in the late 1830’s, Newbold indicated that pirate activities around the Malay peninsula were seasonal and determined by the wind conditions.

From April to May, pirates would focus on the east coast; from June to September the brunt of their depredations fell on Johor and nearby islands. One pirate chief boasted that he had killed twenty-seven captains of European ships with his own hands. Piracy was curbed in 1837 when Admiralty jurisdiction granted prosecuting authority to the Straits Settlements; until then, all cases had to be referred to Calcutta. Around this time, Singapore started to supply ships with anti-pirate cannon, similar to the one found on the Desaru ship.

During excavation, structural members were held in place only by the ceramics and the surrounding compacted mud.

The scattered shards are found up to 4 metres either side of the ship, and up to 20 metres to the north and south, along the trawling directions.

Ceramics found in the port bow area were more broken and disorganized than in other sections of the ship

The blue and white porcelain found on the ship is attractive and of not  high quality,

The many large and crudely-potted storage jars found onboard suggest that more practical objects were in higher demand than decorative objects or wares for fine dining – although the discovery of over 50,000 soup spoons

unmatched with bowls also demonstrates the scale of contemporary trade and the danger of extrapolating too much from a single cargo.

 By the 18th century imitations were being made in Europe.  Genuine Yixing pots are made from a distinctive purplish red clay found only in Jiangsu province, and each of the examples from the Desaru displays a mark on the base giving either a potter’s or a supervisor’s name.  A number of the teapots carry the mark of Shao Youlan who is known to have been active in the Daoguang reign (1821-1850) and this, for the time being, is the best indication for the age of the shipwreck.




Blue & white porcelain on board consisted of a range of tableware from the Dehua and Jingdezhen kilns. Among these were flower bowls and dishes, lion dog and chrysanthemum blossom plates, Kamcheng jars decorated with delicate pea blossoms, covered wine bowls with Double Happiness motifs, and a large quantity of spoons.
The cargo comprised items typically used throughout Southeast Asia throughout this period.

Lion Dog Kamcheng Jars, teapots and Om plates from the Desaru Shipwreck

Much of the blue & white survived intact.  Excavated shards, however, were less abundant.  Due to the relative scarcity of these shards, pieces from from Tradewind Treasures’ Desaru Collection

The Desaru Shipwreck was found off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia at a depth of 20 metres. It was fully researched and excavated in 2003. 

Chinese ceramics comprised 10% of the cargo of this Chinese vessel.  This included finely crafted Yixing teapots, and brown, black and green glazed stoneware for practical everyday use.

The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( continiu )






Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

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 The International Shipwreck Treasures

Other Shipcwrek Traesure Report


International Shipwreck Treasures Report

Chinese Shipwreck Treasures Revealed

A fabulous hoard of Chinese antiquities salvaged from shipwrecks in the South China Sea is causing a terrific stir among collecting and museum circles.

Until now, almost no one has been allowed to view material or pictures from the finds; certainly no one in the general public.

Though this doesn’t include every item, the treasures shown here, mark the first time they’ve been on such general display.

There are estimated hundreds of objects, most nearly 1,000 years old. According to experts, the number and rarity of the pieces found will significantly affect both the commercial market and scholarly research in top-flight East Asian antiques for years to come.

The shipwrecks were discovered six years ago in international waters between Malaysia and Borneo.

Tilman Walterfang Tilman Walterfang , the German mechanical engineer and director of a large concrete-supply company who discovered the wrecks, created a new company to pursue a salvage project, dubbed Seabed Explorations. Despite mounting costs and regular visits from pirates, Seabed Explorations , based in New Zealand, completed on-site raising operations in three years.

But the company decided to keep quiet about its findings until recently, because the company had been running the treasures through the painstaking desalination and immersion processes necessary for proper preservation. Costs to date have exceeded $7.5 million, according to Rolf Marie and Nikolai von Uexküll, marketing directors at Seabed.

So far the company has unveiled the details of two separate shipwrecks named after small landmarks near their sites of discovery. One is an 11th century wreck called Intan, which was filled with Song dynasty artifacts; the other is the 14th century Maranei, replete with Ming artifacts.

Between them, the ships held export cargoes of ceramic, stoneware and earthenware bowls and plates, bronze mirrors and containers, gold and silver jewelry, ingots and coins, and other things. Nobody knows just how much the hoard is worth, but according to Seabed officials, “The investors are thoroughly satisfied by the importance and value of the finds.”

The ships also offer revelations of hitherto unseen artifacts. For example, the Maranei wreck features a small hand cannon the size of firearms that was not thought to exist until three centuries later.

The Intan wreck is notable for the cultural diversity of its contents, wrought in Chinese, Javanese, Buddhist and Persian styles, denoting Chinese-made objects for foreign markets.

Such early examples of Chinese exports had not been seen before, according to experts consulted by Rolf Marie in the U.S. and Europe. It appears that Tilman uncovered a pivotal spot on the trade route from China out to the West. “It’s a kind of seaborne silk route,” Marie says, “so the finds are important and educational on many levels.”

The company emphasizes that, unlike standard treasure hunters, Seabed paid meticulous attention to historical, archeological and conservation procedures throughout its operations. Indeed Seabed seems to have received top marks from experts who were invited to supervise, such as Lothar Ledderose, Heidelberg University East Asian art history professor, who is now at the Getty Museum. He wrote the preliminary introduction to the Intan find. Says Marie: “Not a single object was ruined or a site irresponsibly excavated.”

Marie and colleague von Uexküll have been in the U.S. for a few weeks on a show-and-tell mission, assessing the market and talking to professionals.

They were in New York recently to take advantage of Asia Week’s concentration of the world’s top curators, collectors, dealers and experts. Marie met with dealer Khalil Rizk of the Chinese Porcelain Co. in Manhattan; Rizk is a well-known world authority on Asian antiques. In remarks made after their meeting, Rizk was clearly impressed by what he saw, though he wondered about the effect of so many artifacts descending on the market in one fell swoop.

According to Marie, Seabed has considered this issue. “We are in no hurry to unload or let go of anything. We will take our time and do it right, over several years if necessary–that includes consideration for the market as well as for the cultural and historical value of our finds. So we’re certainly talking museums too, who might be interested.”

It appears that Seabed may have more to reveal and other projects simmering, so a strategy over time would not be surprising.

According to Tilman, the whole thing began when he was chatting with Asian in-laws who told him of rumored treasures in the general area of the finds. Complete with scuba gear, he traveled to the area and went on his own underwater expedition.

Between then and now, Tilman’s perseverance and diplomacy in getting backers, creating a salvage company, mustering the technology and dealing with locals before raising the wreckage, then preserving it all patiently, seems nothing short of phenomenal. Under the circumstances, no doubt he feels he can wait a little longer.

White porcelain bowl with yingqinq glaze, Song dynasty or earlier, from the Intan shipwreck.

Green glaze ceramic box with rough incised petal design, Song dynasty or earlier, Intan( This Yuan Qinpai coverbox-Driwan note)

Ceramic flask with circular body and tall neck, Song dynasty, Intan

Porcelain headrest or pillow with flower design, Song dynasty, Intan

Glass bottle with strong early Islamic or mid-eastern design influence,

Gold handle, possibly part of ladel or other ritual implement,

Ingot with Chinese inscription showing weight and warning against forgery, Inta

Religious bronze icon with Buddhist styling, possibly Javanese,

Gold stud earring with seven precious stones,

Bronze mirror frames both Javanese and Chinese Song dynasty styles,

 Dasaru Shipwreck

large dragon Jar


Chrysanthemum Porcelain Vase

  Item 1: Large 16th century bronze Portuguese breech lock cannon measuring 66″. Barrel length measures 42″ with a 1 1/2 bore, 12″ breech inside. On top of the front breech is a motif with an early Arabic inscription which might have been put there years ago by early Arab traders as a good luck gesture for future trading by Portuguese mariners. Estimated weight 150-200 lbs. This is probably one of the nicest larger of the breech cannons I have found in years and are becoming rarer as the years go by. This piece was found in the Dutch East Indies Kalimantan Timur. Comes complete with knock down carriage.

Item 2: Early c17th century well used ornate bronze breech lock for a breech lock loading cannon. Was found on the Island of Maluku Dutch East Indies and probably came from a Portuguese breeched cannon. The lock measures 10 1/2″ long with a rear circumference of 8 1/4″ and front 7 1/4″. Weight is 14 lbs
Breech No 1: plus close-up of inside. Measures 25 1/2″
Breech No 2 with sight: plus close-up of inside. Measures 35 1/2″
Breech No 3 with sight: plus close-up of muzzle. Measures 34 1/2″ Item 3: Three bronze Portuguese breech lock cannons c1589-1600 found on a Portuguese shipwreck off the island of Ternate Dutch East Indies. These cannons were of small size and could have probably been used for barter for trade in the Dutch East Indies or were used as samples by a Portuguese salesman working for a gun company in Portugal. The cannons look as if they have been in the ocean for some time but are still stable. They measure No 1: 25 1/2″ No 2: 35 1/2″ and No3: 34 1/2″
Item 4: Early Dutch honey coloured genever (gin) pictorial bottle c1880 “Cosmopoliet Schiedam”. The bottle was found in jungle East Kalimantan Dutch East Indies and is in excellent condition. 10″ Tall

Item 5: Shipwrecked Dutch salt glazed drinking mug found on an un-known shipwreck near Guyana South America. Mug dates c1600 and has been somewhat distorted after years under the ocean. Still in excellent condition measures 4 1/2″ tall and has been cleaned




Item 6: Early 16th century bronze breech lock from a breech loading cannon probably Portuguese. Measures 9 2/3″ long x 10″ high and weights 13 lbs. Was found near Ambon Dutch East Indies

Item 7: Early Dutch shipwreck Onion wine bottle c1740 found on a unknown shipwreck near Makassar Dutch East Indies Indonesia, 7 1/2 high


  Item 8: Three shipwreck boarding cutlass swords found on a shipwreck in the Malaka straits Dutch East Indies.All swords c1860-1880 and are in excellent condition still in a solid state with some stress lines due to drying out.There have been a number of these swords found over the last three years on this site and these will probably be the last ones to come out of the wreck site as most of the wreckage has now been salvaged.It’s been very hard over the last three years to determine their place of origin but it looks as if a early Dutch Indiaman and a Chinese junk might have collided there at one time.
Sword No1: 23 1/2″
Sword no2: 22 1/4″
Sword no3: 21 1/2″
  Item 9: Quarter deck brass ships bell found on a shipwreck near Batam Singapore. Photos show the bell half way through cleaning and just after a mild polish to maintain its original patina. There were no marks found on the bell to determine its origin, weight 10 lbs, 8″ high x 8″ dia

Item 10: Four early Dutch long neck free blown Dutch wine bottles also know as “Hoof Wine Bottles” c1740 with twisted pontils. All are in excellent condition 7″-8″ tall and were dug in Ternate Dutch East Indies Indonesia

Item 11: Three late 18th century Dutch shipwreck bottles found on a shipwrecked Dutch East Indies retourship which is being salvaged off of the coast of Portugal. The two mallets are 9″ tall and the Dutch ” Cosmopoliet” gin is 11″ tall.

  Item 12: Early T’ang water jar c1618-906, 12″ high found on a shipwreck Tuban Indonesia
Item 13: Free blown Dutch mallet wine bottle found on a Dutch East Indies shipwreck in the Dutch East Indies, c1700, 6 ½”
  Item 14: Early Renish salt glazed Bellarmine jug c1650 found in the Dutch East Indies shipwreck. Some external light crustacean 10 3/4″ high excellent condition
Item 15: Martaban South East Asian storage jar 15th-16th century. Found at sea near Malaysia Timur 14″
    Item 16: Large masked Dutch saltglazed stoneware bellarmine jug c1700. Found Dutch East Indies. Probably VOC .Co 19 ½”
  Item 17: Early c1750 free blown Dutch onion wine bottle with twisted pontil with early rolled string lip 7″ in excellent condition. Found in the jungle Dutch East Indies

Item 18: Four 17th century cannon balls recovered from a Dutch East Indies shipwreck in the Celebe Islands. All four in very good condition. Circumference from 8″ to 10″. Almost have no weight.

  Item 19: Dutch-Portuguese signal cannon in its original carriage. Found in a small village in Menado Sulawesi Utara Indonesia. Cannon measures 18″ long with a large 1 1/4″ bore, trunnion length 1 3/4″ with a 1″ dia, trunnion. Length of carriage is 37″ and is missing its front leg. I have inspected the brackets and nails holding the trunnions and they look to be hand made and the cannon looks to have been imbedded in the same position for some years. This item would make a beautiful display item
WAS $3,000 + shipping

Item 20: Early Ming plate found on a shipwreck near Ternate Moluccas Indonesia. 10½”.
In excellent condition with some
crustacean on backside. c1850.
Stand not included.

Item 21: Mei-Ping Chinese flask. c1368. This large size is most unusual for this
type of early Mei-Ping flask which was
used in the early days by the Chinese to
store mercury. Measures 14″ high and was
found in the port of Tuban Indonesia on a
shipwreck. Stand not included.
Item 22: Early English seal “RHC 1815″ provenience, Richard Hall Clarke 1759-1821 was JP of Dridwell, Uffculme in Devon. Bottle was to commerate his return from the battle of Waterloo. 10 1/4” mint condition


Item 23: Early 16th century bronze breech lock for a Breech Loading cannon. This is a shipwreck item and was found near Ternate Dutch East Indies Indonesia. This breech lock is marked just above the touch hole which is rare. Length 10 3/4″, front dia 2 1/4″, rear dia 3″, weight est, 18 lbs. Photos of mark available on request

  Item 24: Early English seal bottle dug in Johannesburg S.A “RHC 1815″ Provenience, Richard Hall Clarke 1759-1821 was JP of Dridwell, Uffculme in Devon. Bottle was to commerate his return back from the battle of Waterloo. Bottle measures 10” high and has slight chip damage along outer top left hand side of seal.

Item 25: Early Dutch case sealed gins with rolled lips c1880. These two case gins were dug at Batavia Dutch East Indies.
Left A.H Avanhoboken.Co



 The Portugeus Shipwreck treasures

Info International Shipwreck treasures end

The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( Continius )






Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

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(1)   The Indonesian Ocean Shipwreck Treasure Report

Indonesian Ocean Shipwreck Traesures


Ceribon Shipwreck Treasures

 Liao Bigger Vase and many unmotif cups and bowls

ceribon shipwreck coins

Ceribon shipwreck gold treasures 


 Posted Image

Late  Ming Duck symbol motif ewer, Chrysanthenum Bowl and unmotif ginger jars


Late Qing chrysnathenum plate,bowl,cover box also  Wanli grasshopper motif plate

Liao  Lotus flower pattern  plate


Ceribon shipwreck Liao Fish  moulded ewer pottery


ceribon shipwreck Liao  moulded Lotus flower motif bowl

Ceribon shipwreck Liao dynasti unmotif bowl


Ceribon shipwreck liao moulded chrysanthemum motif plate


 Teksing porcelains

Late qing fungus longevity motif  bowl

late ming chysanthenum geometric motif cup

The reseacher Dr Iwan Note

The Indonesian Ocean Shipwreck ceramic many found from era before Sung Dynasti  because the Yuan and Ming Ban to export their artwork to Indonesia due to the political situation at that era ( read Driwan CD-ROM  the Majapahit history collections) without Chinese symbolic Motif, except some from Wanli dynasti , late ming dan late qing  with symbolic motif.

The Indonesia report of Shipwreck not told the Chinese symbolic motif, they only told the problem to sold, and the price they get.

The reasecher hope all Indonesia Archeologist will read this studies report from South China Shipwreck  at the before chapter  and in the next chapter to ge the informations of the Chinese imperial ceramic artwork symbolic motif whicn tell everybody why they produced the artwork ceramic and relation with the Indonesian Tionghoa ethic tradition and religious.

After that they can write the most best informations to all Indonesian  and iinternational ethnic and thay will understand and can make more good relation with the Tionghoa ethnic  and living together with peace and get the propesrity, wealthy ,healthy and longevity life together.


The Chinese Imperial Artwork Found In Indonesia ( continiu )






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Motif symbolic type and meaning

Type dan Arti Motif Simbolik

.Types and meaning of symbolic motifs discussed in the following section below only in English language

Tipe dan Arti motif simbolik dibahas dalam sub bab berikut dibawah ini hanya dalam bahasa Inggris

From This report   found the design mand meanng of motif siymbolic  of ceramic artwork which found  in shipwreck excavation in southeast asia which some can found in Indonesia, the info will compare with the artwork found in Indonesia

Motif symbolic type and meaning

Type dan Arti Motif Simbolik





There is a thing confusedly formed,
Born before heaven and earth,
Silent and void
It stands alone and does not change
Goes round and does not weary,
It is capable of being the mother of the world.
I know not its name
So I style it “the way.”
Man models himself on earth,
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.

Ada hal yang terbentuk scara membingungkan,
Lahir sebelum langit dan bumi,
Diam dan batal
Ini berdiri sendiri dan tidak berubah
Berputar   dan tidak lelah,
Hal ini mampu menjadi ibu dari dunia.
Aku tidak tahu namanya
Jadi saya menggyakan  itu “jalan.”
Manusia  memeragakan dirinya di bumi,
Esurga diatas bumi bumi ,
jalan menuju Surga ,
Dan Jalan diatas  yang secara alami


Marshall Wen The focus of Taoism is the individual in nature rather than the individual in society. It holds that the goal of life for each individual is to find one’s own personal adjustment to the rhythm of the natural (and supernatural) world, to follow the Way (dao) of the universe. In many ways the opposite of rigid Confucian moralism, Taoism served many of its adherents as a complement to their ordered daily lives. A scholar on duty as an official would usually follow Confucian teachings but at leisure or in retirement might seek harmony with nature as a Taoist recluse.

Taoists stress the importance of harmonizing with nature by balancing yin and yang, and developing chi through meditation and disengagement. The human body is regarded as a source of chi-derived energy, which some people have the power to concentrate and congeal into an essence. Chi (also spelled ch’i or qi) is variously known as the “breath of heaven,” “mystical breath,” the “breath of nature” and the “quality of spirit”

In classic Taoist cosmology, matter and energy are thought to be governed by five basic movements. The strength and influence of these movements wax and wane over the course of a year; with wood peaking during spring, fire during summer, metal in autumn and water in winter. The remaining movement, earth, asserts its presence most powerfully during the periods before the start of each season.

Taoists advocate a life of simplicity, and encourage their followers to perform good deeds not bad ones, and seek inner peace through the cultivation of optimism, passivity, and inner calm. “The simple, natural life is the ideal one, the wise person seeks to conform to the slow gentle rhythm of the universe.”

Going with the flow rather and accepting things as they happen rather than pursuing power and wealth are important concepts in Taoism. Unlike the Confucians, who emphasize ritual, rigidity and surrender to authority, Taoists emphasize naturalness, personnel freedom and happiness. Taoists believe that sickness is often caused by sin and bad deeds that disrupt the healthy flow of chi. Taoism morality is based on the Three Treasures of Taoism: 1) be charitable; 2) be thrifty; 3) do not push ahead of others.

Confucian and Taoism basically contradict and are in conflict with one another. Confucianism, emphasizes achievement and propriety while Taoism stresses unseen strengths in being humble and in some cases, being perceived as average.

Good Websites and Sources: Religious Tolerance ; Stanford Education ; ; Taoist Texts Chinese Text Project ; Taoism ; Chad Hansen’s Chinese Philisophy ; Taoism Virtual Library ; Links in this Website: TAOISM ; ORGANIZED TAOISM


Taoist Texts

The Taoist canon is huge. Even in its reduced form it contains 1,120 volumes. The most important Taoist text is Tao De Jing (“The Way and Its Power”), a 5000-character synopsis of Taoist beliefs reportedly written by Lao-tzu shortly before he died. This short book was the inspiration for a primarily philosophical form of Taoism. Two other important Tao texts are the Tao The King (a series of wise sayings) and the Writings of Chuang Tzu (a discourse written by the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu), which appeared a few centuries after Lao-tze’s reported death. These two texts are more mystical and religious in nature.

Chuang Tzu voiced ideas that later were made fashionable in the West by philosophers like Descartes and Sartre. In the forth century B.C., he wrote: “Once I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering here and there; in all ways a butterfly. I enjoyed my freedom as a butterfly, not knowing that I was Chou. Suddenly I awoke and was surprised to be myself again. Now, how can I tell whether I was man who dreamt that he was a butterfly, or whether I am a butterfly who dreams that he is a man?…This is called the interfusion of things.”

The oldest version of the Taoist canon, the Laozi, and a group of early Confucian texts, were found in a 2300-year-old tomb in Guodian, Jingmen, Hubei Province. Copied onto chop-stick-like bamboo slips in the 4th century B.C., these manuscripts have been described as China’s Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of the texts were found by archaeologists after graverobbers were discovered looting the tomb. Others were found in antique shops around Hollywood Road in Hong Kong.

Concepts of Tao and Tê

Tao and tê are central concepts of Taoism. Tao (meaning “The Way”) has been described as “the divine way of the universe” and the “unproduced producer of all that is.” Tê is the power of Tao and the power to bring Tao into realization. It incorporates the belief that human interference is damaging.

Tao is invisible, unnameable, impalpable, unknowable and imitable. Taoists believe that nothing exists before something, inaction exists before action and rest exists before motion. Thus nothingness is the fundamental state and qualities inherent to this state include tranquility, silence and humility and associations with femanine yin rather than masculine yang. Motion and change are important concepts, because from the state of inaction every kind of action is possible, and is why the term “Way” (Tao) is used.

The famous Taoist philosopher Liu Ling said, “I take the whole universe as my house and my own room as my clothing…Tao invariably does nothing, yet there is nothing Tao can not be perceived with the five senses, thoughts or imagination and it can not be expressed in words. It can only perceived though mystical insight. Tao is the power behind nature and the force that creates order.” Taoists encourage people to organize their lives around Tao so they are in harmony with nature, heaven and the universe.

Tê is sort of like virtue viewed as a kind of force behind nothingness that provides a basis for nothing to exist thus unifies things that do exist. The notion of tê has been expressed in three different ways: 1) a philosophical “power” reached though reflection and insight that provides a method to organize one’s life; 2) a psychic power attained though yoga-like exercises that can be used for healing and psychic activities; and 3) a magical power associated with alchemy and the use of the power of the universe to perform magic, sorcery and other mystical deeds.

Chi, See Superstitions

Taoist Creation Theory

According to the Taoist creation theory (which is similar to the Chinese Creation Theory): “In the beginning of the universe there was only material-force consisting of yin and yang. This force moved and circulated, turning this way and that. As this movement gained speed, a mass of sediment was pushed together and, since there was no outlet for this, it consolidated to form the earth in the center of the universe…How was the first man created?…through the transformation of the material force. When the essence of yin and yang and the five agents are united, man’s corporeal form is established. This is what the Buddhist call production by transformation. There are many such productions today, such as lice.”

According to the Taoist text Tso Chuan, written in the early Han era: “Heaven and earth gave rise to yin and yang, wind and rain and dark and light, and from these are born the Five Elements [Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth]. Out of man’s use comes the Five Flavors [sour, salty, acrid, bitter, sweet], the Five Colors [green, yellow, scarlet, white, black] and the Five Modes [in music]. But when these are indulged to excess, confusion arises and in the end man loses sight of his original nature.”

The key to keeping the universe going was harmony. “In the order of their succession they gave birth to one another, while in a different order they overcome each other. Therefore in ruling, if one violates this order, there will be chaos, but if one follows it, all will be well governed.”

Reflections on Taoist Creation Theory

Many of the key concepts of Taoism are incorporated into the Taoist Creation Theory. One of the most important is summed up in the following passage: “The creator of things is not among things. If we examine the Great Beginning of antiquity we find that man was born out of nonbeing to assume form in being. Having form, he is governed by things. But he who can return to that form which he was born and become as though formless is called a “true man.” The true man is he who has never become separated from the Great Oneness. [Source: Huai-nan Tzu, reprinted in the People’s Almanac]

In his explanation of the universe Lao-tzu wrote:

There is a thing confusedly formed,
Born before heaven and earth,
Silent and void
It stands alone and does not change
Goes round and does not weary,
It is capable of being the mother of the world.
I know not its name
So I style it “the way.”
Man models himself on earth,
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.

Addressing the beginning of the universe, Taoist philosopher Kuo Hsiang wrote in A.D. 312, “If I say yin and yang came first…then since yin and yang are themselves, what came before them?…There must be another thing, and so ad infinitum. We must understand that things are what they are spontaneously and not caused by something else.”

When asked about the existence of God, Kuo Hsiang said, “But let us ask whether there is a Creator or not. If not, how can he create things? If there is he is capable of materializing all forms. Therefore, before we can talk about creation, we must understand the fact that all forms materialize by themselves. Hence everything creates itself without the direction of any Creator. Since things create themselves, the are unconditioned. This is the norm of the universe.”

Mountains of immortals

Taoist Beliefs and Nature

Rather than stressing human salvation with the help of a transcendent beings as is often the case with Western religions, Taoism stresses that meaning and energy are found in all natural things and that reality unfolds with its own rhyme and reason impervious to human intervention. Lao-tze wrote: “The real is originally there in things, and the sufficient is originally there in things. There’s nothing that is not real and nothing that is insufficient. Hence, the blade of grass and the pillar, the leper and the ravishing beauty, the noble, the sniveling, the disingenuous, the strange—in Tao they all move as one and the same.”

Unlike Confucianism and traditional Western religions, which portrays nature as something evil or immortal which man has to overcome, Taoism encourages its followers to act in “harmony with the order of nature” and view life as a “series of transformations, procreation and re-creations.” In Taoist thought the path to heaven is through nature and the terms “heaven” and “nature” are often used interchangeably.

In pursuit of naturalism some Taoists in the old days let their hair grow as long as possible, refused to talk and expressed themselves by whistling. Others took off their clothes and lay on the ground and drank large amounts of wine, in part to thumb their noses at Confucian manners and codes Some of China’s greatest poets and artists tapped into this interpretation of Taoism.

Taoism often argues against human action, saying it is better to do nothing and let nature take its course than do something that could have terrible, unforseen consequences.

Taoism, Life, Death and the Afterlife

At the beginning of time, some Taoists believe, nine vapors were created. The purest vapors formed the heavens and the coarser ones made up the human body. Life, they assert, begins when one of these primordial vapors enters the body at birth and mixes with essence to form spirit. Death occurs when the vapor and essence go their separate ways once again. Taoists believe that immortality is possible if essence and vapor can be kept together. [“World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Some Taoist believe the dead are sent to one of the Buddhist paradises or end up ina mountain occupied by the immortals. The concept of a hell is largely absent. Taoists have traditionally believed in the existence of earthly paradises such as the blessed islands of Peng-lai, Ying-chou and Fusang that exist off the coast of Shandong and are said to have been reached by the immortals. On these islands everyone is immortal; all the birds and animals are pure white; and palaces are made of gold and silver.

Another paradise, in the Kunlun mountain in western China, is presided over by the “Western Royal Mother,” a diety with a panther tail, tiger teats and unruly hair. The Taoist paradises are characterized as places where everyone lives in harmony; marriage and poor treatment of women are unknown; and there are no princes or feudal lords.

When Chuang Tzu was asked by a friend why he was singing and drumming and not grieving after his wife died, he said: “When she died, how could I help being affected? But as I think the matter over, I realize that originally she had no life and not only no life, she had no form; not only no form, she had no material force (ch’i). In the limbo of existence and non-existence, there was transformation and the material force was evolved. The material force was transformed to be form, form was transformed to become life, and now birth has transformed to become death. This is like the rotation of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter. Now she lies asleep in the great house [the universe]. For me to go about weeping and wailing would be to show my ignorance of destiny. Therefore I desist.”


Taoism and Immortality

Taoist immortal Immortality is an important idea in Taoism. Because all nature is united by Tao, Taoists believe, immortality can be attained. Taoists also believe that immortality it not something that can be achieved by separating oneself from nature, like with a soul, but rather is something achieved by directing natural forces through the body, creating more durable body materials, using techniques such as breathing, focusing sexual energy and alchemy.

The immortality referred to in Taoism is physical immortality. The highest goal of many devotees of Taoism is the attainment of immortality through a total channeling of energies to reach harmony with Tao. Immortality can be viewed literally or as a symbol of spiritual liberation. The idea of a spiritual immortality like that of Christianity was alien to the Chinese until Buddhism was introduced to China.

Numerous Taoist prayers are dedicated to the spirits of immortality. Taoist painters have traditionally chosen immortally as one of their central themes. Famous Taoist painting dealing with immortality include Immortal Ascending on a Dragon, Riding a Dragon, Fungus of Immortality, Picking Herbs, and Preparing Elixirs.

In the old days, many Taoists spent their whole lives looking for elixirs of immortality. The Emperor Shi went through great lengths to try and achieve immortality. See History

Methods for Achieving Immortality

Methods to achieve immortality fall into two basic categories: 1) religious—prayers, moral conduct, rituals and observances of commandments; and 2) physical—diets, medicines, breathing methods, chemicals and exercises. Living alone in a cave like hermits combined the two and was often see as the ideal.

The basic idea behind the Taoist diet is to nourish the body and deny food to the “three worms”—disease, old age, and death. Immortality can be achieved, Taoists have traditionally believed, by following this diet, by nourishing the enigmatic “embryonic body” force within the body and by avoiding ejaculation during sex which preserves the life-giving semen which in turn mixes with breath and nourishes the body and the brain.

The aim of the Taoist diet is to change the composition of the body from flesh into durable airy material associated with long life. In the old days, this diet often included things like jade, gold, cinnabar (ore from mercury is derived) and certain flowers. Special elixirs sometimes contained arsenic and mercury. The inventors of many potions died prematurely from taking their attempts to prolong their life.

Many Taoist believed that the best material for prolonging life was air and aimed to take in a variety of different kinds of air—from the four season, from the sea and from the mountains—often accompanied by breathing exercises. “Air eating” was believed to make people able to ride the clouds and use dragons for horses. Among the other methods that were tried were throwing oneself into a fire and attempting to achieve immortality as a flame.

A great deal of time and energy was put into concocting elixirs of immortality and finding ingredients for them. One passage on the subject from an ancient text read: “For transforming gold, melting jade, using talismans, and preparing water, efficacious recipes and marvelous formulas exist by thousands and tens of thousands, The best are said to produce feathers for flying to heaven; the next best are said to dissipate calamity and exterminate disaster”

Taoist Deities

Pure Taoism doesn’t dwell on an all-knowing, all-powerful God, or even nature spirits, rather it deals with “nonbeing,” the “unity of experience,” and “oneness” with chi. Taoism’s association with gods is mainly the result of its associations with Chinese folk religions.

There are thousands of Taoist gods. Some are holy men. Others occupy rivers, streams and mountains. Most have individual responsibilities and specific powers and abilities to grant wishes in particular areas of expertise. Taoists who need something pray to the appropriate deity in special shrines called departments or halls in Taoist temples.

Most Taoist gods are associated with a spot in the external world and a corresponding spot on the inside of man and often have a role in preventing disease. The position of Taoist deities in a large pantheon often mirrors those of secular officials in a bureaucracy. Many Chinese cities to this day have a temple dedicated to the City God, the heavenly equivalent of a mayor.

Important Taoist Deities and Immortals

God of Wealth Most Taoist gods originated as local folk gods. Important ones include Shou Hsing (God of Longevity), Fu Hsing (God of Happiness), Lu Hsing (God of High Rank), Tsai She (God of Wealth), Pao Sheng (God of Medicine), Ju Lai Of (God of Luck), Chu Sheng Niang (Goddess of Birth and Fertility), Kuan Kung (God of War), and a variety of local underworld magistrates. Tsao Chun (the Kitchen God) controls each persons lifespan and destiny. He and his wife observe everybody during the year and issue reports to the Jade Emperor at New Year.

Goddesses, female saints, manifestations of yin play an important role in Taoism. The five legendary emperors, including the great Yellow Emperor, are given prominent roles too. At the top of heap is the all powerful “Greatest One”—described as the “Celestial Venerable of the Mysterious Origin” of the Taoist trinity. The other two members of the trinity are the “August Ruler of the Tao” and the “August Old Ruler.” Lao-tze is regarded as the incarnation of the “August Old Ruler.”

The Eight Immortals are key figures in Taoism. They include 1) Chung Li Chu, a figure from the Han dynasty (202 B.C. to A.D. 220), who helped feed thousands of people; 2) Lun Tung-pin, an official who traveled widely and helped the poor and exorcized evil demons; 3) Lan Tsa-ho, a poet and singer who sang about life and giving money to the poor; 4) Tsao Kuo-chi; 5) The aforementioned Western Royal Mother, or Heavenly Empress who possessed the peach of immortality, which all the immortals need to retain their immortality.

Many Taoist gods have bushy eyebrows. The Sun, the Moon, and the stars in the Great Bear, are also important.

Hermits and Chinese Religion

Demon and victim
in a Taoist Temple Hermits have lived in the mountains since ancient times. There are Taoist and Buddhist ones as well as one ones with closer affiliations to traditional Chinese folk religion. But they are not limited to Taoists or Buddhists. Poets, political figures and average people have also been hermits. [Source: Jiang Yuxia, Global Times, February 17, 2011]

Hermits are “unique images that ancient Chinese culture has nurtured. [They] represent Chinese people’s pursuit of an ideal way of life,” the writer Zhou Yu told the Global Times. “Their lifestyle is completely self-supporting, without demanding too much from the outside world….For hermits, to live a secluded life and practice Daoism or Buddhism is not solely about ‘benevolence,’ but living a real, simple life…What they do is to make their heart bright, clear and natural,” explained Zhou, who is also editor of Wendao (Seeking Way), a magazine dedicated to promoting traditional Chinese culture. [Ibid]

In recent years, more and more people have become interested in the exclusive life led by the hermits in Zhongnan Mountain, especially following the publication of books such as Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits by American author and translator Bill Porter in 1993. [Ibid]

Attraction of the Hermit Lifestyle and Zhongnan Mountain

Jiang Yuxia wrote in the Global Times: “Cherishing his reverence and curiosity for Chinese hermits, writer Zhou Yu was eager to change his fast-paced urban life. He thus embarked on a journey, in the spring of 2010, to seek hermits in the legendary Zhongnan Mountain, one of the birthplaces of Taoism, in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province. Also known as Taiyi or Difei Mountain, Zhongnan Mountain is a section of the Qinling Mountains with the reputation of “Fairyland,” “the first paradise under heaven” and a home to hermits for over 3,000 years. Legend has it that Taoism founder Laozipreached scriptures and nurtured the idea for his classic work Tao the Ching here. [Source: Jiang Yuxia, Global Times, February 17, 2011]

“Everyone wishes that he or she has the chance to get to know about his or her own life again and the lifestyle of hermits provides us another picture. . . When they realize that they need to make adjustments to their lives, they go to the mountains to seek them,” Zhou said. However, he added, real hermits don’t have to live in mountains. “If you don’t have peace and quiet in your heart, you cannot have tranquility even if you live deep in the mountains…Start with the simplest practice: To get to know your needs and desires, and find a proper position for yourself. If you can do that, you can find peace and quiet even if you live in the city.”

Taoist Hermit

Demon in a Taoist Temple After traveling to Zhongan Mountain Zhou came across “Hermit Ming,” who has resided in a thatched valley cottage for a decade, living an ascetic and self-sufficient life. Although Ming does not meet the typical image of ancient hermits, his unique lifestyle, both traditional and modern, and charisma aroused Zhou’s interest enough for him to stay and turn the story of his solitary life into his latest book, Bai Yun Shen Chu (“Deep in the Clouds”). [Source: Jiang Yuxia, Global Times, February 17, 2011]

“Hermit Ming lives in the mountain not only to practice Taoism, but to have a place where he can live a life in which he can face disputes peacefully,” Zhou wrote in the book. “Only in this way are his mind and body able to grow like trees and flowers to show their natural side.” Ming’s daily routine, according to Jiang, consists of: “an early morning start to do chores including hoeing weeds, tilling land and picking herbs; two meals a day, snack and tea at lunchtime, dinner at four; then a walk before settling down to read sutras or do other chores.” By sunset he returned home, “falling asleep to the sounds of springs, wind and birds.” [Ibid]

“Born into a wealthy South China family of Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners for generations,” Jiang wrote, “ Ming was beset with strict rules, complex relationships and feuds among family members from a young age. After witnessing a series of mishaps and the death of his mother at eight, Ming left his family at 17 and began his long-cherished dream of traveling around the country to seek answers to the many questions that had bothered him, including life and death. With only an aluminum mug and two lighters, Ming traveled all the way to Fujian, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Hubei and other provinces before he finally settled down at Zhongnan Mountain.” [Ibid]

“In the valley, he built his own cottage with help from other hermits and villagers living at the foot of the mountain, spending time growing vegetables, practicing Taosim and doing his chores. Unlike those secluded hermits recorded in old books, Ming is unconventional: He does not reject the outside world or its civilization. He has a telephone at his place to keep contact with other hermit friends while they travel around and is skilled at riding a motorbike. He has shared quarters with a female hermit for a decade. Ming has explored as far as Nepal to have a look of the outside world and is friendly to unexpected, curious visitors.” [Ibid]

According to Ming, “the major reason that we have too many agonies is because we receive too much information and we are not good at dealing with it properly. Then you become unhappy… When you live in the mountain, you have time to think about problems.” Ming’s lifestyle has also evoked Zhou to ponder modern urban life and even seek a way out. “In our life, most of the time we are asking for things from others to satisfy our endless demands. Hermits, however, are the other way round,” Zhou said. “I found the possibility of a [new] lifestyle. When we feel bothered, we begin to examine our lives and ask ourselves if there are chances to change it. To some extend, many hermits in Zhongnan Mountain can be called seekers of a new lifestyle.”

Image Sources: 1) Marshall Wen, Chicago Art Museum; 2) Texts, Daoist Center; 3) Mountains of Immortals, Chicago Art Museum; 4) Immotra, University of Washington; 5) God of Wealth. Brooklyn College; Asia Obscura ;

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Motif Tao and The collections have found will put at the Discuss chapter.


The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( Continiu)






Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

Private Limited E-Book In CD-Rom Edition

Special For Senior Reseacher And Collectors

Copyright @ 2013

THIS THE SAMPLE OF Dr Iwan Limited E-Book In CD-Rom with unedited non complete info illustration, the complete CD-Rom exist but only for premium member please subscribe via comment with your email address and private information same as  your ID-Card


Driwancybermuseum Homeoffice

Motif symbolic type and meaning

Type dan Arti Motif Simbolik


Based on symbolic motifs by William CSA (1932)

Berdasarkan jenis motif symbol menurut William C.S.A(1932) 



Confucius was a philosopher in ancient China, about 500 BC. His main idea was that people could achieve peace by doing their duty, and cooperating with society. If people rebelled, and everyone tried to do his or her own thing, then the world would be full of fighting and unhappiness.


So people should obey the law, and do what the emperor and government officials told them to do. Also, people should do their duty to their parents and take good care of their children, and people should do their duty to their ancestors and to the gods.

At the same time, the government should do its duty to the people, and not abuse them or ask too much of them. The emperor should be cooperative and helpful to the people, just as the people were helpful and cooperative to him.

Because Confucius wanted to make government officials behave better, the Chinese government did not like him while he was alive. But after Confucius died, later emperors of China did use many of his ideas. Of course they mainly liked the idea that people should obey the government, and they weren’t so interested in the idea that the government should help the people!

Here’s an example of a story people told about Confucius:

Zi Lu, they say, asked Confucius, “When we hear a good idea, should we start to do it right away?” Confucius told him no. “First, you should always ask someone with more experience.” Later on, Ran You asked Confucius the same question. But this time Confucius said, “Yes, of course you should do it right away.” There was another student who had heard both of these conversations and was very confused. He asked Confucius why he had answered the same question in two different ways?
“Ran You has a hard time making a decision,” Confucius said. “So I encouraged him to be bolder. Zi Lu sometimes decides things too quickly. So I reminded him to be careful. Naturally different people should get different answers

Kuan Ti kuan kong guan yu


Guan Yu (died 219),[1][2] style name Yunchang, was a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms period, of which Liu Bei was the first emperor.[3]

As one of the best known Chinese historical figures throughout East Asia, Guan’s true life stories have largely given way to fictionalised ones, most of which are found in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms or passed down the generations, in which his deeds and moral qualities have been lionised. Guan is respected as an epitome of loyalty and righteousness.

Guan was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty and is still worshipped by many Chinese people today, especially in southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and among many overseas Chinese communities. He is a figure in Chinese folk religion, popular Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism, and small shrines to Guan are almost ubiquitous in traditional Chinese shops and restaurants. He is often reverently called Guan Gong (Lord Guan) and Guan Di (Emperor Guan).[4] His hometown Yuncheng has also named its airport after him.



Historical sources on Guan Yu’s life[edit]

The authoritative historical source on Guan Yu’s life is the Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi), written by Chen Shou in the third century CE. During the fifth century, Pei Songzhi annotated the Sanguozhi by incorporating information from other sources to Chen Shou’s original work and adding his personal commentary. Some alternative texts used in the annotations to Guan Yu’s biography include: Shu Ji (蜀記; Records of Shu), by Wang Yin (王隱); Wei Shu (魏書; Book of Wei), by Wang Shen (王沈), Xun Yi (荀顗) and Ruan Ji; Jiang Biao Zhuan (江表傳), by Yu Pu (虞溥); Fu Zi (傅子), by Fu Xuan; Dianlue (典略), by Yu Huan; Wu Li (吳歷; History of Wu), by Hu Chong (胡沖); Chronicles of Huayang, by Chang Qu.

Physical appearance[edit]

No descriptions of Guan Yu’s physical appearance exist in historical records, but his beard was mentioned in the Sanguozhi. Traditionally, he is portrayed as a red-faced warrior with a long lush beard. The idea of his red face may have derived from a later description of him in the first chapter of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where the following passage appears:

Xuande took a glance at the man, who stood at a height of nine chi,[notes 1][5] and had a two chi[notes 2] long beard; his face was of the colour of a zao,[notes 3] with red lips; his eyes were like that of a phoenix’s,[notes 4] and his eyebrows resembled silkworms.[notes 5] He had a dignified aura and looked quite majestic.

Alternatively, the idea of his red face could have been borrowed from opera representation, where red faces depict loyalty and righteousness.[citation needed] Supposedly, Guan Yu’s weapon was a guan dao named Green Dragon Crescent Blade, which resembled a halberd and was said to weigh 82 catties (about 18.25 kg or 40 lbs). A wooden replica can be found today in the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou County, Shanxi. He traditionally dons a green robe over his body armour, as depicted in illustrations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

A statue of Guan Yu in Zhuge Liang‘s temple in Chengdu, Sichuan.

Early career[edit]

Guan Yu was a native of Xie (解), Hedong commandery (河東郡), which is in present-day Yuncheng, Shanxi. His original style name was “Changsheng” (長生).[Sanguozhi 1] He was very interested in the Zuo Zhuan and could fluently recite lines from the book.[Sanguozhi zhu 1] He fled from his hometown after committing a serious crime and arrived in Zhuo commandery (涿郡; present-day Zhuozhou, Hebei). When the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in the 180s, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei joined a volunteer militia formed by Liu Bei, and they assisted a Colonel (校尉) Zou Jing in suppressing the revolt.[Sanguozhi 2][Sanguozhi others 1]

When Liu Bei was appointed as the Chancellor (相) of Pingyuan (平原), Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were appointed as “Majors of Separate Command” (别部司马) and they commanded detachments of soldiers under Liu. The three of them shared a brotherly-like relationship, to the point of sharing the same room. Zhang Fei and Guan Yu also stood guard beside Liu Bei when he sat down at meetings. They followed him on his exploits and protected him from danger.[Sanguozhi 3]

Short service under Cao Cao[edit]


Liu Bei and his men followed Cao Cao back to the imperial capital Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan) after their victory over Lü Bu at the Battle of Xiapi in 198. About a year later, in 199, Liu Bei and his followers escaped from Xu on the pretext of helping Cao Cao lead an army to attack Yuan Shu. Liu Bei went to Xu Province, killed its Inspector (刺史) Che Zhou (車冑), and seized control of the province. He moved to Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Xuzhou, Jiangsu) and left Guan Yu in charge of the provincial capital Xiapi (下邳; present-day Pizhou, Xuzhou, Jiangsu).[Sanguozhi 4][Sanguozhi others 2][Sanguozhi zhu 2]

In 200, Cao Cao led an eastern campaign against Liu Bei, defeated the latter in battle, and retook Xu Province. Liu Bei fled to northern China and found refuge under Cao Cao’s rival Yuan Shao. Guan Yu was captured by Cao Cao’s forces and brought back to Xu. Cao Cao treated Guan Yu respectfully and asked Emperor Xian to appoint Guan as a Lieutenant-General (偏將軍).[Sanguozhi 5][Sanguozhi others 3]

Battle of Boma[edit]

Main article: Battle of Boma

Later that year, Yuan Shao sent his general Yan Liang to lead an army to attack Cao Cao’s garrison at Boma (白馬; or Baima), which was defended by Liu Yan (劉延). Cao Cao sent Zhang Liao and Guan Yu to lead a vanguard force to resist the enemy. In the midst of battle, Guan Yu recognised Yan Liang’s parasol so he charged towards the latter, decapitated him and returned with Yan’s head. Yuan Shao’s men were unable to stop him. The siege on Boma was lifted. On Cao Cao’s recommendation, Emperor Xian conferred the title of “Marquis[notes 6] of Hanshou Village” (漢壽亭侯) on Guan Yu.[Sanguozhi 6]

Leaving Cao Cao[edit]

Cao Cao admired Guan Yu’s character, but he also sensed that Guan had no intention of serving under him for long. He told Zhang Liao, “Why don’t you make use of your friendship with Guan Yu to find out his objective?” When Zhang Liao asked Guan Yu, the latter replied, “I’m aware that Lord Cao treats me very generously. However, I’ve also received much favours from General Liu and I’ve sworn to follow him until I die. I cannot break my oath. I’ll leave eventually, so you should help me convey my message to Lord Cao.” Zhang Liao did so, and Cao Cao was further impressed with Guan Yu.[Sanguozhi 7] The Fu Zi gave a slightly different account of this incident. It stated that Zhang Liao had a dilemma on whether to convey Guan Yu’s message to Cao Cao or not: if he did, Cao Cao might execute Guan Yu; if he did not, he would be failing in his service to Cao Cao. He sighed, “Lord Cao is my superior and is like a father to me; Guan Yu is like a brother to me.” He eventually made his decision to tell Cao Cao. Cao Cao said, “A subject who serves a lord but does not forget his origins is truly a man of righteousness. When do you think he will leave?” Zhang Liao replied, “Guan Yu has received favours from Your Excellency. He’ll most probably leave after he has repaid your kindness.”[Sanguozhi zhu 3]

After Guan Yu slew Yan Liang and lifted the siege on Boma, Cao Cao knew that he would leave, so he presented Guan with even heavier rewards. Guan Yu sealed up all the gifts he received from Cao Cao, wrote a farewell letter to the latter, and headed towards Yuan Shao’s territory to reunite with Liu Bei. Cao Cao’s subordinates wanted to pursue Guan Yu, but Cao stopped them and said, “He’s just doing his duty to his lord. There’s no need to pursue him.”[Sanguozhi 8]

Pei Songzhi commented on this as follows: “Cao Cao admired Guan Yu’s character even though he knew that the latter would not remain under him. He did not send his men to pursue Guan Yu when the latter left, so as to allow Guan to fulfil his loyalty. If he did not possess the magnanimity of an overlord, how would he have allowed this to happen? This was a showcase of Cao Cao’s goodness.”[Sanguozhi zhu 4]

Returning to Liu Bei[edit]

When Cao Cao and Yuan Shao clashed at the Battle of Guandu in 200, Yuan sent Liu Bei to contact Liu Pi, a Yellow Turban rebel chief in Runan (汝南; present-day Runan County, Zhumadian, Henan), and assist Liu Pi in attacking the imperial capital Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan) while Cao was away at Guandu. Guan Yu reunited with Liu Bei around this time. Liu Bei and Liu Pi were defeated by Cao Cao’s general Cao Ren, after which Liu Bei returned to Yuan Shao. Liu Bei secretly planned to leave Yuan Shao, so he pretended to persuade Yuan to ally with Liu Biao, the Governor (牧) of Jing Province. Yuan Shao sent Liu Bei to contact another rebel leader, Gong Du, in Runan, where they gathered a few thousand soldiers. Cao Cao turned back and attacked Runan after scoring a decisive victory over Yuan Shao at Guandu, and he defeated Liu Bei in Runan. Liu Bei fled south and found shelter under Liu Biao, who put him in charge of Xinye (新野; present-day Xinye County, Nanyang, Henan) at the northern border of Jing Province. Guan Yu followed Liu Bei to Xinye.[Sanguozhi others 4][Sanguozhi 9]

Battle of Red Cliffs and after[edit]

Liu Biao died in 208 and was succeeded by his younger son, Liu Cong, who surrendered Jing Province to Cao Cao when the latter started a campaign that year with the aim of wiping out opposing forces in southern China. Liu Bei evacuated Xinye together with his followers and they headed towards Xiakou (夏口; in present-day Wuhan, Hubei), which was guarded by Liu Biao’s elder son Liu Qi and was independent of Cao Cao’s control. Along the journey, Liu Bei divided his party into two groups – one led by Guan Yu which would sail along the river towards Jiangling (江陵; in present-day Jingzhou, Hubei); another led by Liu Bei which would travel on land. Cao Cao sent 5,000 elite cavalry to pursue Liu Bei and they caught up with him at Changban (長坂), Dangyang (當陽), igniting the Battle of Changban. Liu Bei managed to escape from the pursuers and reach Han Ford (漢津), where he was picked up by Guan Yu’s fleet, and they sailed to Xiakou together.[Sanguozhi others 5][Sanguozhi 10]

In 208, Liu Bei allied with Sun Quan and they defeated Cao Cao at the decisive Battle of Red Cliffs. Cao Cao retreated north after his defeat and left Cao Ren behind to defend Jing Province. In the Battle of Jiangling (a follow-up to Red Cliffs), Guan Yu was sent to block Cao Ren’s supply lines via infiltration, so he led a special force to attack Xiangyang, which was guarded by Cao Cao’s general Yue Jin. Yue Jin defeated Guan Yu and Su Fei (蘇非) and drove them away.[Sanguozhi others 6] After seizing and pacifying the various commanderies in southern Jing Province, Liu Bei appointed Guan Yu as the Administrator (太守) of Xiangyang and “General Who Rocks Bandits” (盪寇將軍), and ordered him to garrison at the north of the Yangtze River.[Sanguozhi 11]

Guan Yu later engaged Yue Jin and Wen Ping at Xunkou (尋口) and lost. Wen Ping attacked Guan Yu’s equipage and supplies at Han Ford (漢津) and burnt his boats at Jingcheng (荊城).[Sanguozhi others 7]

Guarding Jing Province[edit]

Between 212 and 215, Liu Bei started a campaign to seize control of Yi Province (益州; covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) from the provincial governor Liu Zhang. Most of Liu Bei’s subordinates participated in the campaign, while Guan Yu was ordered to remain behind to guard Liu’s territories in Jing Province and oversee its affairs.[Sanguozhi 12]

Sun-Liu territorial dispute[edit]

During that period of time, tensions were rising at the border between Liu Bei and Sun Quan‘s domains in Jing Province as the two allies became more suspicious of each other. After Liu Bei had taken over Yi Province, Sun Quan asked him for three commanderies in southern Jing Province but Liu refused. Sun Quan then sent his general Lü Meng to seize the three commanderies by force. In response, Liu Bei ordered Guan Yu to lead troops to stop Lü Meng,[Sanguozhi others 8] but Guan was deterred by Gan Ning from crossing the shallows near Yiyang (益陽) to confront Sun Quan’s forces. The shallows were thus named ‘Guan Yu’s Shallows‘ (關羽瀨).[Sanguozhi others 9] Lu Su (the chief commander of Sun Quan’s forces in Jing Province) later held talks with Guan Yu to discuss and settle the problem. Liu Bei eventually agreed to divide Jing Province between his and Sun Quan’s domains along the Xiang River. Both sides then withdrew their forces.[Sanguozhi others 10]

Battle of Fancheng[edit]

Main article: Battle of Fancheng

Guan Yu captures Pang De, as depicted in a Ming Dynasty painting by Shang Xi, c. 1430.

In 219, Liu Bei emerged victorious in the Hanzhong Campaign against Cao Cao, after which he declared himself “King of Hanzhong” (漢中王). He appointed Guan Yu as “General of the Vanguard” (前將軍) and bestowed upon him a ceremonial axe. In the same year, Guan Yu led his forces to attack Cao Ren at Fan (樊; or Fancheng, in present-day Fancheng District, Xiangyang, Hubei) and besieged the city. Cao Cao sent Yu Jin to lead reinforcements to help Cao Ren. It was in autumn and there were heavy showers, so the Han River overflowed. Yu Jin’s seven armies were destroyed in the flood. Yu Jin surrendered to Guan Yu while his subordinate Pang De refused and was executed by Guan. The bandits led by Liang Jia (梁郟) and Lu Hun (陸渾) received official seals from Guan Yu, so they submitted to him and became his followers. Guan Yu’s fame spread throughout China.[Sanguozhi 13]

The Shu Ji recorded that before Guan Yu embarked on the Fancheng campaign, he dreamt about a boar biting his foot. He told his son Guan Ping, “I’m becoming weaker this year. I may not be able to return.”[Sanguozhi zhu 5]

Belittling Sun Quan[edit]

After Yu Jin’s defeat, Cao Cao contemplated relocating the imperial capital from Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan) to another place to avoid Guan Yu, but Sima Yi and Jiang Ji told him that Sun Quan would become restless when he heard of Guan Yu’s victory. They suggested to Cao Cao to ally with Sun Quan and enlist his help in hindering Guan Yu’s advances, and in return, Cao Cao would recognise the legitimacy of Sun Quan’s claim over the territories in Jiangdong. In this way, the siege on Fancheng would automatically be lifted. Cao Cao heeded their suggestion. Previously, Sun Quan had sent a messenger to meet Guan Yu and propose a marriage between his son and Guan’s daughter. However, Guan Yu not only rejected the proposal, but also scolded and humiliated the messenger. Sun Quan was enraged.[Sanguozhi 14]

Encounter with Xu Huang[edit]

Cao Cao later sent Xu Huang to lead another army to relief Cao Ren at Fancheng. Xu Huang broke Guan Yu’s encirclement and routed Guan’s forces on the battlefield, thus lifting the siege on Fancheng.[Sanguozhi others 11] Guan Yu withdrew his forces after seeing that he could not overcome the enemy.[Sanguozhi 15] The Shu Ji recorded an incident about Xu Huang meeting Guan Yu on the battlefield. Xu Huang had a close friendship with Guan Yu. They often chatted about other things apart from military affairs. When they met again at Fancheng, Xu Huang gave an order to his men, “Whoever manages to take Guan Yunchang’s head will be rewarded with 1,000 jin of gold.” Guan Yu was shocked and he asked Xu Huang, “Brother, what are you talking about?” Xu Huang replied, “This is an affair of the state.”[Sanguozhi zhu 6]

Losing Jing Province[edit]

After Guan Yu defeated and captured Yu Jin at Fan (樊; or Fancheng), his army lacked food supplies so he seized grain from one of Sun Quan‘s granaries at Xiang Pass (湘關). By then, Sun Quan had secretly agreed to the alliance with Cao Cao, and had sent his general Lü Meng and others to lead a vanguard force to invade Jing Province while he followed behind with another army. At Xunyang (尋陽), Lü Meng ordered his troops to hide in vessels disguised as civilian and merchant ships and they sailed towards Jing Province. Along the way, Lü Meng employed infiltration tactics to disable the watchtowers set up by Guan Yu along the river, so Guan was totally unaware of the invasion.[Sanguozhi others 12]

When Guan Yu embarked on the Fancheng campaign, he left Mi Fang and Shi Ren behind to defend his key bases in Jing Province — Nan commandery (南郡) and Gong’an (公安). Guan Yu had all along viewed them with contempt. During the campaign, Mi Fang and Shi Ren sent insufficient supplies to Guan Yu’s army at the frontline, and Guan remarked, “I’ll deal with them when I come back.” Mi Fang and Shi Ren felt uneasy about this. When Sun Quan invaded Jing Province, Lü Meng showed understanding towards Mi Fang and successfully induced the latter into surrendering while Yu Fan also persuaded Shi Ren to give up resistance. Liu Bei’s territories in Jing Province fell under Sun Quan’s control after the surrenders of Mi Fang and Shi Ren.[Sanguozhi 16]

Dubious account from the Dianlue[edit]

An annotation from the Dianlue in Guan Yu’s biography mentioned:

When Guan Yu was besieging Fancheng, Sun Quan sent a messenger to Guan to offer aid but he also instructed the messenger to slowly travel there. He then sent a registrar (主簿) ahead to meet Guan Yu first. Guan Yu was unhappy that Sun Quan’s offer came late because he had already captured Yu Jin by then. He scolded the messenger, “You raccoon dogs dare to behave like this! If I can conquer Fancheng, what makes you think I can’t destroy you?” When Sun Quan heard Guan Yu’s reply, he knew that Guan was disparaging him, but he wrote a letter to Guan and pretended to apologise and offer to allow Guan to pass through his territory freely.[Sanguozhi zhu 7]

Pei Songzhi commented on the Dianlue account as follows:

Although Liu Bei and Sun Quan appeared to get along harmoniously, they were actually distrustful of each other. When Sun Quan later attacked Guan Yu, he despatched his forces secretly, as mentioned in Lü Meng’s biography: ‘[…] elite soldiers hid in vessels disguised as civilian and merchant ships.’ Based on this reasoning, even if Guan Yu did not seek help from Sun Quan, the latter would not mention anything about granting Guan free passage in his territory. If they genuinely wished to help each other, why would they conceal their movements from each other?[Sanguozhi zhu 8]


By the time Guan Yu retreated from Fancheng, Sun Quan‘s forces had occupied Jiangling (江陵) and captured the families of Guan’s soldiers. Lü Meng ordered his troops to treat the civilians well and ensure that they were not harmed.[notes 7] Most of Guan Yu’s soldiers lost their fighting spirit and deserted and went back to Jing Province to reunite with their families. Guan Yu knew that he had been isolated so he withdrew to Maicheng (麥城; present-day Maicheng Village, Lianghe Town, Dangyang, Hubei) and headed west to Zhang District (漳鄉), where his remaining men deserted him and surrendered to the enemy. Sun Quan sent Zhu Ran and Pan Zhang to block Guan Yu’s retreat route. Guan Yu, along with his son Guan Ping and subordinate Zhao Lei, were captured alive by Pan Zhang’s deputy Ma Zhong in an ambush. Guan Yu and Guan Ping were later executed by Sun Quan’s forces in Linju (臨沮; in present-day Nanzhang County, Xiangyang, Hubei).[Sanguozhi 17][Sanguozhi others 13][Sanguozhi others 14]

Alternate account from the Shu Ji[edit]

The Shu Ji mentioned that Sun Quan initially wanted to keep Guan Yu alive in the hope of using Guan to help him counter Liu Bei and Cao Cao. However, his followers advised him against doing so, saying, “A wolf should not be kept as a pet as it will bring harm to the keeper. Cao Cao made a mistake when he refused to kill Guan Yu and landed himself in deep trouble, to the point of considering relocating the capital to another place. How can Guan Yu be allowed to live?” Sun Quan then ordered Guan Yu’s execution.[Sanguozhi zhu 9]

Pei Songzhi disputed this account, as he wrote:

According to the Wu Shu (吳書; Book of Wu, by Wei Zhao), when Sun Quan sent Pan Zhang to block Guan Yu’s retreat route, Guan was executed immediately after he was captured. Linju was about 200-300 li away from Jiangling, so how was it possible that Guan Yu was kept alive while Sun Quan and his subjects discussed whether to kill him or not? The claim that ‘Sun Quan wanted to keep Guan Yu alive for the purpose of using him to counter Liu Bei and Cao Cao’ does not make sense. It was probably used to silence wise persons.[Sanguozhi zhu 10]

Posthumous honours[edit]

Sun Quan sent Guan Yu’s head to Cao Cao, who arranged a noble’s funeral for Guan and had the head properly buried with full honours.[Sanguozhi zhu 11] In 260, Liu Shan granted Guan Yu the posthumous title of “Marquis Zhuangmou” (壯繆侯),[Sanguozhi 18][Sanguozhi others 15] which implied that Guan did not live up to his name in terms of his ability.[6]


Request to take Qin Yilu’s wife[edit]

See also: Qin Yilu

During the Battle of Xiapi in late 198, when the allied forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei fought against Lü Bu, Guan Yu made a request to Cao Cao, asking to marry Qin Yilu‘s wife Lady Du (杜氏) after they had achieved victory. Cao Cao agreed, and Guan Yu repeatedly reminded Cao Cao about his promise before the battle was won. After Lü Bu’s defeat and death, Cao Cao was curious about why Guan Yu wanted Lady Du so badly and he guessed that she must be very beautiful, so he had her brought to him. Cao Cao broke his promise to Guan Yu, as he took Lady Du as his concubine and adopted her son Qin Lang (whom she had with Qin Yilu).[Sanguozhi zhu 12][Sanguozhi zhu 13]

Advice to Liu Bei[edit]

The Shu Ji recorded an incident as follows:

When Liu Bei was in the imperial capital Xu, he once attended a hunting expedition together with Cao Cao, during which Guan Yu urged him to kill Cao but he refused. Later, when Liu Bei reached Xiakou (after his defeat at the Battle of Changban), Guan Yu angrily said, “If you had heeded my advice during the hunting expedition in Xu, we would not have ended up in this troubling situation.” Liu Bei replied, “I did not do so then for the sake of the Empire. If Heaven still helps those who are righteous, it might be possible that this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise!”[Sanguozhi zhu 14]

Pei Songzhi commented on the incident as such:

When Liu Bei, Dong Cheng and others plotted against Cao Cao, their plan failed because it was leaked out. If he did not want to kill Cao Cao for the sake of the country, what did he mean when he said this? If Guan Yu really did urge Liu Bei to kill Cao Cao during the hunting expedition and Liu did not do so, it was probably because Cao Cao’s close aides and relatives were present at the scene and had superiority in numbers. Besides, there was a lack of careful planning so Liu Bei had to wait for another opportunity. Even if Liu Bei succeeded in killing Cao Cao, he would not have been able to escape alive, so Liu did not heed Guan Yu’s words. There was nothing to regret about. The hunting expedition event happened in the past, so it was used to justify that Guan Yu had given Liu Bei “valued advice”, which the latter ignored.[Sanguozhi zhu 15]

Asking Zhuge Liang about Ma Chao[edit]

In 215, Ma Chao defected from Zhang Lu‘s side to Liu Bei’s forces, and he assisted Liu Bei in pressuring Liu Zhang to surrender and yield Yi Province to Liu Bei. When Guan Yu received news that Ma Chao (whom he was unfamiliar with) had recently joined them, he wrote to Zhuge Liang in Yi Province and asked the latter who could compete with Ma Chao. Zhuge Liang knew that Guan Yu was defending their border (so he should not displease the latter). As such, he replied, “Mengqi is proficient in both civil and military affairs. He is fierce and mighty, and a hero of his time. He is comparable to Qing Bu and Peng Yue. He can compete with Yide, but is not as good as the peerless beard.”[notes 8][Sanguozhi 19]

Guan Yu was very pleased when he received Zhuge Liang’s reply and he welcomed Ma Chao.[Sanguozhi 20]

Arm injury[edit]

Guan Yu was once injured in the left arm by a stray arrow, which pierced through his arm. Although the wound had healed, he would experience pain in the bone whenever there was a heavy downpour. A physician told him, “The arrowhead had poison on it and the poison had seeped into the bone. The way to get rid of this problem is to cut open your arm and scrape away the poison in your bone.” Guan Yu then stretched out his arm and asked the physician to heal him. He then invited his subordinates to dine with him while the surgery was being performed. Blood flowed from his arm into a container below. Throughout the operation, Guan Yu feasted and drank wine and chatted with his men as though nothing had happened.[Sanguozhi 21]


Guan Yu had two known sons — Guan Ping and Guan Xing. Guan Xing inherited his father’s title “Marquis of Hanshou Village” (漢壽亭侯) and served in the state of Shu during the Three Kingdoms period.[Sanguozhi 22] Guan Yu also had a daughter. Sun Quan once proposed a marriage between his son and Guan Yu’s daughter, but Guan rejected the proposal. Her name was not recorded in history, but she was known as “Guan Yinping” (關銀屏) or “Guan Feng” (關鳳) in folktales and Chinese opera. Guan Yu had an alleged third son, Guan Suo, who is not mentioned in historical texts and appears only in folklore and the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Guan Xing’s son, Guan Tong (關統), married a princess (one of Liu Shan‘s daughters) and served as a “General of the Household” (中郎將) in the Rapid as Tigers (虎賁) division of the imperial guards. Guan Tong had no son when he died, so he was succeeded by his younger half-brother Guan Yi (關彝).[Sanguozhi 23]

According to the Shu Ji (蜀記), after the fall of Shu in 263, Pang Hui (Pang De‘s son) massacred Guan Yu’s family and descendants to avenge his father, who was executed by Guan Yu after the Battle of Fancheng in 219.[Sanguozhi zhu 16]


Chen Shou, who wrote Guan Yu’s biography in the Sanguozhi, commented on the latter as such: “Guan Yu […] were referred to as mighty warriors capable of fighting thousands of enemies. They were like tigers among (Liu Bei‘s) subjects. Guan Yu […] had the style of a guoshi[notes 9] when he repaid Cao Cao’s kindness […] However, Guan Yu was unrelenting and conceited, […] and these shortcomings resulted in their downfalls. This was not something uncommon.”[Sanguozhi 24]

In fiction[edit]

Portrait of Guan Yu (behind) from a Qing Dynasty edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms

A mural of Guan Yu’s “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” (千里走單騎) in the Summer Palace, Beijing.

A 19th-century Japanese woodcut of Guan Yu by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. In this scene, he is being attended to by the physician Hua Tuo while playing weiqi. See here for a large version of the full picture.

Luo Guanzhong‘s historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms glorified Guan Yu by portraying him as a righteous and loyal warrior. Guan Yu was one of the most altered and aggrandised characters in the novel, which accounted for his popular image in Chinese society.

See the following for some fictitious stories in Romance of the Three Kingdoms involving Guan Yu:

Worship of Guan Yu[edit]

Burning of incense during the veneration of lord Guan Yu, Xingtian Temple

Guan Yu was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty (581–618), and is still popularly worshipped today among the Chinese people. He is variedly worshipped as an indigenous Chinese deity, a bodhisattva in Buddhist tradition and as a guardian deity in Taoism and many religious bodies.[7] He is also held in high esteem in Confucianism. These roles are not necessarily contradictory or even distinguished within the Chinese religious system, which often merge multiple ancient philosophies and religions.[citation needed]

In the Western world, Guan Yu is sometimes called the Taoist God of War, probably because he is one of the most well-known military generals worshipped by the Chinese people. This is a misconception of his role, as, unlike the Greco-Roman deity Mars or the Norse god Týr, Guan Yu, as a god, does not necessarily bless those who go to battle but rather, people who observe the code of brotherhood and righteousness.[citation needed]

General worship[edit]

A Guan Yu statue holding the guan dao in the right hand.

In general worship, Guan Yu is widely referred to as “Emperor Guan” (關帝), short for his Taoist title “Saintly Emperor Guan” (關聖帝君), and as “Guan Gong” (關公; literally: “Lord Guan”). Temples and shrines dedicated exclusively to Guan can be found in parts of mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and other places with Chinese influence such as Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan. Some of these temples, such as the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou (解州), Shanxi, were built exactly in the layout of a palace, befitting his status as an “emperor”.

The apotheosis of Guan Yu occurred in stages, as he was given ever higher posthumous titles. Liu Shan, the second emperor of Shu, gave Guan Yu the posthumous title of “Marquis Zhuangmou” (壯繆侯) four decades after his death. During the Song Dynasty, Emperor Huizong bestowed upon Guan Yu the title of “Duke Zhonghui” (忠惠公), and later the title of a prince.  In 1187, during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong, Guan Yu was established as “Prince Zhuangmou Yiyong Wu’an Yingji” (壯繆義勇武安英濟王). After the Song Dynasty was annihilated by the Mongols, who established the Yuan Dynasty in China, Guan Yu was renamed “Prince of Xianling Yiyong Wu’an Yingji” (顯靈義勇武安英濟王) by Emperor Wenzong.

The escalation of Guan Yu’s status to that of an emperor took place during the Ming Dynasty. In 1614, the Wanli Emperor bestowed on Guan Yu the title of “Saintly Emperor Guan the Great God Who Subdues Demons of the Three Worlds and Whose Awe Spreads Far and Moves Heaven” (三界伏魔大神威遠震天尊關聖帝君). During the Qing Dynasty, the Shunzhi Emperor gave Guan Yu the title of “Zhongyi Shenwu Great Saintly Emperor Guan” (忠義神武關聖大帝) in 1644. This title was expanded to “The Grand Emperor Zhongyi Shenwu Lingyou Renyong Weixian Huguo Baomin Jingcheng Suijing Yizan Xuande Guan Sheng Dadi” (仁勇威顯護國保民精誠綏靖翊贊宣德忠義神武關聖大帝), a total of 24 Chinese characters, by the mid-19th century. This name is often shortened to “Saint of War” (武聖), which is of the same rank as Confucius, who was known as the “Saint of Culture” (文聖) during the same period. The Qing advancement of Guan Yu served to strengthen the loyalty of Mongol tribes, as the Mongols revered Guan as second only to their lamas.[8]

Throughout history, Guan Yu has also been credited with many military successes. During the Ming Dynasty, his spirit was said to have aided Zhu Yuanzhang (the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty)’s fleet at the Battle of Lake Poyang. In 1402, Zhu Di launched a coup d’état and successfully deposed his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor. Zhu Di claimed that he was blessed by the spirit of Guan Yu. During the last decade of the 16th century, Guan Yu was also credited with the repulse of Japanese invasion of Korea by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (called the Seven-Year War of Korea). The ruling Manchu house of the Qing Dynasty was also associated with Guan Yu’s martial qualities. During the 20th century, Guan Yu was worshipped by the warlord Yuan Shikai, president and later a short-lived emperor of China.

Today, Guan Yu is still widely worshipped by the Chinese, with many shrines to him are found in homes or businesses. In Hong Kong, a shrine for Guan is located in each police station. Though by no means mandatory, most Chinese policemen worship and pay respect to him. Although seemingly ironic, members of the triads and Heaven and Earth Society worship Guan as well. Statues used by triads tend to hold the halberd in the left hand, and statues in police stations tend to hold the halberd in the right hand. This signifies which side Guan Yu is worshipped, by the righteous people or vice versa. The appearance of Guan Yu’s face for the triads is usually more stern and threatening than the usual statue. This exemplifies the Chinese belief that a code of honour, epitomised by Guan Yu, exists even in the criminal underworld. In Hong Kong, Guan Yu is often referred to as “Yi Gor” (二哥; Cantonese for “second big brother”) for he was second to Liu Bei in their fictional sworn brotherhood. Guan Yu is also worshipped by Chinese businessmen in Shanxi, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia as an alternative wealth god, since he is perceived to bless the upright and protect them from the wicked. Another reason being related to the release of Cao Cao during the Huarong Trail incident, in which he let Cao and his men pass through safely. For that, he was perceived to be able to extend the lifespan of people in need.

Among the Cantonese people who emigrated to California during the mid-19th century, the worship of Guan Yu was an important element. Statues and tapestry images of the god can be found in a number of historical California joss houses (a local term for Taoist temples), where his name may be given with various Anglicised spellings, including Kwan Dai, Kwan Tai, Kuan Ti, Kuan Kung, Wu Ti, Mo Dai, Guan Di, Kuan Yu, Kwan Yu, or Quan Yu. The Mendocino Joss House, a historical landmark also known as Mo Dai Miu, the Military God-King’s Temple, or Temple of Kwan Tai, built in 1852, is a typical example of the small shrines erected to Guan Yu in America.

Worship in Taoism[edit]

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Guan Yu is revered as “Saintly Emperor Guan” (simplified Chinese: 关圣帝君; traditional Chinese: 關聖帝君; pinyin: Gūanshèngdìjūn) and a leading subduer of demons in Taoism. Taoist worship of Guan Yu began during the Song Dynasty. Legend has it that during the second decade of the 12th century, the saltwater lake in present day Xiezhou County (解州鎮) gradually ceased to yield salt. Emperor Huizong then summoned Celestial Master Zhang Jixian (張繼先), 30th generation descendant of Zhang Daoling, to investigate the cause. The emperor was told that the disruption was the work of Chi You, a deity of war. Zhang Jixian then recruited the help of Guan Yu, who battled Chi You over the lake and triumphed, whereupon the lake resumed salt production. Emperor Huizong then bestowed upon Guan Yu the title of “Immortal of Chongning” (崇寧真君), formally introducing the latter as a deity into Taoism.

In the early Ming Dynasty, the 42nd Celestial Master Zhang Zhengchang (張正常) recorded the incident in his book Lineage of the Han Celestial Masters (漢天師世家), the first Taoist classic to affirm the legend. Today, Taoist practices are predominant in Guan Yu worship. Many temples dedicated to Guan Yu, including the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou County, show heavy Taoist influence. Every year, on the 24th day of the sixth month on the lunar calendar (legendary birthday of Guan Yu, Guan was actually born on the 22nd day of the sixth month of 160), a street parade in the honour of Guan Yu would also be held.

Worship in Buddhism[edit]

Traditional Buddhist depiction of Guan Yu as Sangharama Bodhisattva.

In Chinese Buddhism, Guan Yu is revered by most practising Buddhists as Sangharama Bodhisattva (simplified Chinese: 伽蓝菩萨; traditional Chinese: 伽藍菩薩,; pinyin: Qíelán Púsà) a heavenly protector of the Buddhist dharma. Sangharama in Sanskrit means ‘community garden’ (sangha, community + arama, garden) and thus ‘monastery’. The term Sangharama also refer to the dharmapala class of devas and spirits assigned to guard the Buddhist monastery, the dharma, and the faith itself. Over time and as an act of syncreticism, Guan Yu was seen as the representative guardian of the temple and the garden in which it stands. His statue traditionally is situated in the far left of the main altar, opposite his counterpart Skanda.

According to Buddhist legends, in 592, Guan Yu manifested himself one night before the Zen master Zhiyi, the founder of the Tiantai school of Buddhism, along with a retinue of spiritual beings. Zhiyi was then in deep meditation on Yuquan Hill (玉泉山) when he was distracted by Guan Yu’s presence. Guan Yu then requested the master to teach him about the dharma. After receiving Buddhist teachings from the master, Guan Yu took refuge in the triple gems and also requested the Five Precepts. Henceforth, it is said that Guan Yu made a vow to become a guardian of temples and the dharma. Legends also claim that Guan Yu assisted Zhiyi in the construction of the Yuquan Temple (玉泉寺), which still stands today.

Modern references[edit]

Chinese opera[edit]

A Qing Dynasty opera mask of Guan Yu.

Guan Yu appears in Chinese operas such as Huarong Trail, Red Cliffs, and other excerpts from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. His costume is a green military opera uniform with armour covering his right arm and the knees of his pants. The actor’s face is painted red with a few black lines, to represent honour and courage. He also wears a long three-section black beard made of yak hair and carries the Green Dragon Crescent Blade. Traditionally, after the show ends, the actor has to wash his face, burn joss paper, light incense, and pray to Chinese deities.

Film and television[edit]

Notable actors who have portrayed Guan Yu in film and television include: Lu Shuming, in Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1994); Wang Yingquan, in The Legend of Guan Gong (2004); Ti Lung, in Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008); Ba Sen, in Red Cliff (2008-2009); Yu Rongguang, in Three Kingdoms (2010); Donnie Yen, in The Lost Bladesman (2011).

Films which make references to Guan Yu include: Stephen Chow‘s comedy film From Beijing with Love (1994), which, in one scene, refers to the story of Hua Tuo performing surgery on Guan Yu’s arm; Zhang Yimou‘s Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005), in which the fictional story of Guan Yu slaying six generals and crossing five passes forms a major part of the narrative; the horror comedy film My Name Is Bruce (2007), where Guan Yu’s vengeful spirit is accidentally set free by a group of teenagers and he begins to terrorise their town.


Guan Yu is referenced in the manga Battle Vixens (as a schoolgirl Kan-u Unchou) and BB Senshi Sangokuden (as ZZ Gundam, who is portrayed as Guan Yu Gundam).


Guan Yu appears as a playable character in many video games based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms which are produced by Koei, including: the strategy game series of the same title as the novel; the action game series Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi. Other non-Koei titles in which he also appears include: Sango Fighter; Destiny of an Emperor; Atlantica Online; Smite. He is also referenced in Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, Koihime Musō, Titan Quest and Koihime Musō.

Guan Yu is referenced in the Portal Three Kingdoms of the card game Magic: The Gathering on a playable card. He also appears in the History Channel‘s Anachronism card ga

Ancient Chinese warrior yue fei

Ancient Chinese Warrior Yue Fei

Yue Fei - Warrior of Ancient China

A close up view of the
ancient Chinese warrior painting
mounted to this silk wall scroll


The story behind this Ancient Chinese Warrior painting:

Yue Fei (Pinyin with tone marks: Yue Fei) (1103 – 1142 A.D.)

Yue Fei was a Chinese patriot and nationalist military leader who fought for the Southern Song Dynasty against the Jurchen (a northern tribe which established the Jin Dynasty).

He is one of the best-known generals in Chinese history, and widely credited for the creation of the martial art known as Xingyiquan.

Days after his birth, flooding of the Yellow River destroyed Yue Fei’s village. His father drowned in the floods, but not before he had ensured the survival of his wife and son by floating them downstream in a very large clay jar. Yue Fei and his mother settled in Hebei province. Becoming proficient in warfare at an early age, Yue Fei as a young man narrowly escaped execution after killing the Prince of Liang in a martial arts tournament. He did not join the fight against the Jurchen invaders until he was 23.

A Famous Tattoo

According to legend, Yue Fei’s mother tattooed four characters (jing zhong bao guo) which mean “serve the country loyally” on his back before he left home.

This tattoo became the quest for the remainder of his life.

As a valiant and tactically astute general, Yue Fei led many successful campaigns against the forces of the Jurchen. Taking advantage of the difficulties which his opponents’ cavalry experienced in the hilly terrain of Southern China, he was able to score victories although his troops were frequently outnumbered. His forces succeeded in regaining territory south of the Yangtze and Huai Rivers.
The enemies even said, “To push over a mountain is done with great ease, but to push over Yue’s army is done with great difficulty”.

Yue Fei was also known for his strict discipline of his legions, forbidding them to pillage, even when facing the harshest of conditions. He was a role model for followers of Confucius’ ideas and moral values, as well as being an accomplished martial artist and was very poetic.

Sadly, his attempt to recoup the northern lands lost by the Southern Song Dynasty was opposed by officials who believed further warfare would prove too costly. This desire to complete his quest is reflected in his most famous poem (Yue Fei was also a renowned poet) Manjiang Hong (Entirely Red River).

In the middle of a long victorious campaign against the Jurchen, corrupt officials, the most famous being the traitor Qin Hui, persuaded Emperor Gaozong to recall Yue Fei to the capital. Yue Fei had been readying to attack the Jurchen’s Jin Dynasty Capital at the time. The emperor ordered Yue Fei to return twelve times in the form of twelve gold plaques before Yue Fei capitulated.

Qin Hui could not find a reason to execute the captured Yue Fei and was about to release him. However, Qin Hui’s wife made the suggestion that since the emperor held absolute power, Qin Hui having the authority of the emperor, needed no reason to execute Yue Fei.

Yue Fei and his son, Yue Yun, were sentenced to death and executed on charges that were not proven but instead “could be true”.
It is for this reason that not only Qin Hui, but his wife also kneels before Yue Fei’s tomb.

Legend has it those who plotted to have Yue Fei executed were haunted by his ghost and driven to commit suicide.

Today, he is revered as one of the great symbols of patriotism and a national hero in China

Manjiang Hong is well-read and is known throughout China and Chinese people around the world, and his mausoleum in Hangzhou is well-visited. There are also two heavily mutilated statues of Qin Hui and his wife, topless, kneeling outside the temple as if begging for mercy. People in the past used to spit upon and kick them, until they were protected as part of the historic temple.

Also, to instill a sense of patriotism, the Chinese government required all primary school students to read and study at least one text about Yue Fei.

Several martial arts have been attributed to Yue Fei, including Eagle Claw, Xingyiquan, Fanziquan, and Chuojiao, among others.

Yue Fei has been in 126 battles and won them all; this is perhaps the best military record in world history.

This edited information about Yue Fei was obtained from Wikipedia
Used in compliance with the GNU Free Documentation License.


About the Art

This is a elaborate style painting using special black Chinese ink and watercolor on xuan paper (rice paper).

This rice paper was then taken to our mounting shop in Beijing where a hand-made silk wall scroll was created for this painting.

This wall scroll then flew with me from China to the USA and is now located at our San Diego, California gallery, ready to be shipped to you.

How I found this art…

Visiting an old friend and artist in Chengdu, I notice a woman is politely waiting for me. Soon enough, I finish my business, and leave my friend to work on some art that I would pick up several days later. The polite woman greets me as I walk out. She quietly asks if I would just take a look at her artwork.

I walk over to her little booth and take a look. The work is good, and I am surprised that she doesn’t have a studio-gallery like a lot of artists. She says that she likes to sell in the market, and put paintings in the hands of “the common man”. It is then that I realize we have a similar philosophy.

famous warrior artist of China

The artist, Li Ying-Lai, was really excited when I told him that I wanted dragons and legendary warriors of China. He said that dragons and warriors are his favorite subject to paint.

I look through her whole collection, and pick out several pieces that I like. Her husband shows up, and helps out getting paintings out of boxes for me to look at.

After we settle and I pay for all of the paintings, he asks if there is any other kind of art that I am looking for. I tell him, in Chinese, “I have been looking for warriors and really cool dragons for a long time”. Suddenly he is very excited. Grabbing through several boxes he emerges with a photo album. He hands the album to me and tells me that I must look!

Opening the album, I see a great collection of paintings of “Legendary Warriors of China” and several eye-catching dragons. He tells me that all of the photos are of his paintings.

Now, I get pretty excited, because I’ve been looking for good warrior-paintings for more than a year and a half, and I am always on the lookout for a good dragon-painting.

He doesn’t have any work ready to sell, but we talk about sizes, styles, and which warriors and dragons I want, and even down to what the background of each piece should be. We talk until the end of the day, and finally we talk about the price. I am expecting something high, but the price he gives me is just too low for this quality of work. So, for the first time in my art-buying career, I “reverse-bargain”, and tell him that I will pay 50% more as long as the quality is good. He and his wife look puzzled for a second, and then he remarks in Chinese, “I have been waiting to hear someone say that for a long time”. The gesture as they took it was not about money, but more about my personal compliment on the quality and importance of the art itself


The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( Continiu )






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Eating and drinking in China

Bowl and lid, Jingdezhen, China. Museum no. C.794&A-1910

Bowl and lid, Jingdezhen, China. Museum no. C.794&A-1910. Porcelain painted in underglaze blue.

The V&A possesses one of the most comprehensive and important collections of Chinese art dating from 3000 BC to the present time. The China (T T Tsui) gallery at the V&A is organised according to six main themes; living, eating & drinking, temple & worship, burial, ruling and collecting. Here we present some background history on eating and drinking in China, using objects from the collections and quotes from original sources.

Food’s Central Place in Chinese Life

While people the world over must eat and drink, not many have felt the need to develop such a complex cuisine as the Chinese. Perhaps because famine has been a frequent occurrence in the past, the preparation and consumption of food has always been a matter of great interest to Chinese people. Special meals are served at family anniversaries and religious festivals and food is offered to gods and ancestors. Business deals are struck over a meal and presents often consist of food. The medicinal value of food in promoting good health is taken very seriously by Chinese people.

Rice and other food

Rice has been China’s chief grain since the Song dynasty (960-1279), but it is not the only important staple foodstuff. Rice is grown and eaten mostly in south China. In north China, where the main cereal crops are wheat, millet and sorghum, noodles and steamed buns made from dough are more usual. These grains and starchy foods are called fan; vegetables and meat are called cai (prounounced ‘tsai’). A balanced meal contains both fan and cai.

A Portuguese missionary’s view on rice, written by Fr. Martin de Rada, about 1565

The principal food of all Chinos is rice, for although they have wheat and sell bread therefrom, yet they do not eat it save as if it were a fruit. Their chief bread is cooked rice, and they even make a wine from it which is comparable with a reasonable grape-wine and might even be mistaken for it.

Fr. Martin de Rada quoted in  Boxer, CR (ed) South China in the Sixteenth Century, Hakluyt Society, 1953, p.287

K’ang-hsi, Emperor of China, describes the wild resources of China,
written around 1700

There are forests of oak and poplar and beech, and wild pears and peaches, apples and apricots. Riding by, one can pick the little plums known as ulana, pale red like sharp cherries, and in Jehol there are cherries both white and red and the lard sour cherries, perfect in colour and taste; or one can eat the hazelnuts fresh fallen from the trees and mountain walnuts roasted over an open fire. There is tea, made from fresh snow on the little brazier slung between two horses. There is the perfect flavour of bream and carp from the mountain streams, caught by oneself in the early morning – you can keep something of the flavour for Peking eating if you enclose the fish in mutton fat or pickle them in brine before frying them up in sesame oil or lard. There is venison, roasted over an open fire by a tent pitched on the sunny slope of a mountain; or the liver of a newly killed stag, cooked with one’s own hands (even if the rain is falling), and eaten with salt and vinegar. And in the northeast one can have bear’s paw, which the imperial cooks value so highly.

Translated by Jonathan D Spence and quoted in Spence, JD Emperor of China: Self Portrait of K’ang-hsi, Jonathan Cape, 1974, p9 (with permission of Peters, Frasers, Dunlop).

Cooking and eating

Kitchen scene from a mural in an Eastern Han tomb, about 200

Kitchen scene from a mural in an Eastern Han tomb, about 200. From Wenwu 10, 1972, reproduced in Chang, KC (ed) Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives, Yale University Press, 1977, illustration 9. The people in this busy kitchen scene are shown carrying firewood and drawing water as well as preparing food.

A densely populated land with limited fuel supplies needs a method of cooking that is economical of resources. Chinese cuisine relies on much labour being spent on preparation, in order that cooking can be done quickly. The most common, but not the only, method used by Chinese cooks is stir-frying, in which food is cut into bite-size pieces and cooked fast at high temperature. The food is brought to the table on serving dishes from which the diners help themselves. Each person usually has a bowl, a pair of chopsticks and a spoon. Chopsticks have been in use since Shang times (about 1700-1050BC).

Fine dining

Among the well-to-do it was the custom to have a separate table for each person. The narrow, rectangular tables were placed close together in a semi-circular arrangement or as three sides of a square.

Table and chair, 1550-1640. Museum nos. FE.67-1983, FE.27-1983, FE.41990, C.128-1928, FE.71-1977, C.127-1928

Table and chair set with a jade ewer and stemcup, a porcelain-lidded food box and a porcelain bowl. Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

Several people would have been able to sit round a square table. Raised edges on the table top stopped any spills from dripping in the diners’ laps. Tablecloths were not used to cover the table top although the front and sides were sometimes draped with silk hangings.

A Portuguese missionary’s view, written by Fr. Martin de Rada, about 1565

At banquets, a table is placed for each guest, and when the banquet is a formal one, each guest gets many tables, and to explain this I would like to recount what sort of banquets they offered us, and the way in which they were served.

In a large room, at the top of the hall, they placed seven tables in a row for each one of the Religious, and along the side-walls five tables for each of the Spanish laymen who were there, and three tables for each of the Chinese captains who accompanied us. And next to the doors of the hall, opposite the Religious, sat the captains who had invited us, each one at this own table. In our room they had arranged on one side three tables bearing the covers for each one of us. All these tables were loaded as much as they could be with plates and dishes of food, save that only the principal table contained cooked meats, and all the uncooked food was on the other tables which were for grandeur and display. There were whole geese and ducks, capons, and hens, gammons of bacon and other chops of pork, fresh pieces of veal and beef, many kinds of fish, a great quantity of fruits of all kinds, with elegant pitchers and bowls and other knick-knacks all made of sugar, and so forth. All this which was put upon the tables, when we got up therefrom, was put into hampers and carried to our lodgings.

Fr. Martin de Rada quoted in  Boxer, CR (ed) South China in the Sixteenth Century, Hakluyt Society, 1953, p.287

Concerning table manners, from the Li Ji or ‘Record of Ritual’, 220 AD

When feasting with a man of superior rank and character, the guest first tasted the dishes and then stopped. He should not bolt the food, nor swill down the liquor. He should take small and frequent mouthfuls. While chewing quickly, he did not make faces with his mouth.
Do not [roll] the grain into a ball: do not bolt down the various dishes; do not swill down the soup.
Do not make a noise in eating; do not crunch the bones with the teeth; do not put back fish you have been eating; do not throw the bones to the dogs; do not snatch at what you want.
Do not try to gulp down soup with vegetables in it, nor add condiments to it; do not keep picking the teeth, nor swill down the sauces. If a guest add[s] condiments, the host will apologise for not having had the soup prepared better. If he swill[s] down the sauces the host will apologise for his poverty.

From the Li ji or ‘Record of Ritual’ compiled in the Han dynasty, translated by James Legge, The Li Ki: The Sacred Books of the East, F Max Müller (ed), Vols 27 & 28, Clarendon Press, 1885, pp 468-70

Wine warmer, 500-580. Museum no. C.432-1922

Wine warmer, 500-580. Museum no. C.432-1922. This wine warmer is made from pottery and dates from 500 to 580. Earlier ones were made from bronze and some of these bronze ones from the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD220) have the word jiao (‘to heat’) inscribed on them.


Chinese people have drunk alcohol with their meals since the Neolithic period (about 5000-1700BC). Most alcoholic drinks are produced from cereal grains and some are drunk warm.

The little pot shown here, made between AD 500 and 580, was used for heating wine. The tripod legs would have straddled the heat source. The handle at the side of the pot is hollow to take a wooden extension for lifting it off the stove. At the same time a stick would have been passed through the ceramic loop on the opposite side to steady the hot pot.

The potters who made these wine-warmers sometimes added tails and beast-like heads or faces to the pot, or by giving the tripod legs hooves or paws.

Stemcups were only ever used for alcoholic drinks. The Chinese term means ‘urging cup’: the drinker toasts his companions and at the same time urges them to down another cup.


Tea Bowls, 1984 and 1000-1125. Museum nos. C.18-1935, W.3-1938, FE.51-1984

Tea Bowls, 1984 and 1000-1125. Museum nos. C.18-1935, W.3-1938, FE.51-1984. The tea bowl on the right was made in 1984 at the Zibo kiln in Shandong. The bowl on the stand, which dates from 1000 to 1125, came from the same kiln.


Tea is China’s most popular beverage. Chinese people drink green unfermented tea, taken hot without milk or sugar, with meals and snacks and on its own throughout the day. Today, they use mugs with lids and handles, but up until this century tea was always drunk from small bowls.

Eight hundred years separate the two tea bowls made in the same kiln (Zibo, Shandong) shown in the image on the right. The bowl on the right was made in 1984. The tea bowl on the stand was made between 1000 and 1125, by which time tea drinking had become an everyday habit for most and an art for some.

Aristocrats and educated monks and nuns would gather together to taste fine teas and appreciate beautiful utensils. The powdered tea favoured at this time was whisked up with hot water in the tea bowl until it formed a froth. The white whipped topping showed up well against black tea bowls like this, which was one reason for their popularity. Tea making competitions were held, the winner being the person whose froth lasted longest.

The thick sides of stoneware bowls mean the heat of the tea is not lost quickly and the tea- drinker’s fingers do not get scalded. Stands were used for serving or to raise steaming tea bowls to the lips.

Teapots, 1650-1660 and 1984. Museum nos. C.871-1936, FE.31-1984

Teapots, 1650-1660 and 1984. Museum nos. C.871-1936, FE.31-1984. These two teapots were made at the same kiln site at Yixing. The local clays there are cream, red or a warm brown. The teapot on the left was made by the potter Hui Mengchen sometime between 1650 and 1660. The one on the right in the shape of a water chestnut was made in 1984 by the woman potter Jiang Rong.

By the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) tea was no longer made in the bowl because leaf tea replaced powder and the dried and rolled up leaves were brewed in teapots. These were often quite small, just big enough to make one or two cups. The small size meant that good leaves were not wasted. Pots from the Yixing kilns are particularly suitable for tea-making. Stoneware keeps the tea warm and they pour well. They are manufactured in a wide range of imaginative shapes, such as the one on the right in the form of a water chestnut.

Poem about Tea by Bai Juyi,
about 820 AD

The white porcelain jar is scrupulously clean.
The red charcoal is burning with great intensity.
The fragrant powdered tea is under the froth
Blossoms float atop the fish-eye bubbles.
The fine colour is presented in a bowl.
The fragrance remains after the feast.
(Poet’s note: Exuberance over tea after a nap, in memory of Master Yang of Tongzhou)

The poet Bai Juyi (772-846) quoted by Song Boyin in ‘Tea Drinking, Tea Ware and Purple Clay Ware’ in KS Lo Collection in the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, Part 2 Urban Council, Hong Kong, 1984


Chinese Five Poison Symbols


The Five Poisons



The Fifth Day of the Fifth Month

One of the most dangerous and inauspicious days of the year in ancient China was the 5th day of the 5th month, according to the lunar calendar, which was popularly referred to as “Double 5” or “Double 5th“, and also known as tian zhong jie (天中节).  This day marked the beginning of summer which by midseason meant dangerous animals and insects, the spread of infectious diseases, and the appearance of evil spirits.

Five Poison CharmFurthermore, the most dangerous period of that day was considered to be “noon”.  The Chinese actually divided each day into twelve two-hour periods known as shichen (时辰).  “Noon”, then, would be the two hour period from 11AM – 1PM which according to shichen is called wu (午).

One popular way to protect oneself during this day was to drink realgar wine (xiong huang jiu 雄黄酒).  Realgar contains arsenic sulfide which was believed to be an antidote for poisons and would therefore drive away evil spirits and kill insects and other poisonous animals.

Since realgar wine was too strong for children to drink, parents would use the wine to write the Chinese character “king” (wang 王) on a child’s forehead as a form of protection.

The Chinese would also mix into wine powdered cinnabar (dan sha 丹砂 or zhu sha 朱砂), which is the mineral from which mercury is made.  The cinnabar would turn the wine red which the Chinese believe would help fend off attacks from evil spirits.

Other protective measures included hanging branches of artemisia or mugwort (ai 艾) over gates and doors because the leaves resemble the paws of tigers and the aroma is believed to repel insects.  Calamus or “sweet flag” is also hung above gates because the leaves resemble swords.

It was also customary to hang pictures of Zhong Kui, brandishing his magic sword which could slay evil spirits, on doors and gates.

However, one of the most common forms of protection from the dangers was the wearing of “five poison” charms.  Chinese parents would also have their children wear an amulet bearing the images of the five poisons or hang small bags filled with mugwort around their necks.

Examples of old five poison charms are displayed and discussed below.

It should be noted also that in China today the fifth day of the fifth month is celebrated as the popular Duanwu Festival (duan wu jie 端午节) or “Dragon Boat Festival”.  The day commemorates the life and suicide of Qu Yuan (屈原) (340 BC – 278 BC), a famous poet and minister from the State of Chu of the Warring States Period.

The Five Poisons

The “five poisons” (wudu 五毒) actually refer to five poisonous animals.  In contrast to what one might expect, the purpose of the five poisons depicted on an amulet is to counteract pernicious influences.  This is because the Chinese believe in combating poison with poison as shown by the above examples of drinking realgar (arsenic) wine and mixing cinnabar (mercury) with wine.

There is legendary evidence to support this belief of combating poison with poison.  Shennong (神农), also known as the Yan Emperor (yandi 炎帝), was a ruler who lived about 5,000 years ago and is credited with teaching the Chinese how to cultivate crops.  He is also considered the Father of Chinese Medicine because he discovered and personally tested upon himself hundreds of medicinal and poisonous herbs.  He was able to test these herbs because he allegedly had a transparent body and could therefore observe their effects.  He never suffered long-term effects, however, because the poisons apparently canceled each other out.

Some historical sources refer to the five poisons as consisting of the snake, scorpion, centipede, toad and spider.  Other references have the lizard replacing the spider.  Still other sources mention the five poisons as the snake, scorpion, centipede, spider and the “three-legged toad”.  (Learn more about the “three-legged toad” at Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad.)

Finally, the tiger is sometimes included as one of the five poisons as explained below.

Five Poison Charms

"Fifth day of fifth month" Chinese charm

The inscription on this charm reads wu ri wu shi (五日午时) which translates as “noon of the 5th day” and which refers to noon on the 5th day of the 5th month.

As you can see, the charm has a crack.  If you look closely, you will see an area at the upper left of the square hole that has been flattened.  Most likely, this charm was at some time nailed to the gate of an old traditional Chinese house to protect the family from evil spirits and poisonous animals associated with this unlucky day.

Five poison charm displaying scorpion, tiger, three-legged toad, snake and centipedeThe reverse side of the charm displays members of the five poisons.

Above the square hole is the centipede with its venomous claws.

At the upper right is a lizard.  Unfortunately, the lizard’s head has been flattened by the nail so that the only discernable feature is the tail.

At the lower right is a tiger which is shown running in full stride.

The tiger is the only member of the group that is not poisonous so why is it included with the five poisons?

The reason has to do with the nature of the tiger. The Chinese consider the tiger to be a solitary animal.

There is an old Chinese proverb which says hu du bu chi zi (虎独不吃子) which literally means “tiger solitary does not eat children.  The character for “solitary” (独) and the character for “poison” (毒) are both pronounced du.  When spoken, the proverb can thus be interpreted as “tiger poison does not eat children”.

Tigers are frequently included on amulets of this type for this reason and also because they see well in the dark and have the ability to make evil spirits flee.

At the lower left is the three-legged toad which is discussed in detail at Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad.

To the left of the square hole is the snake.

There is one final point worth noting about this charm.  You will notice that, unlike most charms, this particular charm is not round.  It is actually eight-sided.

This eight-sided shape is believed to enhance the effectiveness of the charm because the number “8” (ba 八) is a lucky number due to its similar pronunciation in certain Chinese dialects to the word “prosper” or “wealth” (fa cai 发财).

This charm has a diameter of 29 mm and a weight of 7.5 grams.

Ancient Chinese five poisons charm

On the left is shown the reverse side of an amulet with the centipede and spider to the right, the snake at the bottom and a “three-legged toad” to the left of the center hole.

The animal at the top is a tiger.  Tigers are sometimes put on amulets because they are believed to have the ability to set evil spirits to flight and because they see well in the dark.

Images of tigers (see Peach Charms) are considered particularly effective in scaring away malignant spirits and protecting children.

Five poisons charm with inscription -- riches and honor, prosperity and happiness

While the reverse side of this piece is meant to protect, which is the purpose of an amulet, the obverse side is more like a charm in that it is meant to bring good luck.

The obverse side, shown at the left, has the four Chinese characters fu gui chang le (富贵昌乐) written in seal script and read top to bottom and right to left.

The meaning is “riches and honor, prosperity and happiness”.

This charm has a diameter of 47.8 mm and weighs 25.9 grams.

Old Chinese charm displaying five poisons

This is the reverse side of another old Chinese five poison charm.

The large animal at the right is a tiger or cat.  To the right of the cat’s tail is a lizard and to the left is a spider.  A snake is at the left of the center hole and the three legged toad is at the lower left.

Old Chinese five poison charm with inscription "Expel evil and send down good fortune"The inscription on the obverse side of the charm is read top to bottom as qu xie jiang fu (驱邪降) which translates as “Expel evil and send down good fortune”.

At the very top of the charm is a spider.  In this case, the spider is not one of the five poisons.  When not grouped with other members of the five poisons the spider is actually considered an auspicious symbol on its own. This is because another word for spider in Chinese is xizi (虫喜 子) where the first character has the same pronunciation as the word for “happy” (xi 喜).  A picture of a spider dropping down is therefore a visual pun for “happiness being sent down from the sky”.

At the bottom of the charm is the three legged toad. The three-legged toad on charms is regarded as auspicious and conducive to good fortune.  For a more detailed discussion, please see Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad.

There is some disagreement as to the figure at the right.  Some say it is Liu Hai and others say it is
Zhong Kui.  For a detailed discussion of Liu Hai, please see the above link.  For information on Zhong Kui, please see Daoist (Taoist) Charms and Chinese Pendant Charms.

This charm has a diameter of 46 mm and a weight of 26.3 grams.

"Expel evil and send down good fortune" five poison charm

The charm at the left is very similar to the one above although the person on the right appears to be different.

The inscription is qu xie jiang fu (驱邪降) meaning “expel evil and send down good fortune”.

This charm also has the spider, here representing “happiness”, at the eleven o’clock position and the three-legged toad at the bottom.

Reverse side of Chinese charm displaying tiger, three-legged toad, lizard, snake and spider

The images of the “five poisons” on the reverse side are the same as those on the above charm although they are drawn a little differently and are in a slightly different order.

Beginning at the right and moving clockwise are the tiger, three-legged toad, lizard, snake and spider.

This charm has a diameter of 44 mm and a weight of 24.6 grams.

After read this info we can explaine why very rare the  five Poison symbol motif on the ceramic plate or other pottery.

Dr Iwan Only found one collection from each type of the poison above let’s we look the rae collections below


Yuan Snake Symbol Bowl



Ming Tiger  Plate





chu jung God Of Fire


Foundry artisans needed fire to melt gold or silver: therefore they worship the God of Fire. This is one picture of the deity, carrying a pot and wearing a black gauze cap. One of the two servants carries a plate of ore, the other a mine. Before the god’s seat is a whole stack of gold ingots. Some technicians are melting gold and silver in the front of the furnace. Others are hammering gold into foil. This picture sheds some light on how artisans of old used to cast gold and silver


God of literature kue

Chu Jung was created by Taiwan to gain their independence from China. He possesses the powers of the God of Fire and was made to believe this to be his true identity.
He was shown the truth by the true gods of China. Although he does not remember his past, he still will fight for China.



i wang tin chung



Because of its long emphasis on scholasticism, and the high status placed on the literati it is perhaps natural that the Chinese should have had a god of literature or a god of scholars.

There are several versions as to who Wen Chang may have been: he is variously said to have been an actual scholar in the Tang Dynasty, the Chin Dynasty (265-316 CE) and the Sung Dynasty (1000 CE).

The mythological version, however, centers around the story of a scholar named Chung K’uei whose face was badly deformed. As was customary, the unfortunate man was supposed to have received the golden rose from the emperor after passing his exam.

 At the “graduation” ceremony, however, the emperor was so horrified by Chung K’uei’s appearance that he refused to give him the golden rose. In despair, Ching K’uei drowned himself. His spirit drifted to the heavens where he became the arbiter of the fate of scholars with the honorific name of Wen Chang.

In pictures of Wen Chang he is usually surrounded by a demon-like character wielding a pen named K’uei Hsing and a man known as “Red Coat.” K’uei Hsing is the conferer of degrees and diplomas, hence scholars prayed to him for success in the Imperial Exams. Red Coat or the God of Good luck was regarded as the deity responsible for finding jobs for scholars. He was regarded particularly as the protector of those who were not very good students. In one story, an examiner, disgusted by a weak essay, was ready to fail the candidate when a strange man in red appeared from nowhere. Silently the man in red nodded to the examiner to signal that he should pass the candidate. Completely taken aback by the celestial visitor, the examiner passed the candidate!

In Chinese mythology there is also another god who is regarded as the god of literature. Strangely enough this god of literature, Kuan Yu, is also the god of war. Kuan Yu is one of the most venerated gods of the Chinese pantheon and his heroic exploits are detailed in the classic work The Three Kingdoms.

God Of The Kitchen

In Chinese folk religion and Chinese mythology, the Kitchen God, named Zao Jun or Zao Shen, is the most important of a plethora of Chinese domestic gods that protect the hearth and family. In addition he is celebrated in Vietnamese culture as well.

It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Chinese New Year he returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao Jun’s yearly report.The Story of Zao Jun[edit]

Zao Jun from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner

Though there are many stories on how Zao Jun become the Kitchen god, the most popular dates back to around the 2nd Century BC. Zao Jun was originally a mortal man living on earth whose name was Zhang Lang. He eventually became married to a virtuous woman, but ended up falling in love with a younger woman. He left his wife to be with this younger woman and, as punishment for this adulterous act, the heavens afflicted him with ill-fortune. He became blind, and his young lover abandoned him, leaving him to resort to begging to support himself. Once, while begging for alms, he happened across the house of his former wife. Being blind, he did not recognize her. Despite his shoddy treatment of her, she took pity on him and invited him in. She cooked him a fabulous meal and tended to him lovingly; he then related his story to her. As he shared his story, Zhang Lang became overwhelmed with self-pity and the pain of his error and began to weep. Upon hearing him apologize, Zhang’s former wife told him to open his eyes and his vision was restored. Recognizing the wife he had abandoned, Zhang felt such shame that he threw himself into the kitchen hearth, not realizing that it was lit. His former wife attempted to save him, but all she managed to salvage was one of his legs.

The devoted woman then created a shrine to her former husband above the fireplace, which began Zao Jun’s association with the stove in Chinese homes. To this day, a fire poker is sometimes referred to as “Zhang Lang’s Leg”.

Alternatively, there is another tale where Zao Jun was a man so poor he was forced to sell his wife. Years later he unwittingly became a servant in the house of her new husband. Taking pity on him she baked him some cakes into which she had hidden money, but he failed to notice this and sold the cakes for a pittance. When he realized what he had done he took his own life in despair. In both stories Heaven takes pity on Zhang Lang’s tragic story. Instead of becoming a vampirish hopping corpse, the usual fate of suicides, he was made the god of the Kitchen, and was reunited with his wife.

The origin of the Kitchen god differs. Another possible story of the “Stove god” is believed to have appeared soon after the invention of the brick stove. The Kitchen god was originally believed to have resided in the stove and only later took on human form. During the Han Dynasty, it is believed that a poor farmer named Yin Zifang, was surprised by the Kitchen god who appeared on Lunar New Year as he was cooking his breakfast. Yin Zifang decided to sacrifice his only yellow sheep. In doing so, he became rich and decided that every winter he would sacrifice one yellow sheep in order to display his deep gratitude.

Worship and customs[edit]

Traditionally, every Chinese household would have a paper effigy or a plaque of Zao Jun and his wife (who writes down everything that is said in the household over the year for her husband’s report to Jade Emperor) above the fireplace in the kitchen. This tradition is still widely practiced, and Zao Jun was the most highly worshiped god of those who protect the household and family. Offerings of food and incense are made to Zao Jun on his birthday (the third day of the eighth lunar month) and also on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, which marks his return to Heaven to give his New Year’s report to the Jade Emperor. On this day, the lips of Zao Jun’s paper effigy are often smeared with honey to sweeten his words to Yu Huang (Jade Emperor), or to keep his lips stuck together. After this, the effigy will be burnt and replaced by a new one on New Year’s Day. Firecrackers are often lit as well, to speed him on his way to heaven. If the household has a statue or a nameplate of Zao Jun it will be taken down and cleaned on this day for the new year.

Many customs are associated with the Kitchen god, especially defining the date of the “Kitchen god festival”, also known as “Little New Year”. It is noted that the date differed depending on the location. It is believed that people in northern China celebrate it on the twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month, while the people in southern China celebrate it on the twenty-fourth. Along with location, traditionally the date may also be determined by one’s Profession. For example, “feudal officials made their offerings to the Kitchen god on the twenty-third, the common people on the twenty-fourth, and coastal fishing people on the twenty-fifth”.[1] In addition, generally it was the males of the household that lead the sacrificial rites.[1]

In order to establish a fresh beginning in the New Year, families must be organized both within their family unit, in their home, and around their yard. This custom of a thorough house cleaning and yard cleaning is another popular custom during “Little New Year”. It is believed that in order for ghosts and deities to depart to Heaven, both their homes and “persons” must be cleansed. Lastly, the old decorations are taken down, and there are new posters and decorations put up for the following Spring Festival.[1]


Independent Chinese families are classified accordingly to the stove they possess. Because circumstances of a divided household, kitchens are shared but never the stove. In the case of a fathers death, The sons divide their fathers household. The eldest son inherits the stove and the younger brothers transfer the coals from the old stove to their own new stoves. This invites the Stove god to join their newly formed households ( Ahern, Martin, Wolf 1978). This process is called “pun chu” or dividing the stove. This indicates the “soul” of the family and it signifies fate of the family.

A Chinese story says,” When a shaman informed one family that there were ants and other things in their stove, they destroyed the stove and threw the bricks and coals into the river”. A neighbor explained, ” There was nothing else they could do. A family will never have peace if they dont have a good stove”. (Ahern, Martin, Wolf 1978, 131-133).

Ahern, Martin, Wolf, 1978 state that “The association of Stove God and God is thus an association of God and family. The Character of the relationship is essentially bureaucratic; the family is the smallest corporate unit in society, and the Stove God is the lowest ranking member of a supernatural bureaucracy”. This relates a correlation of the Stove god and the importance of this deity is to the family unit (pg.133).

The domestic deity is seen as being in charge of watching over the home life. It has been expressed that his presence is more like that of a policeman sent from above to observe the family. This practice is known as a bureaucratization of religion in Chinese society. The Jade Emperor is in charge of an administration divided into bureaus, and each bureaucrat-god takes responsibility for a clearly defined domain or discrete function. The Kitchen God would thus serve the role of the home domain as he would overlook the daily dynamics of a family, the members and their behaviour (Ting, 2002, pg.326).

Ting, 2002, also states that there are 3 levels of Cosmology containing an organization of heaven is like that of the organization on earth. With a supreme deity- an Emperor (Jade Emperor or Heavenly God) — Local Officials (City gods) — Commoners (gods of the hearth)(pg.326). This confirms the organization of the heavens and how the Kitchen god reports to higher level God, the Jade Emperor.

According to Mann 1997, There is another god that shares the realm of the household. “Pollution, sickness, and death were everyday concerns for women in the household as well as the focal points of their spiritual and ritual lives. Within their households they worshiped the deities who oversaw these homely concerns. The goddess of the household were territorial deities who shared the domain with the Kitchen God, worshiped by men. This God is known as the Purple Goddess/ or Privy Goddess/”. The Privy goddess was worshipped only by woman and no temples have been erected in her honor and has no relation or interaction with the Kitchen god (pg.,186).

Zao Jun in literature[edit]

Laurence Yep‘s novel Dragonwings describes the honey ritual, but the book refers to the deity as the Stove King.

Zao Jun’s story is interwoven with a feminist spin into the protagonist’s story in Amy Tan‘s novel The Kitchen God’s Wife. She reflects on her life story as a Chinese American woman. She uses the symbolism of the Kitchen god’s story and uses it as a parallel towards modern day life. She outlines the patriarchy that still exists within modern day life but more significantly in Chinese cultural practices. Tan also illustrates several facets of the humble status of women in Chinese society in the early 20th century (Tan, 1991).

In Tan’s story, there is an elaborate description of the coming of Zao Jun. The character Winnie goes into detail about how he came to be and attempts to address cultural struggles as she removes the picture of the Kitchen God from her daughter Pearl’s stove, as she does not believe this is the kind of luck Pearl needs. She then promises to fill the altar with the image of another god. In addition to this cultural struggle there is also a feminist undertone at the core, suggesting that this ritual is sexist, outdated, and inappropriate in today’s world. The story can be viewed as a struggle between traditionalism and biculturalism (Tan, 1991).

In popular culture[edit]

Zao Jun was one of the minor gods played in Supernatural‘s 5th series “Hammer of the Gods”.


Kuan Yu God Of War



Guan Yu (Wade-Giles spelling: Kuan Yu) (died 219] was a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China.

He played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period, of which Liu Bei was the first emperor. As one of the best known Chinese historical figures throughout East Asia, Guan’s true life stories have largely given way to fictionalized ones, mostly found in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms or passed down the generations, in which his deeds and moral qualities have been lionized.

Guan is respected as an epitome of loyalty and righteousness. Guan was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty and is still worshipped by many Chinese people today, especially in southern China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and their descendants overseas. He is a figure in Chinese folk religion, popular Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism, and small shrines to Guan are almost ubiquitous in traditional Chinese shops and restaurants




In 219, Guan Yu attacked the nearby enemy city of Fancheng (present-day Fancheng District, Xiangyang, Hubei), which was guarded by Cao Ren, and besieged it. In autumn, heavy showers in the region caused the Han River next to the city to overflow.

 The flood destroyed reinforcements troops from Cao Cao led by Yu Jin and Pang De. Both Yu Jin and Pang De were captured by Guan Yu in battle. However, reinforcements led by Xu Huang managed to force Guan Yu’s troops to retreat.At that time, Guan Yu realised that Sun Quan had secretly formed an alliance with Cao Cao and attacked Jing Province while he was attacking Fancheng. Mi Fang and Shi Ren, whom he left in charge of Jing Province, had surrendered to Sun Quan. When Guan Yu’s troops received news that their families in Jing Province had fallen into the control of Sun Quan, some of them started deserting and returning to Jing Province to reunite with their families. Guan Yu’s army was severely depleted due to the desertions so he attempted to retreat to Yi Province in the west but was surrounded and besieged by Sun Quan’s forces at Maicheng (southeast of present day Dangyang, Hubei). Guan Yu attempted to break out of the encirclement with his son Guan Ping and subordinate Zhao Lei but failed. They were captured in Zhang Town (east of present-day Yuan’an County, Hubei) and executed by Sun Quan after refusing to surrender. Sun Quan sent Guan Yu’s severed head to Cao Cao, who performed the proper funeral rites and buried Guan’s head with full honours.

In 260, Liu Shan gave Guan Yu the posthumous title of “Marquis Zhuangmou” ( ), which states that he does not live up to his name in terms of his ability.

Tsai Tsen Yai The God Of Wealth



The Tsai Shen Yeh or “Choy San” (God of Wealth) is one of the most popular symbols of Fortune and Prosperity.

The God of Wealth is depicted on top of a Tiger. Dressed in auspicious Dragon Robes, he is carrying a gold ingot and a bundle of auspicious Chinese coins tied together with red string. Following collections of Gods of Wealth for your Feng Shui business

The Mystery Of Money Tree

The Mystery of the Money Tree Revealed

nsf, chinese money tree, chemisty, history

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CREDIT: Tami Lasseter Clare, Portland State University

This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Buried in ancient Chinese tombs, money trees are bronze sculptures believed to provide eternal prosperity in the afterlife.

One money tree was crafted in southwest China during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE). Supported by a ceramic base, this rare piece of art stands 52 inches tall and spans 22 inches wide. Dragons and phoenixes — symbols of longevity — and coins decorate the tree’s 16 bronze leaves.The Portland Art Museum acquired the tree as a gift from a private

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Unearthed from Han Tomb No.2 in Hejiashan Village, Sichuan Province, the money tree in the Eastern Han Dynasty is 198cm high and is comprised of foundation, trunk and crown, etc., all together 29 components. The foundation is made of red pottery and the whole tree is cast with bronze. The crown can be divided into seven layers. The top layer is decorated with phoenixes and birds, and the next two layers are decorated with the images of West Queen, heracles and cliffs, etc. The lower four layers are inserted with 24 out-stretching branches and leaves decorated with patterns of dragon head, rose finch, dog, elephant, deer and strings of coins. The leaves are in pairs, with some in the shape of plantain leaf and others in oval shape. Both leaves and branches are cast with circular coins with a square hole as well as portraits and flying dragons. The whole tree is featured by exquisite casting effect and beautiful design.

Chinese legend has it that money tree is a kind of holy tree, which can bring money and fortune to the people, and that it is a symbol of affluence, nobility and auspiciousness. It can be traced back to the primitive society when the adoration of holy tree was prevalent. It is said that the ancestor of Chinese-style architecture Youchao taught people to build houses on trees, which contributed to the improvement of the living environment. There also exists a holy tree named Chinese Hibiscus in Chinese myth. According to the existing historical materials, the concept “money tree” is derived at the latest from the Han Dynasty.

Money trees have been excavated by the archaeologists from Han tombs for many times, an indication that the adoration of the money tree was prevailing in the Han Dynasty. Since then, “money tree” has gradually become a pet phrase for the general public


 Chinese Fans


vintage picture of Chinese Hand Fan

chinese lady with their fans

Have you ever noticed that Chinese hand fan is an important symbol of China, its culture and the people? If we look back to ancient time we would explore that they invented hand fans a long time ago around 3000 years ago or more. Though, no one knows the exact time when Chinese hand fans were invented. Since then Chinese hand fans are referred as useful tool and decorative item in China. It is a part of Chinese art and tradition.

Chinese hand fans became very much popular in the Han Dynasty. It is said that Chinese hand fans first were made by only bamboo, they used to craft very brilliantly. They were the real artists. Have you seen any Chinese hand fans, I think if you have then you have noticed that their hand fans are designed with nice paintings. Shaolin monks in China still use hand fans while they practice Kung fu. It is a great weapon for them. This is a very handy item and dangerous if you see these Chinese hand fans to shaolin monks’ hands. Be careful!

Image credit:


Chinese Nylon-Cloth Dragon Hand Fan in Brilliant Red or Black Simple Colors: Red Color

Red color of hand fan! It looks very nice, Right!

Would you like to present this hand fan for your little girl? She would would happy because of this red color Chinese hand fan. This is one kind of traditional style Chinese hand fan. If you are serious and finding for a unique gift ideas for others then I recommend this Chinese hand fan.
Chinese Nylon-Cloth Dragon Fan in Brilliant Red or Black Simple Colors: Red

Chinese Nylon-Cloth Dragon Fan in Brilliant Red or Black Simple Colors: Red

Are you looking for Chinese style of hand fan? If you are then this is the perfect one for you. It is read with dragon painting. I think this hand fan never would dissatisfy you because of its colorful design and dragon painting. It is about 10.5″ high and 18″ wide. Don’t you think it could be a nice gift for others? Get it and present it to others since it is a great colorful hand fan.

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Amico Black Plastic Frame Embroidery Floral Detail Folding Hand Fan

Black Color of Embroidery Hand Fan

Do you like black color? This is my one of the favorite colors of my mom. Actually if you like black color then I hope you would not bother to decorate your beautiful house with this hand fan. It is a perfect hand fan for wall decoration.If you like black color and searching for decorating your home’s wall with black color of decor item then i highly recommend this hand fan to you. It is made by plastic, fabric and metal. This handmade hand fan is well designed with embroidered flower. This is an ideal gift for girls and women, who want to decor home, make cool airflow and stage performance for dancing.

Hsi-wang Wu Royal Lady Of The West 

Xi Wangmu,

 the shamanic great goddess of China


the goddess seated on a wild mountain, holding the ling zhi and a peach, with the three-legged raven

One of the oldest deities of China is Xi Wangmu (Hsi Wang Mu). She lives in the Kunlun mountains in the far west, at the margin of heaven and earth. In a garden hidden by high clouds, her peaches of immortality grow on a colossal Tree, only ripening once every 3000 years. The Tree is a cosmic axis that connects heaven and earth, a ladder traveled by spirits and shamans.

A good pair of Chinese famille rose plates, brightly decorated with the Eight Horses of Mu Wang,

each plate with four horses frolicking beneath a flowering tree, the borders with bold peony blooms and colourful butterflies, Qianlong 1736-95, 22.7cm. (2)

In Chinese mythology the Eight Horses drew the chariot of the Emperor Mu Wang (Zhou dynasty, C.1028-221BC) on his journey to the Western Gardens in search of the Peach of Immortality. The design is also known in blue and white as well as copied on Worcester porcelain and on Delftware.

Xi Wang Mu controls the cosmic forces: time and space and the pivotal Great Dipper constellation. With her powers of creation and destruction, she ordains life and death, disease and healing, and determines the life spans of all living beings. The energies of new growth surround her like a cloud. She is attended by hosts of spirits and transcendentals. She presides over the dead and afterlife, and confers divine realization and immortality on spiritual seekers.

The name of the goddess is usually translated as Queen Mother of the West. Mu means “mother,” and Wang, “sovereign.” But Wangmu was not a title for royal women. It means “grandmother,” as in the Book of Changes, Hexagram 35: “One receives these boon blessings from one’s wangmu.” The classical glossary Erya says that wangmu was used as an honorific for female ancestors. [Goldin, 83] The ancient commentator Guo Pu explained that “one adds wang in order to honor them.” Another gloss says it was used to mean “great.” Paul Goldin points out that the Chinese commonly used wang “to denote spirits of any kind,” and numinous power. He makes a convincing case for translating the name of the goddess as “Spirit-Mother of the West.” [Goldin, 83-85]

The oldest reference to Xi Wangmu is an oracle bone inscription from the Shang dynasty, thirty-three centuries ago: “If we make offering to the Eastern Mother and Western Mother there will be approval.” The  inscription pairs her with another female, not the male partner invented for her by medieval writers—and this pairing with a goddess of the East persisted in folk religion. Suzanne Cahill, an authority on Xi Wangmu, places her as one of several ancient “mu divinities” of the directions, “mothers” who are connected to the sun and moon, or to their paths through the heavens. She notes that the widespread tiger images on Shang bronze offerings vessels may have been associated with the western mu deity, an association of tiger and west that goes back to the neolithic. [Cahill, 12-13]

After the oracle bones, no written records of the goddess appear for a thousand years, until the “Inner Chapters” of the Zhuang Zi, circa 300 BCE. This early Taoist text casts her as a woman who attained the Tao [Feng, 125]:

Xi Wang Mu attained it and took her seat on Shao Guang mountain.
No one knows her beginning and no one knows her end.

These eternal and infinite qualities remain definitive traits of the goddess throughout Chinese history.

The Shan Hai Jing
Another ancient source for Xi Wangmu is the Shan Hai Jing (“Classic of Mountains and Seas”). Its second chapter says that she lives on Jade Mountain. She resembles a human, but has tigers’ teeth and a leopard’s tail. She wears a head ornament atop her wild hair. [Remi, 100] Some scholars interpret this as a victory crown. [Birrell, 24] Most think it is the sheng headdress shown in the earliest reliefs of the goddess: a horizontal band with circles or flares at either end. [Cahill, 16; Strassberg, 109]

seated goddess wearing the sheng headdress, with knobs at both ends
Xi Wangmu wearing the Sheng Crown

The sheng is usually interpreted as a symbol of the loom. The medieval Di Wang Shih Zhi connects it to “a loom mechanism” the goddess holds. Cahill says that the sheng marks Xi Wangmu as a cosmic weaver who creates and maintains the universe. She also compares its shape to ancient depictions of constellations—circles connected by lines—corresponding to the stellar powers of Xi Wangmu. She “controls immortality and the stars.” Classical sources explain the meanings of sheng as “overcoming” and “height.” [Cahill, 45; 16-18]

This sign was regarded as an auspicious symbol during the Han dynasty, and possibly earlier. People exchanged sheng tokens as gifts on stellar holidays, especially the Double Seven festival in which women’s weaving figured prominently. It was celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month, at the seventh hour, when Xi Wangmu descended among humans. Taoists considered it the most important night of the year, “the perfect night for divine meetings and ascents.” [Cahill, 16, 167-8] It was the year’s midpoint, “when the divine and human worlds touch,” and cosmic energies were in perfect balance. [Despeux / Kohn, 31]

goddess presiding over shamanic dances and other rites
Xi Wangmu seated amidst worshippers, dancing frog, magical raven, nine-tailed fox, and various ritual scenes. Directly beneath her is a possible representaation of the celestial Grindstone.

The Shan Hai Jing goes on to say of the tigress-like Xi Wangmu: “She is controller of the Grindstone and the Five Shards constellations of the heavens.” [Cahill, 16] The Grindstone is where the axial Tree connects to heaven, the “womb point” from which creation is churned out. [Mitchell cite] In other translations of this passage, she presides over “the calamities of heaven and the five punishments.” [Strassberg, 109] For Guo Pu, this line referred to potent constellations. [Remi, 102] The goddess has destructive power—she causes epidemics, for example—but she also averts them and cures diseases. [Asian Mythology]

The passage above also says that the tiger-woman on Jade Mountain “excels at whistling.” Other translators render this line as “is fond of roaring” or “is good at screaming.” The character in question, xiào, does not translate easily. It is associated with “a clear, prolonged sound” that issues from the throats of sages and shamans. (It may have resembled Tuvan throat singing.) Xiào was compared to the cry of a phoenix, a long sigh, and a zither. Its melodic sound conveyed much more than mere words, and had the power to rouse winds and call spirits. Taoist scriptures also refer to the xiào, and in the Songs of Chu it appears “as a shamanistic ritual for calling back the soul of the deceased.” [Yun, online]

The twelfth chapter of the Shan Hai Jing returns to the goddess, seated on She Wu mountain: “Xi Wangmu rests on a stool and wears an ornament on her head. She holds a staff. In the south, there are three birds from which Xi Wangmu takes her nourishment. They are found to the north of the Kunlun mountains.” [Remi, 481] The three azure birds that bring fruits to the goddess belong to her host of shamanic spirits and emissaries that turn up in art and literature.

tigress-woman seated on mountainside as three phoenix-like birds fly toward her

An 18th-century woodcut depicts the goddess in her old shamanic form, with tiger’s teeth and bamboo staff, sitting on a mountaintop with various chimeric animals. From an edition of the Shan Hai Jing.

This description places Xi Wangmu on the mountain She Wu—“Snake Shaman.” Wu is the Chinese name for female shamans. Its written character depicts two dancers around a central pillar—the same cosmic ladder that recurs in the iconography of Xi Wangmu. The Songs of Chu, a primary source on ancient Chinese shamanism, describes Kunlun mountain as a column connecting heaven and earth, endlessly deep and high. [Cahill, 47] It is the road of shamanic journeys between the worlds.

Xi Wangmu has shamanic attributes in the Shan Hai Jing. She is depicted as a tigress, an animal connected to shamans in China and over much of Asia. As early as 2400 bce, Indus Valley seals depict tiger-women and women dancing with tigers. In the early Shang dynasty,bronzes of the early Shang dynasty show a tigress clasping children in her paws—possibly a clan ancestress, or a shamanic initiator—and tigers flank the head of a child being born on a colossal fangding. The taotie sign represents a tiger on innumerable Shang and Zhou offering vessels—and on masks. [On the taotie as tiger, Rawson, 244]

Mathieu Remi observes of the tigress form of Xi Wangmu, “There are good reasons for thinking that here we have a description of a shaman in trance.” He points to Chinese scholars who compare her staff to the staff of sorcerers. [Remi, 100, 481] Cahill draws the same conclusion, calling attention to modern parallels: “The stool, headdress, and staff—still part of the shaman’s paraphernalia in Taiwan today—reflect her shamanistic side.” [Cahill, 19]

three birds swoop toward a tiger-woman seated on a mountainside, attended by a three-legged raven, chilin and other animals.

Chapter 16 of the Shan Hai Jing returns to Xi Wangmu in the western wilderness. It describes “the mountain of Wangmu” in the country of the Wo people, who eat phoenix eggs. Whoever drinks the sweet dew of this place will be able to attain every desire. On the great mountain Kunlun is a spirit with a human face and a tiger’s body and tail. (Both are white, the color of the West and the goddess.) Finally, Xiwangmu is again described with tiger teeth and tail, with new details: she “lives in a cave,” on a mountain that “contains a thousand things.” [Remi, 575-78]

The Daren fu of Sima Xiangru concurs that Xi Wangmu lives in a grotto. In his account, the white-haired goddess is served by a three-footed crow and is unimaginably long-lived. [Remi, 481-2, 588] The ancient Huainan Zi contains the first written reference to Xi Wangmu granting the elixir of immortality. She bestows it on the Archer Yi, but his wife Chang E takes it and floats up to the moon where she becomes a toad (and the moon goddess). [Lullo, 270, 285] Xi Wangmu also grants longevity in the Songs of Chu. Seekers ask her for the divine nectar, or drink it, in many artistic depictions.

The marvellous Kunlun mountain lies somewhere far in the west, beyond the desert of Flowing Sands. It was often said to be in the Tian Shan (“heaven mountain”) range of central Asia, and the source of the Yellow River. But Kunlun is a mysterious place outside of time, without pain or death, where all pleasures and arts flourished: joyous music, dancing, poetry, and divine feasts.[Cahill, 19-20, 77]

Kunlun means “high and precarious,” according to the Shizhou Ji, because “its base is narrow and its top wide.” [Despeux / Kohn, 28] It is also called the Highgate or Triple Mountain. The Shan Hai Jing names it Jade Mountain, after a primary symbol of yin essence. In the Zhuang Zi, Xi Wangmu sits atop Shao Guang, which represents the western skies. Elsewhere she sits on Tortoise Mountain, the support of the world pillar, or on Dragon Mountain. In the Tang period, people said that the goddess lived on Hua, the western marchmount of the west in Shaanxi, where an ancient shrine of hers stood. [Cahill, 76, 14-20, 60]

woodcut of the nine-tailed foxThe sacred mountain is inhabited by fantastic beings and shamanistic emissaries. Among them are the three-footed crow, the nine-tailed fox, a dancing frog, and the moon-hare who pounds magical elixirs in a mortar. There are phoenixes and chimeric chi-lin, jade maidens and azure lads, and spirits riding on white stags. A third century scroll describes Xi Wangmu herself as kin to magical animals in her western wilderness: “With tigers and leopards I form a pride; Together with crows and magpies I share the same dwelling place.” [Cahill, 51-3]

Medieval poets and artists show the goddess riding on a phoenix or crane, or on a five colored dragon. Many sources mention three azure birds who bring berries and other foods to Xi Wangmu in her mountain pavilion, or fly before her as she descends to give audience to mortals. The poet Li Bo referred to the three wild blue birds who circle around Jade Mountain as “the essence-guarding birds.” They fulfil the will of the goddess. Several poets described these birds as “wheeling and soaring.” [Cahill, 99; 92; 51-3; 159]

The Jade Maidens (Yü Nü) are companions of the goddess on Kunlun. They are dancers and musicians who playjade maidens gather in a wilderness garden  as the goddess flies in on a phoenix chimes, flutes, mouth organ, and jade sounding stones. In medieval murals at Yongle temple, they bear magical ling zhi fungi on platters. In the “Jade Girls’ Song,” poet Wei Ying-wu describes their flight: “Flocks of transcendents wing up to the divine Mother.” [Cahill, 99-100]

Jade Maidens appear as long-sleeved dancers in the shamanic Songs of Chu and some Han poems. The Shuo wen jie zi  defines them as “invocators [zhu] …women who can perform services to the shapeless and make the spirits come down by dancing.” [Rawson, 427] Centuries later, a Qing dynasty painting shows a woman dancing before Xi Wang Mu and her court, moving vigorously and whirling her long sleeves. [Schipper, 2000: 36] Chinese art is full of these ecstatic dancing women.

Tang poets describe Xi Wangmu herself performing such dances in her rainbow dress and feathered robe with its winged sleeves. In The Declarations of the Realized Ones she dances while singing about the Great Wellspring; the Lady of the Three Primordials replies in kind. [Cahill, 165-6, 187]

The Jade Maidens act as messengers of the goddess and teachers of Taoist mystics. They impart mystic revelations and present divine foods to those blessed to attend the banquet of the goddess. But the Book of the Yellow Court warns spiritual seekers against “the temptation to make love to the Jade Maidens of Hidden Time.” [Schipper 1993:144]

Sometimes Yü Nü appears as a single divinity, in connection with other goddesses. In Chinese Buddhism, she is the dragon king’s daughter, and presented to the bodhisattva Guan Yin. Or she is born from an appeal to Tian Hou (“Empress of Heaven”), a title posthumously bestowed on the coastal saint Ma Zi (who was syncretized with the goddess of the East). [Stevens, 167]

The immortals journey to Kunlun to be with Xi Wangmu. The character for immortal (xian) reads as “mountain person,” and alternately as “dancing person.” [Schipper: 2000:36] The goddess lives in a “stone apartment” within her sacred mountain grotto—from which spring the underground “grotto heavens” of medieval Taoism. It is the paradise of the dead; a tomb inscription near Chongqing calls it a “stone chamber which prolongs life.” [Wu, 83]

Xi Wang Mu is an eternal being who guides vast cosmic cycles. In her mysterious realm, the passage of time is imperceptible: “A thousand years are just a small crack, like a cricket’s chirp.” A visitor turns his head for a second, and eons have passed. When king Mu returns from his visit to her paradise, the coats of his horses turn white. [Cahill, 47; 84; 114-15; 129] The goddess of the West confers elixirs of immortality, even as she receives the dead and presides over their realm. 

Mirrors and Tombs
Ancient art is rich in iconography of the goddess: bronzes, murals, painted lacquers, clay tiles, and stone reliefs. Much of this art is from funerary contexts, befitting the signification of the West. The goddess sits with hands tucked into voluminous sleeves, on a throne perched above an irregular stone pillar or a multi-tiered mountain. An ancient lacquer bowl from a tomb at Lelang depicts her thus, wearing a leopard hat and sitting on a leopard mat, with a jade maiden beside her and a canopy above. [Liu, 40] Sometimes she is enthroned in pavilions or halls.

goddess seated in hall, hands in sleeves, with large birds
The goddess seated in pillared hall: sarcophagus from Sichuan

In an important find near Tengzhou, Shandong, an incised stone depicts Xi Wangmu with a leopard’s body, tail, claws, teeth, and whiskers—and a woman’s face, wearing the sheng headdress. Votaries make offerings to her on both sides. The inscription salutes Tian Wangmu: Queen Mother of the Fields. [Lullo, 271] This alternate title reflects her control of the harvests, a tradition attested elsewhere. [Cahill, 13]

At Suide in Shaanxi, a sheng-crowned Xi Wangmu receives leafy fronds from human and owl-headed votaries, while hares joyously pound exilir in a mortar (below). The magical fox, hare, frog, crow, and humans attend her in a tomb tile at Xinfan, Sichuan. The tomb art of this province shows the goddess of transcendence seated in majesty on a dragon and tiger throne. [Liu, 40-3] This magical pair goes back to the Banpo neolithic, circa 5000 BCE, where they flank a burial at Xishuipo,  Henan. [Rawson, 244] Tiger and dragon represented yin and yang before the familiar Tai Ji symbol came into use during the middle ages.

goddess worshipped with fronds by animal spirit biengs
Tomb relief from Suide, Shaanxi

The Western Grandmother presides at the summit of the intricate bronze “divine trees” that are unique to Sichuan. Their stylized tiers of branches represent the multiple shamanic planes of the world mountain. The ceramic bases for the trees also show people ascending Kunlun with its caverns. [Wu, 81-91] “Universal mountain” censers (boshanlu) also depict the sacred peak with swirling clouds, magical animals and immortals. [Little, 148]

Xi Wangmu often appears on circular bronze mirrors whose backs are filled with concentric panels swirling with cloud patterns and thunder signs. She is flanked by the tiger and dragon, or the elixir-preparing rabbit, or sits opposite the Eastern King Sire, amidst mountains, meanders, “magic squares and compass rings inscribed with the signs of time.” [Schipper 1993: 172] Some mirrors are divided into three planes, with a looped motif at the base symbolizing the world tree. At the top a pillar rests on a tortoise—a motif recalling the mythical Tortoise Mountain of Xi Wangmu. [Wu, 87]

Han dynasty people placed bronze mirrors in burials as blessings for the dead and the living, inscribed with requests for longevity, prosperity, progeny, protection, and immortality. Taoists also used these mystic mirrors in ritual and meditation and transmissions of  potency. One mirror depicting Xi Wangmu bears a poem on the transcendents:

When thirsty, they drink from the jade spring; when hungry, they eat jujubes. They go back and forth to the divine mountains, collecting mushrooms and grasses. Their longevity is superior to that of metal or stone. The Queen Mother of the West. [Cahill, 28-9]

The Goddess in popular movements
The Han Shu and other ancient histories indicate that the common people saw Xi Wangmu as a savior, protector, and healer in a time of severe drought and political disorder. A popular movement devoted to the goddess arose and spread rapidly. It reached its height in 3 BCE, as described as the Monograph on Strange Phenomena: “It happened that people were disturbed and running around, passing a stalk of grain or flax from one to another, and calling it ‘the tally for transmitting the edict.’” [Lulo, 278]

The common people marched westward through various provinces, toward the Han capital. Many were barefoot and wild-haired (like their untamed goddess). People shouted and drummed and carried torches to the rooftops. Some crossed barrier gates and climbed over city walls by night, others rode swift carriages in relays “to pass on the message.” They gathered in village lanes and fields to make offerings. “They sang and danced in worship of the Queen Mother of the West.” [Lullo, 278-9]

People passed around written talismans believed to protect from disease and death. Some played games of chance associated with the immortals. [Cahill, 21-3] There were torches, drums, shouting. Farming and normal routines broke down. This goddess movement alarmed the gentry, and the Confucian historian presented it in a negative light. He warned the danger of rising yin: females and the peasantry stepping outside their place. The people were moving west—opposite the direction of the great rivers—“which is like revolting against the court.” The writer tried to stir alarm with a story about a girl carrying a bow who entered the capital and walked through the inner palaces. Then he drew a connection between white-haired Xi Wangmu and the dowager queen Fu who controlled the court, accusing these old females of “weak reason.” His entire account aimed to overthrow the faction in power at court. [Lullo, 279-80]

Change was in the air. Around the same time, the Taiping Jing (Scripture of Great Peace) described “a world where all would be equal.” As Kristofer Schipper observes, “a similar hope drove the masses in search of the great mother goddess.” [Schipper: 2000, 40] Their movement was put down within the year, but the dynasty fell soon afterward.

Yet veneration of the goddess crossed class lines, reaching to the most elite levels of society, as it had since Shang times. Imperial authorities of the later Han dynasty set up altars to the goddess. But courtly ceremonies differed from rural festivals, and religious interpretations were contested. Unfortunately, the Hanshu is the only written account of folk religion, from a hostile Confucian perspective. [Cahill, 24; Lullo, 277-81] The literati did not value peasant religion, so it was not recorded: “what is certain is that the religion of the common people, with its worship of holy mountains and streams, as well as the great female deities, was systematically left out.” [Schipper: 2000, 34]

Patriarchal revisions
From the Han dynasty forward, the image of Xi Wangmu underwent marked changes. [Lullo, 259] Courtly writers tried to tame and civilize the shamanic goddess. Her wild hair and tiger features receded, and were replaced by a lady in aristocratic robes, jeweled headdresses, and courtly ways. Her mythology also shifted as new Taoist schools arose. She remains the main goddess in the oldest Taoist encyclopedia (Wu Shang Bi Yao). But some authors begin to subordinate her to great men: the goddess offers “tribute” to emperor Yu, or attends the court of Lao Zi. [Cahill, 34, 45, 121-2] They displace her with new Celestial Kings, Imperial Lords, and heavenly bureaucracies—but never entirely.

In the later Han period, the spirit-trees of Sichuan show Xi Wangmu at the crest, with Buddha meditating under her, in a still-Taoist context. [Little, 154-5; Wu, 89] By the Six Dynasties, several paintings in the Dun Huang caves show the goddess flying through the heavens to worship the Buddha. [Cahill, 42] (In time, Taoism and Buddhism found an equilibrium in China, and mixed so that borders between the two eroded.) But cultural shifts never succeeded in subjugating the goddess.

She held her ground in the Tang dynasty, when Shang Qing Taoism became the official religion. She was considered its highest deity, and royals built private shrines to her. Her sheng headdress disappears, and is replaced by a nine-star crown. Poets named her the “Divine Mother,” others affectionately called her Amah, “Nanny.” But some literati demote the goddess to human status, making her fall in love with mortals, mooning over them and despairing at their absence. In a late 8th century poem she becomes “uncertain and hesitant” as she visits the emperor Han Wudi. [Cahill, 82-3; 58-69; 159]

Others portrayed her as young and seductive. [Lullo, 276] Worse, a few misogynists disparaged the goddess. The fourth century Yü Fang Bi Jue complained about her husbandless state and invented sexual slurs. It claimed that she achieved longevity by sexually vampirizing innumerable men and even preying upon boys to build up her yin essence. But the vigor of folk tradition overcame such revisionist slurs—with an important exception.

The ancient, shamanic shapeshifter side of Xi Wangmu, and her crone aspect, were pushed aside. Chinese folklore is full of tiger-women: Old Granny Autumn Tiger, Old Tiger Auntie (or Mother), Autumn Barbarian Auntie. They retain shamanic attributes, but in modern accounts they are demonized (and slain) as devouring witches. Two vulnerable groups, old women and indigenous people, become targets. [ter Harrm, 55-76] Yet the association of Tiger and Autumn and Granny goes back to ancient attributes of Xi Wangmu that are originally divine.

In another shift, the Han elite invented a husband for the Western Queen Mother: the Eastern King Sire (Dong Wang Gong). As Susan Lullo observes, there is “no evidence in Han literature that the King Father ever existed in myth.” (There was a god of Tai Shan, the sacred mountain of the East, but he never seems to be coupled with Xi Wangmu.) The new husband was added to the eastern wall of tombs, opposite the Western Mother, for “pictorial balance”—but also to domesticate the unpartnered goddess. [Lullo, 273-4, 261]

The attempt to marry the goddess did not find favor in popular tradition. Two thousand years later after the Shang inscription to the Eastern and Western Mothers, folk religion continued to pair Xi Wangmu with a goddess of the East. Often it was Ma Gu or Ma Zi, goddess of the Eastern Sea, whose paradise island of Penglai was equivalent to Kunlun. Ma Zi is another eternal being who oversees vast cycles of time, as the Eastern Sea gives way to mulberry fields, and then back to ocean again. Some sources say that Xi Wangmu traveled to this blessed Eastern Isle. [Cahill, 118; 62; 77] These goddesses also share a title; like Wangmu, the name Ma Zi means “maternal ancestor, grandmother.” [Schipper, 166; Stevens, 137]

Another Eastern partner of the goddess was Bixia Yüanjün, Sovereign of the Dawn Clouds. She was the daughter of the god of Mt. Tai, and her sanctuary stood on its summit. Bixia Yuanjün oversaw birth as her counterpart Xi Wangmu governed death and immortality. [Little, 278] A major shrine to Xi Wangmu stood along the path up this mountain. [Stevens, 53] The great poet Li Bo referred to “the Queen Mother’s Turquoise Pond” from which pilgrims drank while ascending Mount Tai. Stone inscriptions describe a rite of “tossing the dragons and tallies” in which monks threw bronze dragons and prayers for the emperor’s longevity into the waters of the goddess. [Cahill, 1-2, 59]

Taoist mysticism
From very ancient times the Grandmother of the West was associated with the tiger, the element metal, autumn, and the color white. These associations were part of the Chinese Concordance, which assigned to each direction (including the center) an animal, element, organ, emotion, color, sound, and season. Also known as Five Element or Five Phases, this concordance is the basis of Chinese medicine, astrology, and geomancy (feng shui).

Xi Wangmu is called Jin Mu Yüan Jün: Metal Mother, Primordial Ruler. [Cahill, 68] She is the great female principle, Tai Yin, which is also the name of the Lung meridian in Chinese medicine. It is linked to autumn, death, and grief. The goddess governs the realm of the dead, but is simultaneously the font of vital energy and bliss. A mural at Yongle Temple in Shanxi shows her with a halo, crowned with a phoenix and the Kun trigram that announces her as the Great Yin. Opposite her is a painting of the Empress of Earth. [Little, 276; 281]

The Book of the Center says that Xi Wangmu is present in the right eye. “Her family name is Great Yin, her personal name, Jade Maiden of Obscure Brilliance.” [Schipper, 1993: 105] The Shang Jing Lao Ze Zhong Jing accords on these points and instructs adepts how to manifest celestial beings within their bodies. It names her “So-of-itself,” “Ruling Thought,” and “Mysterious Radiance.” [Cahill, 35]

In Taoist mysticism the human body is the microcosm that reflects the terrestrial and celestial macrocosm, and these themes are interwoven in traditions about the goddess. Kunlun is present in the body as an inverted mountain in the lower abdomen, at the center of the Ocean of Energies (Qi Hai). The navel is the hollow summit of the mountain, through which the depths of that ocean can be reached. This is the Cinnabar Field (lower Dan Tian), the “root of the human being.” [Schipper 1993: 106-7]

On the celestial level, the goddess also manifests her power through the Dipper Stars, a major focus of Taoist mysticism. [Schipper, 70. He notes that Ma Zi was also seen “as an emanation of one of the stars in the Big Dipper.” (43)] A Shang Qing text dating around 500 says that Xi Wangmu governs the nine-layered Kunlun and the Northern Dipper. The Shih Zhou Zhi also connects Kunlun mountain “where Xi Wang Mu reigns” to a double star in the Big Dipper, known as the Dark Mechanism. The Dipper’s handle, called the Jade Crossbar of the Five Constants, “governs the internal structure of the nine heavens and regulates yin and yang.” [Cahill, 35-8]

Taoist texts repeatedly associate Xi Wangmu with nine planes, a nine-leveled mountain, pillar, or jade palace. She is worshipped with nine-fold lamps. She governs the Nine Numina—which are the original ultimate powers in Shang Qing parlance. The goddess herself is called Nine Radiance, and Queen Mother of the Nine Heavens. [Cahill, 68-9, 126]

Around the year 500, Tao Hung Jing systematized Taoist deities into two separate hierarchies, male and female, with Xi Wangmu ranked as the highest goddess. He gave her a lasting title: The Ninefold Numinous Grand and Realized Primal Ruler of the Purple Tenuity from the White Jade Tortoise Terrace. Other sources, such as the poet Du Fu, describe her as descending to the human realm enveloped in purple vapors. [Cahill, 33; 24; 168]

Teacher of Sages
Taoists recognized the ancient great goddess as a divine teacher and initiator of mystic seekers, and in many cases as the ultimate origin of their teachings and practices. She governs the Taoist arts of self-transformation known as internal alchemy, including meditation, breath and movement practices, medicines and elixirs. Books say that the legendary shamanic emperors Shun and Yü studied with Xi Wangmu. They also credit her as the source of wisdom that the Yellow Emperor learned from the female transcendents Xüan Nü and Su Nü. Over time the goddess comes to be portrayed as a master of Taoist scriptures, with a library of the greatest books on Kunlun. [Cahill, 14-15; 44; 34]

Legend said that the Zhou dynasty king Mu (circa 1000 bce) travelled to Kunlun in search of the Western Mother. Many ancient sources elaborated on their meeting beside the Turquoise Pond. The emperor Han Wudi was granted a similar audience in 110 BCE. The Monograph on Broad Phenomena says that the goddess sent a white deer to inform him of her advent, and he prepared a curtained shrine for her. She arrived on the festival of Double Sevens, riding on a chariot of purple clouds. She sat facing east, clothed in seven layers of blue clouds. Three big blue birds and other magical servitors set up the ninefold tenuity lamp. The goddess gave five peaches to the emperor. He wanted to save the seeds for planting, but she laughed and said that they would not bear fruit for 3000 years. [Cahill, 48-55]

In a later account, the cloud carriage of the goddess is drawn by nine-colored chimeric chilin. She wears a sword, a cord of knotted flying clouds, and “the crown of the Grand Realized Ones with hanging beaded strings of daybreak.” She granted the emperor a long instruction on how to attain the Tao—which he failed to follow. Instead of nourishing essence, preserving breath, and keeping the body whole, he lost himself in carousing and indulgences. [Cahill, 81, 149-153]

Literature focuses on her meetings with emperors, but a deep and broad tradition casts Xi Wangmu as the guardian of women and girls. They worshipped her at the birth of daughters, and she protected brides. [Stevens, 53] Celebrations of women’s fiftieth birthday also honored the goddess. Women who stood outside the patriarchal family system were regarded as her special protegees, whether they earned their own way as singers, dancers, prostitutes, or became nuns, hermits, or sages who attained the Tao. [Cahill, 70]

Though men greatly outnumber women as named and remembered Taoist masters, in practice women acted as teachers and libationers. Female instruction was built in to a greater degree than any “major” religion; tradition demanded that initiation be done by a person of the opposite sex, and the highest degree of initiation “could only be obtained by a man and a woman together.” [Schipper 1993: 58, 128-9]

Many accounts show Xi Wangmu as the ultimate source of teachings transmitted by female sages and transcendents to mortal men. The Zhen Gao scroll lays out a complete spiritual matrilineage that begins with Xi Wangmu and enumerates clans and religious communities in the female line. [Cahill, 34] The female immortal Wei hua-cun was said to have transmitted teachings to the shaman Yang Xi. Shang Qing Taoism arose from her revelations, but it was understood that they were inspired by the Spirit Mother of the West. [Schipper 2000: 44; Cahill, 155] Shang Qing tradition also holds that the female transcendents Xuan Nü (the Dark Woman) and Su Nü (Natural Woman) had taught the Yellow Emperor.

Qi Xi, or the Night of Sevens
Over the centuries the Double Sevens festival drifted away from Xi Wang Mu, and toward the Weaver Girl. This night was the one time in the year that she was allowed to meet Cowherd Boy. An ancient legend says that the god of heaven separated the lovers, or in some versions, Xi Wangmu herself. Angered that the girl was neglecting her loom, she made her return to the heavens. When Cowherd followed, the goddess drew her hairpin across the sky, creating the celestial river of the Milky Way to separate the lovers. (They were the stars Vega and Aquila.) Later, she helped them to reunite by sending ten thousand magpies to create a bridge. So the holiday is sometimes called the Magpie festival.

In this tomb art from Guyuan in Ningxia, it is Xi Wangmu and Dong Wanggong who are separated by the Milky Way, not the Weaver Girl and Cowherd, showing that there were a range of stories around these themes.

In other versions, Weaver Girl is a fairy whose work is to weave colorful clouds in the sky. The cowherd surprises her and her six fairy sisters swimming in a lake. He steals Weaver Girl’s clothes (or all of them) and she is forced to marry him. This angers the goddess of heaven, who commands her to return to heaven.

Xi Wangmu’s connection to weaving has faded, just as her sheng headdress was dropped from Taoist iconography. Now it is Weaving Maid who oversees women’s fabric arts, silk cultivation, and needlework. She rules “the fecund female world of seedy melons and fruits” and “the gathering and storing of precious things.” Yet this too connects her with ancient goddess, whose “numinous melon produces abundantly” every four eons. [Cahill, 77]

The drift of mythic themes pops up in various places. The magpies who form the reunion bridge are sacred to Xi Wangmu. The Milky Way separates not the ill-starred lovers, but the Western Mother and the Eastern King, on a painted coffin in Ningxia. [Liu, fig. 43] Xi Wangmu was traditionally the controller of the North Dipper, but in the famous mystic diagram from Baiyuan Guan, Cowherd is holding the constellation. A Double Sevens song in the Yangzi region invokes the Eastern goddess for transcendent powers: “On this night we should beg for the techniques of immortality, clawing away some of Ma Gu’s medicine to cure the Lady in the Moon.” [Mann, 173

As before, the festival “marked the beginning of autumn,” when ghosts are propitiated and women begin to sew winter clothes. On this day they wash their hair with herbal infusions, spread out offerings of melon and fruit seeds, and atttempt to thread needles by moonlight: the “test for skill.” [Mann, 170, 173] From this custom the festival came to be called the Night of Skills, or Pleading for Skills.

The holiday was “extremely popular among unmarried girls” in the Canton Delta, the year’s best festival. In this region of delayed marriage and sworn spinsters, it is called the Festival of Seven Sisters. Its story does not focus on the lovers, but on the Weaving Maid and her sisters. (Here it is the sisters who became furious at the Weaver Girl’s marriage, and who only permitted her to cross over to her husband once a year.) Women propitiate the Seven Sisters “with elaborate displays of their needle and handicraft skills.” They create altars with candles, incense, flowers, fruits, and finely decorated miniature clothing, shoes, and furniture, all in sevens. The celebration culminates with a “wish-fulfilment banquet.” [Stockard, 42-4]

By the late Ming period, the mixture of Buddhism and Taoism gave rise to a new goddess with attributes of Xi Wangmu and Guanyin: Wusheng Laomu. This Venerable Eternal Mother “created the world in the beginning of time.” She helps and teaches her children—who go to her western paradise at death. [Despeux, 42]

The visionary Tanyangzi was from childhood devoted to Guanyin and Amitabha. Born in 1558 as Wang Taozhen, she meditated and was reluctant to marry. Her parents betrothed her but the fiance died soon after, and the maiden embraced the status of widow, making it possible to remain unwed. She had visions of an unimaginably beautiful “Supreme Perfected.” From this “great goddess,” Tanyangzi received a transmission of a smoky mystic character which she breathed in and absorbed into her body. This initiation enabled her to go without eating and resist sexuality and physicality. At the age of nineteen, Tanyangzi was said to have ascended to Kunlun, where she met Xi Wangmu and received immortality. Yet she died a few months later. [Despeux, 45] Here the Taoist and Buddhist themes are mixed in somewhat contradictory ways! Taoists did not reject sexuality, and their intepretation of immortality did not imply leaving the body behind

Women’s embroidery kept the Western Spirit Mother alive. Their favorite scene seems to have been the goddess flying on a phoenix toward her mountaintop garden, with the Jade Maidens assembled to welcome her return and the peaches of immortality ripening beside the Turquoise Pond.

Left: modern statue of Xi Wang Mu holding a peach of immortality