Image of Guan Ti
Item No. 6510
Early 20th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
25.25" x 10.5" x 8"
( 64.135 x 26.67 x 20.32 cm)
(H x W x D)
The copper color of the lacquer on thes wood carving of Kuan Ti or Guan ti, demonstrates that this piece was probably made in very South China near the border with Vietmam.
Of all the heroes in Chinese history, Kuan Ti, who lived during the Three Kingdoms Period (160-219), is the best known and revered as being all things to all men, and prayed to not only for protection and prosperity, but also to solve all problems, personal, domestic, national and universal. Legends and myths about his feats have been immortalized in popular and religious art, literature, and even operas.
Kuan Ti is a syncretic deity in China, meaning that he is prayed to by those who follow the three basic Chinese religions, Buddhism, Daoism and the Popular Religions (Ancestor Worship). During the Tang dynasty (618 – 906 A.D.), these three religions along with Confucianism were combined to form the syncretic Three-in-One doctrine.
According to popularized legends,Kuan Yu,who was a simple bean curd hawker, left his home in Shanxi in search of adventure and met a government magistrate seizing a young girl as a concubine from the arms of her grandfather. Overwhelmed by anger, Guan Yu killed the officer and became a wanted killer. He joined the army to escape assault and met Chang Fei, a butcher who challenged anyone to lift a large stone protecting his meat. When Kuan Yu lifted the stone and took the meat Chang Fei attacked him and Liu Pei stopped the fight. The three then swore brotherly allegiance and pledged to live and die together which has become the ideal of friendship and heroism in Chinese mythology.
Kuan Ti also has a significant role in Mahayana Buddhism. He received the teachings of Tripitaka Master Chi Tsai, the founder of Tien Tai Buddhism and became a guardian for the Buddha Dharma. Since then, Kuan Ti has been worshiped as a Guardian or Dharma Protector in Buddhist temples. He is the Sentinel to the Western Paradise of Amitabha Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism. His statue is traditionally placed in the first hall of most temples and incense is offered to him as a mark of respect.
Kuan Ti was killed in 219 AD. After his death, legends about his miracles spread throughout China, attracting a large cult following. He was ennobled by the Song Emperor as “Faithful and Loyal Duke,” and “Magnificent Prince and Pacificator.” The Yuan Emperor Win in the 14th century added the title “Warrior Prince and Civilizer,” and in 1594 the Ming Emperor Wan Li gave him the title “Faithful and Loyal Great Ti, Supporter of Heaven and Protector of the Kingdom,” officially designating him as the protector of China and its people. He became a god, a ti, and has ever since been worshipped as Kuan Ti, the God of War. In the 16th century he was admitted to the Taoist pantheon. Over 1,600 State temples and thousands of smaller ones were erected in his honor, and he became one of the most popular gods in China. His popularity continued and in the 19th century the Emperor of China designated him Military Emperor and elevated him to the level of Confucius.
Kuan Ti is generally portrayed as an imposing figure of statue and power, standing firmly with his booted feet facing outwards, his left hand on his waist and right hand held officiously in front of him. Traditionally he wears a soldier’s uniform with protective chain mail amour on his chest, arms, and legs with flaring epaulets arising from his uniform at the elbows. His officials cap with feathered wings flares out from the sides of his head and a sheath from his head gear flows down his back. At his waist is a tao tieh, under which is a tied scarf which falls to his ankles.
Buddhist Studies: Buddha Dharma Education Association and Buddhanet, "Kuan-Ti: The Protector of Buddhism," www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/kuanti-txt.htm.
Keith Stevens, "Chinese Gods: The Unseen World of Spirits and Demons," Collins and Brown, London, 1997.
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