Pottery Tile of a Priest
Item No. 5515
Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368), N/A, China
7.5" x 8.5" x 1"
( 19.05 x 21.59 x 2.54 cm)
(H x W x D)
This tile may represent Lü Tung Pin, the most popular of the Eight Immortals whose statue is found in most temples in towns and villages throughout China. Many grottoes in the sacred mountains of China are dedicated to him. He is generally depicted with a sword and carrying a bushy fly whisk, a traditional symbol of a being who can fly through the heavens and earth at will. He appears to be depicted in flight in this tile, as his legs are bent and hover in the air and his arm is raised as if it were being propelled by the fly whisk. What seems to be a firecracker, which may symbolize a ritualistic celebration or holiday of some kind, appears next to him.
Lu Tung Pin’s popularity is due to his association with medicine and with the elixir of life and his status as the doctor to the poor. Those who suffer from unidentified ailments visit one of Lü Tung Pin's shrines in a temple or one of his grottoes and offer prayers, describe their symptoms and shake a bamboo container filled with numbered sticks. When a stick falls out, the devotee reports the stick's number to the prescription shop in the temple grounds or at the base of the mountain and receives an herbal prescription to take to the herbalist.
Lü Tung Pin also has power over evil spirits and through charms is able to deflect evil from his devotees. Chinese symbols or charms are still popular, and a yearly Almanac (the Tung Shu) contains many pages of charms. Most Chinese homes have charms pinned to the walls to prevent illness or ward off evil, and of these the ones of Lü Tung Pin are viewed as among the most popular and efficacious.
The figure and the firecracker were originally covered with a white slip and fully painted, although most of the paint is lost. There seems to be traces of green on the firecracker, and yellow and grey on the figure.
Kwok Man Ho and Joanne O’Brien, ed. and translators, "The Eight Taoist Immortals: Legends and Fables of Popular Taoism," New York, Meridian Books, 1991, pp. 23-25.