One of my favorite museum artefacts from October…….with links to modern day China
Guanyin is a Buddhist bodhisattva which is deity who gave up their passage into the afterlife to remain in the world and help others to reach enlightenment. Guanyin is the bodhisattva of compassion. Bodhisattvas have no gender and can be represented as masculine or feminine. In India they are male but in China Guanyin was eventually transformed into a female representation. Although strictly speaking she is an attendant of the Buddha she has actually come to become worshiped in her own right.
In this gilt bronze Guanyin she takes a very feminine form with a lot of elaborate jewelry. This pose with one leg folded and the other hanging down is called the posture of royal ease and she is often represented this way. The way she holds her hands is a symbol that she is preaching the Buddist law. To really reinforce her femininity Guanyin has also been depicted as a ravishing young woman who enlightens the men she make loves to.
In China she is the bestower of sons and people pray to her for a male heir. In Chinese culture the family continuity and prosperity is achieved through the son and this has led to the situation today where there are many more sons being born in China than daughters, leaving a big imbalance and a large number of single men. I think that’s a good example of how the ancient culture and the worshiping of deity’s like Guan Yin are still impacting on modern day China.