Printer Friendly Version

Money Tree


This tapestry shows Hsi Wang-mu descending from mythical Mt. Kunlun to attend her birthday party, which celebrated peaches as a source of immortality. China, Pictorial Hanging Illustrating the Feast of Peaches, Ch'ing dynasty, late 18th century, silk tapestry, The John R. Van Derlip Fund

This ink stone, modeled in the form of a turtle, features the "eight trigrams" of Taoism carved into its removable shell. These symbols are the basis for the I-Ching, the Taoist text formulated during the Western Chou period (1050–772 BCE). China, Ink Tablet in the Form of a Turtle, Eastern Han dynasty, 1st century, earthenware with modeled and incised décor including the Eight Trigrams of the I-Ching (The Book of Changes), The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

key idea
Taoism and Hsi Wang-mu

Look at the top center of each branch for a figure seated beneath a canopy. This is Hsi Wang-mu (shee wong moo), a deity in Taoism (dowism) known as the Queen Mother of the West. Atop the lower branches, she is seated in a shrine and is being entertained by flying horses on both sides and performers below. On the higher branches, spiritual attendants (xian) make offerings to her. In each depiction, she wears a customary flowing robe and a headpiece (sheng).

During much of the Han dynasty, Hsi Wang-Mu was worshipped as the ruler of mythical Mt. Kunlun and holder of the secret to longevity. In some portrayals, she possesses an elixir that, when consumed, would guarantee immortality. People of all social statuses, from commoners to royalty, worshipped her. Particularly in Szechuan province, she augured good fortune, thus explaining her central placement on the money tree.

At the end of the Han dynasty (c. 220), Taoism became an established religion in China. Taoism focuses on nature, the quest for longevity, spiritual cultivation, and the "Tao" as the source of all things. Taoism incorporated much older philosophy and deities, including Hsi Wang-mu, into its system of beliefs. In time, Taoism and Buddhism overlapped in China, and Hsi Wang-mu was depicted alongside the Buddha and other enlightened figures of Buddhism.

November 2012