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Wuzhiqi statue


Brief Identification[]

Wuzhiqi, is a water goblin from Chinese mythology. This statue is from the Song Dynasty of 12th century China and is made completely of cast iron. It's dimensions are 39x32x38 cm. It is currently positioned in the National Museum in Berlin, Germany. Wuzhiqi is a water monkey that is ensnared under Turtle Mountain by a thick chain that secures him to his eternal fate of guarding the mountain.

Mythology of Wuzhiqi[]

Wuzhiqi is known as a water monkey who has been doomed to spend the rest of his days trapped under Turtle Mountain. He was "subdued by the sage-king Yu, the hero of the Flood in ancient China" [Lai 32]. Wuzhiqi is known as a vicious water goblin that sits under the mountain and guards it from anything that comes its way. He is not a friendly creature to meet, he is very strong and is not to be bothered. He has control over the water and when disturbed, he is prone to throw the water into ferocious waves to terrify intruders. [Andersen 18]

There are many versions of the legend of Wuzhiqi. As one goes: There was a fisherman who unexpectedly caught an ancient iron chain on his hook when he cast out his line in the Huai river. He could not pull his line back out and he reported this to the prefect, Li Yang. Li Yang gathered a group of men to try to pull the chain out of the water. Finally, they got it out and at the end was a black monkey that jumped out at them, then jumped back into the water. [Andersen 15-16] This short excerpt shows just one take on the ancient legend of the great water goblin that frightens those who pass by.

The Huai River is known for flooding at various, and unexpected times during the year. The Great Yu, the controller of the waters, is known for receeding the waters during times of flood and is known as the founder of the Xia dynasty. Wuzhiqi is said, as legend goes, to have been captured by Yu and imprisoned in a cave under water. [Andersen 50-52] 

Technical Evaluation[]

This statue is made of cast iron, a very special concotion of metals for 12th century China. As early as the 4th century China was using cast iron for weapons and other tools for its growing industry and economy. [Needham 402] According to Robert Hartwell, "metallurgical activity in eastern Shantung was carried on by local peasants...these activities were usually carried on during the idle season by peasants whose primary occupation was farming." With such a plethora of resources of iron in ancient China, people were able to be kept busy by all the work that had to be done. Poul Andersen writes in his book, The Demon Chained Under Turtle Mountain, that the statue was most likely made from "piece-mould casting" where the pieces of the statue are made in separate molds, dried out then reassembled around the main block of the statue to create the desired figure. Cast iron was used in China due to many of its advantages over other kinds of metals, says Rostoker. For one, iron is much cheaper and it has "high productivity per unit of time" which is a good thing when China is producing iron tools and the like in bulk quantities. Iron is also known for being "far tougher and more durable than bronze" which is important for long lasting weaponry. [Rostoker 753]

For many years, Wuzhiqi was held in the hands of Hanna Bekker, who was an art exhibitionist during World War II. According to Andersen, "the statue played a very special role in the life of Hanna Bekker." Through much coaxing and pleaing, Bekker eventually surrendered her statue into the hands of the China-Institut in Frankfurt am Main, only after settling a deal on receiving an exact replica of the statue for her own keeping. The statue is now displayed in the East-Asian Art Collection at the National Museum in Berlin. Since its settling in the museum there have been findings of other Wuzhiqi statues in various parts of the world, including Sweeden and Holland, says Andersen. These countries, however, are not willing to give up their possession of the statue.

Local Historical Context[]

The Song Dynasty ruled in China from about 960-1279 and although it was not as big as the Han Dynasty, it experienced a time of "economic, social and cultural prosperity and often coined the Chinese "renaissance." The Chinese during this period made great advances in technology as well as in recovering Chinese culture after it was demolished by barbarians . Society during this period flourished and technological advances in agriculture and culture led to the growth and development of the peoples living in China during this time. [1]

As Andersen writes in his book, their was a monastery by Turtle Mountain along the Huai River that was used for sacrificing to the gods to pacify them. The river is known for flooding over into the surrounding area and for many years this temple was hidden due to the flux of the river. In this temple, many items of iron were found "in the main temple of the god of the river" as sacrifices to the river god. "The symbolic and practical functions of iron in the control forces of water is a dominant theme" in Chinese legends, and from the finds in the monastery, it is clear just how important iron sacrifices were to the gods and to the ancient Chinese. [Andersen 42-44] There is still a practice that goes on today that stems from ancient times called the "Grand Gathering for Frightening Away the Water Dragons." This festival takes place annually at the temple Palace of King Yu where groups of people gather to scare off the water dragons by dancing and drumming. It is understood that, in this atmosphere, Wuzhiqi is an evil water dragon that the people are warding off from their land and territory. [Andersen 52-53] By making such a disastrous and cacophonic noise, the people are set at ease knowing that the evil water dragons have been warded off.

Iron was a very significant commodity in 12th century China as it led to the development of many great advances, as stated previously. According to Andersen, "the use of various metals, and especially of iron, as symbolic agents for subduing and controlling the evil forces which live in water and represent the danger from water, is ubiquitous in Chinese mythology." [Andersen 71] Wuzhiqi, made of solid cast-iron, is used, according to myth, to control the waters in the Huai river. Ancient China saw iron as a very controlling substance when it came to water and it was sure to present iron sacrifices to the water gods to pacify them.

Song China was one of the most successful dynasties in history having advances beyond anything the world had ever seen during its prime. The Song Dynasty was a dynasty rich in agriculture which led to the increase in population in its city-states that eventually grew to become large urban areas. Due to its increase in agriculture and food production, China was able to focus on promoting and producing other goods, from its roots sprouted gunpowder, porcelain, and the compass to name a few. The development of the compass allowed the Chinese to take their goods that they were producing at home and put them on ships andtrade across the Indian Ocean, taking their goods to Southwest Asia and East Africa. From its growing economic system, China was able to take its products and create a trade network that greatly improved its economic standing and added to its success.

World-Historical Significance[]

This statue reflects the advancement of ancient China and how progressive the Song Empire was during its time of reign. The Song Dynasty, as mentioned, was well ahead of its time and as other civilizations tried to keep up, the Song Dynasty was going ever onward and upward. The statue of Wuzhiqi shows not only China's impeccable capability to produce and manufacture goods in an advanced way, but also the ability to continue building such a great economy and culture and to possess the ability to thrive for years after its fall. Song China continued to thrive during its reign and the advancement and production of iron continued to be an important component of its economy.

Suggested Bibliography[]

Joseph Needham. "Chinese Priorities in Cast Iron Metallurgy." Technology and Culture 5 (1964): 398-404, accessed May 25, 2014, doi: 10.2307/3101259

Poul Andersen. The Demon Chained Under Turtle Mountain. Berlin: G + H Verlag Berlin und der Autor, 2001.

Robert Hartwell. "Markets, Technology, and the Structure of Enterprise in the Development of the Eleventh-Century Chinese Iron and Steel Industry." The Journal of Economic History 26 (1966): 29-58, accessed May 27, 2014, http://www.jstor.org.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/stable/2116001

Whalen Lai. "From Protean Ape to Handsome Saint: The Monkey King." Asian Folklore Studies 53 (1994): 29-65, accessed May 24, 2014, doi: 10.2307/1178559 William Rostoker, Bennet Bronson and James Dvorak. "The Cast Iron Bells of China." Technology and Culture 25 (1984): 750-767, accessed May 23, 2014, doi: 10.2307/3104621

"The Legacy of Ancient China: The Song Dynasty," last modified February 13, 2006, http://www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/chinahist/song.html

"Song Dynasty," accessed May 25, 2014, http://www.china-tour.cn/Chinese-History/Song-Dynasty.htm