Birthday Celebration for the Queen Mother of the West
In Zhuangzi (庄子), an ancient Chinese text from the late Warring States period (476–221 BCE) and one of the two foundational texts of Daoism, the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu 西王母) was mentioned as a deity who ‘obtained the Dao (the Way)’. According to the Scripture of Great Peace (Taiping jing 太平经), a valuable resource for researching early Daoist beliefs and the society at the end of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD25 – AD220), the Queen Mother of the West was an immortal (xian 仙). In the Six Dynasties period (420 – 589), she was adopted into the pantheon of religious Daoism (Daojiao 道教) as the principal female deity in the Supreme Secret Essentials (Wushang miyao 无上秘要), a Daoist encyclopaedia completed in 577.
The scene of the celebration of the Queen Mother’s birthday typically consists of three components: first, a female dignitary seated before a screen, flanked by a couple of court ladies and entourage; a dancer gesticulating with her arms, often on a rug; an all-female orchestra playing various kinds of musical instruments.
Fig 1-4: 2 separate baluster vases, Kangxi period (1662 – 1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art
Fig 5-8: 2 separate beaker-shaped vases, Kangxi period (1662 – 1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art
Fig 9-12: 2 separate baluster vases, Kangxi Period (1662 – 1722), Qing dynasty, courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London