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Ruyi Scepters in the Qing Court Collection

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Ruyi means "as-you-wish" and a ruyi scepter is a talisman presented to bestow good fortune. It is composed of a long handle and a head which is usually in the form of a heart, a cloud, or a longevity fungus (lingzhi). The shape of the Ruyi scepter and its symbolism developed over a long period of time. In antiquity, both China and India had an implement for scratching the back. Over a long period, these utilitarian objects came to represent the owner's high social status. From the fifth century they were called "he-who-holds" (wo jun) or "authority to speak" (tan bing), and increased in value. They became objects that monarchs and high officials often held in their hands. By the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), these functional items, which originally terminated in a small cupped hand, had become ornamental and auspicious. In the Ming and Qing ruyi scepters that often were in the form of longevity fungi were even more regarded as having auspicious meaning and were considered appropriate gifts to wish all good things including peace and long life. The Qing court especially favored ruyi scepters and received many masterpieces on the occasions of imperial wedding ceremonies, imperial birthdays, and New Year's Day. In the imperial palaces, ruyi scepters were placed on thrones, tables and beds. They are made of materials which are even more valuable than gold. Ruyi scepters were not only auspicious objects in the imperial collection, but also symbolic representations of wealth and power. The Palace Museum has nearly three thousand ruyi scepters with outstanding designs in a wide variety of materials. Some of them were presented by officials; others were made by the imperial workshops. This exhibition presents sixty-six examples (sixty-six is an auspicious number because it sounds like flowing smoothly). It comes with all best wishes for a happy life. (Organizer: Liu Jing)

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