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416. Figure of Han Xiang
China, Kangxi period (1662 – 1722)
Height: 15 cm
Private Collection, UK
This enamel on biscuit seated figure depicts Han Xiangzi, one of the Eight Daoist Immortals. He is dressed in a light green robe decorated with yellow and aubergine flowers and holds a flute in his right hand. The smiling face looks slightly to the right, his black hair in two small top knots. The high hexagonal base is decorated on the front with green and yellow trellis bands, with a central panel with the character shou for longevity. The reverse of the hollow base is left unglazed and the three panels only depict casual black scribbles. This indicates that this figure was only intended to be viewed from the front.
The Eight Immortals (baxian) are a popular group of Daoists deities, comprising seven male and one female personage. The stories and iconography connected to each of these figures, illustrate the transformation from the early philosophical Daoism to a more popular culture, involving magic and alchemy to achieve immortality. Each of the eight characters is based on a historical figure; Han Xiang reputedly being the grandnephew of a ninth century scholar. Known as a great poet and musician, he become the patron of musicians. He can be distinguished from the other immortals by his special attribute, a magical jade flute. A man of nature – lover of solitude and mountains - he is believed to have the ability to make flowers and fruit grow out of season, which is emphasized by the flower decoration on the robes of this figurine.
This type of figures would have been popular for the domestic, as well as the export market. In the west these figures would have been popular luxurious adornments representing foreign and exotic lands.
Similar figures are in the Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. Nr. AK-VBR 555). The Taft Museum, Cincinnati (acc.nr.1931.35,42,40, & 37, Drottingholm Castle, Sweden (acc. nr. HGK 860) and Musée Guimet, Paris (acc. Nr. G5332) have similar, slightly larger standing figures of Han Xiangzi.