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Mazu - Religious Statues (媽祖)

Mazu statues are generally made to look like a young or middle-aged woman. The younger version of Mazu tends to be slimmer in the face and body as this is thought to be what Mazu looked like in her youth. Mazu statues originating from the Meizhou Ancestral Temple also show these characteristics. Mazu as a middle-aged woman tends to be fuller in the face and body. This is the most common style in Taiwan and reflects how Mazu is seen as a nurturing mother figure by the Taiwanese people.

Mazu statues are generally ornate and refined with a relaxed, tranquil expression. This expression reflects what society considers is the female virtue as well as her exalted official rank. It is possible to discern in the design of Mazu that she is both an empress in the heavenly pantheon as well as a caring mother.

The color of the face is very important in the design of Mazu statues. The common types include the painted face, the black face, and the gold face. The painted-face Mazu is generally worshipped by ordinary people. This is considered to be Mazu's everyday guise and it also represents her feminine and motherly attributes. The black-face Mazu is also relatively common. There are two theories, with one attributes this to the smoke from the believers' incense over the years while the other claims that this shows Mazu 's figure when she is using her powers to save people and cleanse evil. As for the gold-face Mazu, this represents Mazu 's elevation to godhood and her status as an empress in the heavenly pantheon by imperial edict.

Mazu's face is usually heart-shaped with arched eyebrows and almond eyes. She also has a straight nose and a small, well-defined mouth. The gaze is cast slightly downward to give a calm and solemn expression. The overall impression is that of a kindly, gentle and calm elder. The design also conveys Mazu's motherly love for all people.

Mazu's tiara can be divided into two broad types. One is the flat hat and the other is the beaded tasseled crown. The former is very simple as a rounded square hat. According to mythology, Mazu was the daughter of a fishing family before her ascension so she wore a non-official flat hat (R.S. Wu, 2006: 124). This type of hat is usually found in private homes and is rare on temple statues.The tasseled crown is an official hat in the style worn by emperors. This style dates back to before the Qing Dynasty and is mentioned in the Rites of Zhou . The emperor's costume for conducting the heavenly rituals includes a grand crown with twelve beaded tassels (C.S. Chen, 1997: 151). The tiara on Mazu statues in temples generally features nine tassels and is referred to as the "Nine-Tassel Tiara" or the "Sky Crown of Nine Dragons". In folk belief while Mazu is considered to be an important deity , her tiara should not outrank the emperor. This is why the emperor has twelve tassels and Mazu must be only nine. Each tassel also consists of twelve beads. Nine and twelve were both considered auspicious numbers by the ancients so there are a total of 108 beads. The tiara is decorated with two phoenix s on either side to represent the empress, and these phonixs are decorated with tassels as well.

Mazu statues can be made with one of two gestures, one is the worshipping gesture and the other is the resting gesture. The worshipping gesture can be further divided into "tablet holding style " and "presentation style ". For the "tablet holding style ", the hands with a tablet are held together in front of the chest , much like an imperial official reporting to the emperor. "Presentation style " is similar to the former style except that Mazu's hands are covered in a handkerchief that hides her fingers, creating a more refined look. These two styles are usually found on the main Mazu statue in temples. Such a design not only emphasizes how Mazu's rank is equivalent to an official of the imperial court but also makes the statue look more impressive. The resting gesture can also be divided into two styles , "ruyi style " and "resting style ". In "ruyi style ", one hand (usually the left) rests on the knee or seat with the palm down as if summoning someone. A ruyi is held on the other hand. Taken together, the overall pose represents " the summoning of success ". In "resting style " the elbows of both arms rest on the seat. One hand might hold a handkerchief while the other holds a ruyi or folding fan. These two variations are considered more approachable and are generally found in home shrines. Not many Mazu statues but articulated type in temples use these gestures since their limbs are movable. The temple's caretakers may sometimes place a wooden pole across the arms of the seat so Mazu's hands can rest on them and stay in place, making it unique.


Other outstanding features of Mazu's clothing include the jade belt, the ruyi belt , and the cloud ribbons. The jade belt is also called the official belt and is worn across the chest as a symbol of authority. It is forbidden to be worn by ordinary people. The ruyi belt is worn between the jade belt and the waist belt, so it is perpendicular to the other two belts. The origin of this belt can be tracked back to feudal times when women were not permitted to wear the dragon ( mang ) robe. The ruyi belt is used to cover the eyes of the dragon ( mang ) to signify a reduction in rank.

The cloud ribbons are worn on the shoulders to represent a god of the heavens. A god of the ground (e.g. the Land God) will not wear such ribbons.

Mazu usually wears a dragon -like robe although technically this should be a mang robe. The mang is very similar to the dragon except that it has four talons while the dragon has five. The dragon motif is a symbol of high status and the dragon robe is worn by the emperor only . Despite Mazu's high godly status, she still ranks below the emperor so she wears a mang robe instead.

Articulated Mazu
Mazu statues can be divided into the articulated style and the rigid style based on how they were crafted. Rigid Mazu statues are sculpted or carved completely out of timber, stone or clay. With articulated Mazu statues each part is made separately before being put together. The limbs and joints of the statue can be moved, allowing the statue's clothing to be changed routinely.



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