Antique Zhenwu, The Taoist “Perfected Warrior,” China (16097BME)


  H: 12”  W: 5.625”  D: 4” | FREE SHIPPING!

This charming and rare provincial carving represents the Emperor Zhenwu known as True Warrior or Perfected Warrior who is one of the most revered Chinese Taoist figures, venerated for his military skill and his ability to heal and protect his country. Although he generally sits on a throne with a snake under his right foot and a tortoise under his left, here his left foot rests on the tortoise’s back entwined by a snake. He wears a plain black official’s robe rather than military garb, and holds a jade belt, a portrayal often mistaken as a simple official. His long black flows down his back, covering and surrounding the rear cavity.



Zhenwu was known by many names and titles, the most common ones being the True Warrior or Perfected Warrior or Northern Emperor. As one of the most popular Taoist-Deities during the Ming and Qing dynasties he was an emperor known as protector of the state and the imperial family and during the imperial dynasties was a patron god of soldiers and a protector of national security. He was depicted in all sizes, larger imperially sanctioned ones in temples and large clan shrines in porcelains and bronze and small ones like antique-Chinese-wood-carving made for personal worship and crafted by provincial artisans who improvised on his form, attributes and iconography and depicted him as a modest folk-art figure. Here, his hand is in a variation of karana mudra (“anger fist”) for casting out demons and warding off negative spirits/energy which is appropriate as he is believed to have used his magical powers to destroy or ward off the “the hordes of malevolent and evil spirits roaming the earth from the Underworld (who) can only be held in check or destroyed by the Northern Emperor’s large force of spirit soldiers.”(Stevens. p. 19) His most iconic references are the mythical animals with which he is associated, the tortoise and the snake. There are many interpretations about their symbolism, some claim they represent beings over whom he presided including “…both celestial officers under his command, [and] former demons that were conquered by him.” (Stevens, p.19.) In Taoist beliefs, the tortoise symbolizes heaven and earth: the shell is the vaulted heaven and its underside is the flat disc of the earth. The tortoise also signifies longevity, immutability, and steadfastness. Greve claims the ancients believed there were no male tortoises so the females had to mate with a snake, and “…the tortoise embracing a snake became the protector symbol of the north; but as the word ‘tortoise’ was taboo in Chinese, it was referred to as the “dark warrior” and finally became “… one of the protector gods of the four areas, Zhenwu.”  He is a Chinese syncretic god, still venerated today by Taoist, Buddhist and Popular Religion devotees. Carved from dense hardwood the image is depicted in officials-attire rather than his traditional military garb. He is in very good condition with some original gilt and red lacquer remaining that has naturally darkened over time and has expected age cracks. The rear cavity, surrounded by the black hair flowing down his back indicates the carving was consecrated and was probably placed on a home altar. This image is part of the VA Deities-and-Legends Collection.

Click here for the Blog Consecrating Wooden Images to Imbue Them with A Life Force


Gabi Greve, Daruma Museum, Tortoise and Snake,

Jeremy Roberts, Chinese Mythology A to Z, New York, Facts on File, 2004.

Dale Saunders, Mudra: A Study of Symbolic Gestures in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1960

Brock Silvers, The Taoist Manual: An Illustrated Guide, Applying Taoism to Daily Life, Honolulu, Sacred Mountain Press, 2005.

Keith G. Stevens, Images of Asia Chinese Mythological Gods, Oxford University Press, New York, 2001.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Taoism and the Arts of China: The Taoist Renaissance, 2000.


Additional information

Place of Origin



Antique, Qing Dynasty


Late 18th – Early 19th Century

Materials and Technique

Wood, polychrome, gilt and lacquer.

Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 12” W: 5.625” D: 4.”

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 30.48cm W: 14.285cm D: 10.79cm


2 lbs 15 oz


Very good, patina and wear consistent with age and use

Reference Number


Shipping Box Size