Antique Puppet Head of Queen Mother of the West, China


Chinese puppet theatre has thrived in China for centuries to educate and entertain with puppets that often had detachable heads. A most popular figure was the Queen Mother of the West the highest ranking female Taoist deity who women venerated as a powerful, independent deity embodying yin (female energy) and prayed to for health and long life. In the Ming and Qing dynasties she became a cult figure with local temples dedicated to her and artisans modifying her features and iconography making her more folk than regal. Her elaborate complex headdress includes a large outstretched tortoise atop a phoenix surrounded by an arch bordered with a scale like finish. It is mounted on a contemporary frosted acrylic base.


Chinese puppets historically played a large role in entertaining the general public and in educating rural illiterate populations especially about the role and importance of deities and legends such as the Queen-Mother of the West.  The puppet’s headdress blends influences associated with the long history of the Queen Mother who evolved as a significant goddess from the Zhou to the Tang Dynasty up through  the Ming and Qing dynasties. Her title was  “Mother of the Golden Tortoise” in the Zhou when she was depicted as a wild and disheveled shaman goddess of death. In this piece the stylized tortoise with outstretched legs in her headdress associates her with early ritualistic, oracular and shamanism rites of turtle shell divination. During the Tang, she was upgraded to imperial standing as one of the most important female Taoist-Deities depicted as a humanized beautiful goddess “Ruler of Heaven” a representation which is symbolized in   the phoenix in her headdress, one of the mythical animals shown here with flattened outspread wings representing eternal life. In 17th -19th centuries she became a syncretic deity with a huge cult following in Taoism, Buddhism and  Popular Religion who was the wife of the Jade Emperor and venerated by women as a powerful, independent deity who embodies ultimate yin (female energy), and controls immortality and the afterlife. Lee Irvin defines her as one of the Great Chinese Goddesses.

Click here for the blog Queen Mother of the West Xiwangmu: Taoism’s Iconic Female Sovereign of Immortals 


Additional information

Place of Origin



Antique, Qing Dynasty


Early 19th century

Materials and Technique

Wood, polychrome, lacquer

Dimensions (inches)

Ht:17” W:4.25” D: 4.5”

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 43.18cm W: 10.80cm D: 10.80cm


3lbs 7oz


Very good, see description

Reference Number


Shipping Box Size