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Subject:Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Dan E. Sun, Sep 30, 2007 IP:

We just unpacked these statues.

I think it's Ming Emperor Yongle, The Empress and a General. I don't know when these may have been made The belly of the Emperor and the Empress have a dragon with either jade or green glass eyes. In the close up of the belly you can see some repairs that appear very old. I have been looking for images of any statues that are made in a simular way as these but haven't found anything yet.

Does anyone know what exactly these are called and would you care to give an estimate as to age and value.

Thanks, Dan

Link :Image Gallery Emperor Statues CLICK HERE!

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: pierrevdw Mon, Oct 01, 2007

Hello Dan,

These 3 figures are:

1-The Emperor as you call him is LIU BEI (in the center). Ruler and first Emperor of the Shu kingdom, during the 3 Kingdoms period.

2-The General is GUAN GONG, Liu Bei real life general (statue with weapon), became like a "saint" of martial art in China.

3- The Empress as you call it is in fact a man by the name of ZHUGE LIANG: Liu Bei's brain/advisor and strategist.
(or maybe it is Zhang Fei, another of his partner, I'm not 100% sure.)

Are the statues made using the "plaster on wood" technique?

I think they are from Qing 19th century, or maybe early 20th century, this based on the color of the hair used to made the beard etc...
If really old (18th century or before), the hair should be more of a purple color.

Nice pieces but not high class ones.
Best regards,

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Dan E. Tue, Oct 02, 2007

Pierre and everyone,

Thanks for identifying these figures. The statues appear to be composed of a variety of materials, including some sort of white chalky material over wood. If you click on the link to the image gallery in my first post you will see the chisel marks on the base. There are what appear to be old repairs throughout the statues so it seems quite possible that the hair was replaced as Jim Lewis has pointed out.

Doug & Mora,

The lacquer is dark brown and a little bit transparent as you have mentioned. I wont attempt to clean these. I did take some mineral spirits as you recommended and the lacquer doesn't soften.

As to the provenance, these are the property of an elderly neighbor of mine. He lived in Mito Japan for 7 years just after WW2. He was employed by the Allied Counsel during the occupation and befriended many important people. This set was a gift to him. Their present condition is due in part to the fact that he has never displayed them. Sadly enough they had been stored in a box in a garage in Wisconsin. Another pair of figures, "Guards" came with these and those he had displayed and cleaned over the years. I posted pictures of those in one of my first post (see link). At that time I didn't know they were Chinese.

Interestingly one of the members here translated the inscription on the back of the statue I called "Buda"; I have since learned it's a goddess of mercy. That forum member sent me a private email and told me the maker was Jokei. One of the upper auction houses has since confirmed it. At first the Asian Art "Expert" from the auction house said it was "Nothing", I then told them about the translated inscription and they looked more closely. Now they want to come here and have said it is a very important sculpture. If not for the Forum Member here I would have taken them at their word. (It's Nothing! Yeiks!!!)

This is a great example of how important this forum is!!!

I think these may also be very important.

Thanks again everyone for your input and help.


URL Title :My First Post Includes Images Of The \\

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Jim Lewis Mon, Oct 01, 2007

I wonder, with all the physical wear the statues themselves seem to show, would there be any hair left on the beard if it were truly old? Or has someone "restored" it?

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Doug and Moyra Mon, Oct 01, 2007

These are most interesting pieces Dan.

We have some limited reference materials on carved cinnabar lacquer statues, but nothing quite like these. Assuming these are genuine and not recent fakes, we can tell you that they "look" quite old and authentic. (Boy is that one dangerous...) Wood darkens with age, and unless these bases have been chemically treated that would indicate significant age - hundreds of years maybe. The lacquer is brownish, and we can tell you that the old natural urushi lacquer is exactly that dark brown color and a little bit transparent.
You can verify if it is natural urushi lacquer by wiping it with mineral spirits. Natural lacquer will not soften, newer synthetic lacquers will. Also, the really black areas look like the grime of ages - they badly need a cleaning. But don't attempt to clean them unless you understand what precautions to take and what is safe. Do not get water or any liquids on the white patches or in cracks. The whitish patches where the lacquer has flaked away look like traditional cloth/clay/ash substrate - that is what was bonded to the wood so that the lacquer would stick. A museum would probably restore by cleaning the pieces and creating colored wax fills matching the base lacquer color.

This is quite a collecion. Can you tell us anything about provenance?

Best regards

Doug & Mora

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Dan E. Tue, Oct 02, 2007

Some things are beginning to make sense to me. My neighbor said that the prominent family that gave him these statues were involved in manufacturing of shoes. I just read that LIU BEI is also worshipped as the patron of shoemakers.

That doesn't tell me the age but it does explain why they may have had them.

Here is a close up image of the "ZHUGE LIANG" statue. The statue appears to have had lots more gold and red on it originally. As you can see from this image there are what appear to be old repairs.


Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Doug and Moyra Tue, Oct 02, 2007

Hi Dan.

Yes, it certainly looks like you probably have a few authentic older natural lacquer over wood figures. They are at least 19th C, but may be older. Sometimes people identify these as wood and papier mache, but it really is classical substrate as used in carved lacquer pieces going back at least to the Yuan days.

If you go to and register, they will let you search their completed auctions. You will find a few similar looking 19th C pieces listed (but smaller). It appears that these type of pieces can be worth a considerable sum of money at auction - but don't jump up and down with glee just yet. These pieces are far too dirty and rough to be accepted in a Sotheby's or Christie's venue. (Unless you do a C14 test on the wood and date them really,really old.) If they were professionally cleaned and the missing lacquer restored, that would be another matter. You might want to consider professional cleaning and restoration (it will be very expensive), but when presentable these pieces could be worth every penny you invest and then perhaps a whole lot more. Then again, maybe you want to consider donating them to a Museum or University and taking a fat tax deduction - that would not cost you anything out of pocket, and you would probably make out better than if you sold them on eBay or some minor auction house.

Perhaps another individual reading this board is more familiar with these types of pieces.


Doug & Moyra

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: kk Wed, Oct 03, 2007

Lui Bei , Zhang Fei are not here, may be up north fighting with Lu Bu :)

The center statue is Guan Yu (also Guan Gong or Guan Di)
The left one is Guan Ping , his son.
The one on the right side is Zhou Chang holding Guan Yu s weapon for him.

Guan Yu is very popular deity among Cantonese, you can find them in many stores in Hong Kong, specially in police stations. Based on the style, I will date your statues to first of 19th century.

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Dan E. Wed, Oct 03, 2007

Thank you all for helping sort these out for us. Each time someone posts I do a bit more reading and it all seems to point back to the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century.

Here are what I have called the Guards. Perhaps they too have some connection to Romance of the Three Kingdoms.


Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: Dan E. Thu, Oct 04, 2007

I learned that these "guards" are actually called, SHUN-FENG-ER (meaning great hearing ability) and QIEN-LI-YEN (meaning great viewing ability. They have nothing to do with the first set of three sculptures in this post.

They are the ghostly servants of the patron
goddess of seafarers and fishermen, Mazu.

Maybe as I'm digging through more boxes I'll come across Mazu herself.

Thanks, Dan

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: lulou Tue, Apr 10, 2018

Dear Dan,

I think you are the owner of the figure. Yes?

I like these wood figure.
Do you want to sell them? If yes, please contact me :
[email protected]

Would you?

Your early reply will be highly appreciated!

Thanks a lot.

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: pierrevdw Thu, Oct 04, 2007

Lui & Zhang wouldn't go up north fighting without Guan.
Maybe they went up North to find some Hongshan jade, and left Guan at home with the kids! ;)

1- Guan Gong without his weapon is a little bit like Churchill without his cigar or Julius Ceasar without his laurel crown.
I have never seen a representation of Guan Gong without his weapon.

2- Look at the color of the faces on the photo where the trio is represented.
Clearly, the face of the one holding the weapon, (Guan according to me / Zhou according to you) is much darker than the 2 other guys. Guan is always represented with a very dark skin, almost like a black African.

Those are some the reasons I made this suggestion as far as the identity of those people is concerned.

As a matter of interest and accuracy, not only for me but for the other members as well, how did you came up with the identity of the 3 statues?
I don't pretend to be always right, maybe you are, but I would like to know where I went wrong.
Thank you.

As a group, the trio + 2 guards, it is a very rare find.
Those 2 guards were probably holding a sword?

Who ever they are and whatever the right age of those statues is, this is very beautiful to look at, and valuable too.

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: kk Fri, Oct 05, 2007

Guan Yu always portrayed in red tanned skin with very long beard not dark skin like Zhang or Zhou. When you dine in a Cantonese restaurant next time, look around for ceramic statue of Guan Yu like the one in the picture. Zhou is some what like Guan s body guard. and Ping is Guan Yus son. This is why they are much smaller in size comparing to Guan. (as the ultimate model of loyalty Lui, Guan, Zhang are likely to portrayed in the same size)

Guan is so popular which is meant there are a lot of Guan statue out there. I dont think they are rare, but I do like the 18th cen "feel" of these sculptures.

IMHO, I think it will be very difficult to positively identify the two "guards" with out the central deity there.

image from wikipedia

Subject:Re: Chinese Lacquer statues
Posted By: 張家誠 Sun, Oct 25, 2020

Hello there! I would like to ask if this group of statues in your collection are willing to sell? My contact [email protected] | Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries |