Buddhism has been a major aspect of the Chinese cultural and spiritual life ever since its introduction into China. The Buddha, Lohans, and various Bodhisattvas have become popular images of the Chinese visual arts.

Among all of the Bodhisattva images, that of Guan Yin has been the most popular one. Since Buddhism was established in China more than one thousand years ago, Chinese artists have created numerous paintings and statues of Guan Yin mainly for the purpose of worship by the Buddhists. During this process of artistic creation, the form of Guan Yin gradually transforms into a typical Chinese female form with a distinct Chinese characteristic.

In this issue, we present a small collection of the Guan Yin images which can be grouped in the following three categories. Please click on the illustrations to see the images in more details, or click here for the first exhibit. There is also a brief description of the meaning and background of Guan Yin following the art display.

Guan Yin with Poplar Branch and Sweet Dew


The Buddhist art originating from India has been combined with the Chinese culture. The Guan Yin images in China eventually settles into a female form, with Chinese female clothing of flowing drapery and soft contours. The facial features carry the typical apricot-shaped eye. The body is also the typical graceful form with slim waist and serene composure. Guan Yin is in the form of a sophisticated and beautiful woman. Her hands, with fine palm and fingers, are holding a poplar branch and a precious bottle of sweet dew, ready to save people from their sufferings. This image of Guan Yin is very humanized, respectful and intimate. For most Chinese, the name of Guan Yin always recalls a form of a motherly god, holding the poplar branch and sweet dew, always available for all people with sufferings.

White Glazed Porcelain Guan Yin


After Sung and Ming Dynasties, the form of Guan Yin becomes more and more humanized. The white glazed porcelain Guan Yin has fuller facial features, with peaceful and serene expression, delicate nose and lips, reproducing a typical Chinese woman's image. The white color represents relaxed and unruffled expressions and purity. The half-closed eyes indicate meditation with a tranquil and warm atmosphere. Such statues are popular collections among a lot of Chinese.

Guan Yin with Thousand Arms


Guan Yin is the Bodhisattva with compassion and mercy. The thousand arms, each with an eye, look like the outspread tails of a peacock. They symbolize her vow to rescue people, granting a helping hand to whoever requesting help from her. She will never turn down anybody and can do whatever is requested, with boundless power and abilities to bring peace of mind to people in suffering.

Click here to find out more about the background and meaning of Guan Yin.