Published Mar 20 2013, by

Ruyi Scepter

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Originally a Daoist symbol stemming from origins deep in ancient Chinese mythology, the lingzhi is an elongated, phallic mushroom whose magical properties were thought to ensure immortality for the bearer. Rendered in a stylized form, it became a popular decorative theme throughout the arts of China from as early as the Song dynasty (960–1279). During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the mushroom, transmogrified into a stylized wand—commonly called a ruyi (literally, as you like) scepter—became one of a host of auspicious symbols of imperial rank and power.

Crafted from a single piece of pale green nephrite, this ruyi scepter was made to celebrate the birthday of a prominent elder. The three decorative medallions—one on the head, another on the foot, and the third on the raised center—illustrate immortals carrying fans, peaches, and lingzhi mushrooms. These figures, as well as the attributes they carry, are all auspicious symbols of long life. The scepter’s shape, symbolizing the flow of the Dao, seals the over­all wish-granting significance of this work, collectively read as “may you have a long life.”