As you enter the Shandong Arts and Crafts Exhibition Center, you will be greeted by a magnificent sight that will leave you in awe. The first thing that will catch your attention is a larger-than-life rabbit figure, which is perched atop an auspicious cloud. The rabbit figure, known as Tuzi Wang, meaning “lord rabbit,” is resplendent in a golden helmet, armor, and a flowing red robe. It also features four banners on its back and an artistically painted Chinese character “quan” on its face.
The cloud beneath the rabbit figure is beautifully painted with the landscape of Baotu Spring, one of the most famous scenic spots in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong province, East China. This breathtaking sight is the creation of Yang Feng, a 52-year-old inheritor of the Shandong intangible cultural heritage. His studio is located on the second floor of the exhibition center, where he displays his works in different designs and sizes, along with the legends and stories associated with them.
Yang’s artistic works range from a large rabbit general with an imposing and majestic appearance to a small rabbit baby that looks cute and adorable. He named his works “Quancheng Tuzi Wang,” with quancheng meaning “the capital of springs,” a nickname for his hometown, Jinan. Having dedicated two decades to perfecting his craft, Yang is committed to preserving and evolving the traditional skill of creating the lord rabbit in his own unique style.
According to Hou Yangjun, the deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Association, the practice of worshiping the moon with the rabbit god can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was mainly practiced in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shandong’s Jinan and Qingdao. “The rabbit god is known as Tu’er Ye in Beijing and Tuzi Wang in Jinan. Despite minor differences in their appearance, both of them share the same origins and have been passed down for several centuries. They are traditionally crafted from mud and clay,” says Hou.
The legend of the rabbit god is an essential part of Chinese folklore. The rabbit is believed to have a close connection with the moon, and it is customary to worship the rabbit god during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The lord rabbit figure is considered a symbol of good luck, fortune, and prosperity.
As an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage of Shandong, Yang believes that it is his responsibility to pass on the traditional skill of crafting the lord rabbit to the next generation. He also believes in adding his own unique touch to the traditional craft to keep it relevant in the modern era.
The lord rabbit figures created by Yang and other artists like him are not just works of art; they are an embodiment of Chinese culture and tradition. They are a testament to the rich history and legacy of the Chinese people and their deep connection with nature.
The lord rabbit figure has a special place in the hearts of the people of Shandong. It is an essential part of their culture and heritage. The lord rabbit is not just a symbol of good luck and prosperity; it is also a reminder of the importance of preserving and promoting traditional Chinese culture.
In recent years, the Chinese government has been taking significant steps to promote and preserve traditional Chinese culture. The intangible cultural heritage of China, including the art of crafting the lord rabbit, has been given special attention and support. This has helped to ensure that these traditional skills are passed on to the next generation and preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The lord rabbit figure is an integral part of Chinese culture and tradition. It is a symbol of good luck, fortune, and prosperity and is worshipped during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Yang Feng.
Legend has it that the people of Jinan once suffered from an illness that could not be cured. In desperation, they turned to the gods for help. The rabbit god, who resided in the moon palace, heard their plea and descended to Earth with a medicine that could heal the people. The immortal poured the elixir into 72 springs throughout Jinan, and as people drank the water, the epidemic was eradicated, and the people of Jinan were saved.
As a result of this folklore, a tradition emerged in Jinan where citizens worship a clay rabbit god named Tuzi Wang during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is now considered a symbol of safety and good health in the city. Yang Feng, an inheritor of this Shandong intangible cultural heritage, heard these tales in his childhood and wanted to get a clay rabbit god for himself, but he never found one.
One day, after helping his classmate repair a colored mud piece, Yang realized that he could make one on his own. In 2004, Yang noticed there was a competition to develop a souvenir for Jinan that needed to represent local culture and be portable. Yang thought that the rabbit god fit all the qualifications and spent a whole month making one from scratch. He won the top prize at the competition, which encouraged him to quit his job as an interior designer and devote himself to making effigies of the rabbit god.
Today, Yang has dedicated two decades to perfecting his craft and is committed to preserving and evolving the traditional skill of creating the lord rabbit in his own unique style. His artistic works, in different designs and sizes, are exhibited at his studio located on the second floor of the Shandong Arts and Crafts Exhibition Center. From a large rabbit general with an imposing and majestic appearance to a small rabbit baby that looks cute and adorable, Yang’s works are all named “Quancheng Tuzi Wang,” with quancheng meaning “the capital of springs” – a nickname for his hometown, Jinan.
Hou Yangjun, the deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Association, explains that the practice of worshiping the moon with the rabbit god can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was practiced mainly in Beijing, Tianjin, Jinan, and Qingdao. “The rabbit god is known as Tu’er Ye in Beijing and Tuzi Wang in Jinan. Despite minor differences in their appearance, both of them share the same origins and have been passed down for several centuries. They are traditionally crafted from mud and clay,” Hou says.
Yang’s passion for creating effigies of the rabbit god is not just a job for him, but a lifelong career. He is proud to continue the tradition of crafting the lord rabbit in his own unique style, and through his works, he helps to keep this ancient folklore alive.
Wang had been struggling to find information about the traditional lord rabbit figure until he came across a book on Shandong’s folk toys. The book contained information about the myths, production procedures, and pictures of the rabbit figures, which gave him insight into the lost art. Wang was delighted and fascinated by what he found in the book. He learned that at the height of its popularity, there were around 30 stores in Jinan that produced the lord rabbit models, each with their own unique features. However, the art had been fading away since the 1960s.
Wang decided that he did not want to replicate the previous styles but create his own style. He aimed to design 72 rabbit statues, each representing one of the natural springs in Jinan. He has already finished several rabbits, incorporating elements of each location, such as the spring water, landscape, and poems, along with the spring’s name in the character.
Yang discovered that the traditional material for making rabbits is mud taken from the Yellow River. The river’s water naturally clears the sand and leaves behind fine river mud, which has good adhesion and strong plasticity with no impurities. Yang follows a dozen procedures and over 30 steps to create the lord rabbit, starting with molding the mud to painting the patterns, followed by designing and modifying the piece.
Yang has introduced a new procedure to the traditional process of making lord rabbits, which is to fire them in a kiln. He learned pottery craft, and the process is similar to that of creating terracotta warriors. The firing in a kiln procedure takes about seven to eight hours to make it firm.
According to Yang, adding the firing in the kiln procedure can help the mud absorb the water in the pigment and make the color effect better. This is an innovation that Yang has brought to the traditional process of creating the lord rabbit.
Yang’s rabbit figures have their own unique style, and he is committed to preserving and evolving the traditional skills of creating the lord rabbit. His passion for crafting the rabbit is not just a job but a lifelong career. His works are exhibited in his studio, which is located on the second floor of the Shandong Arts and Crafts Exhibition Center. Here, he displays his works in different designs and sizes, along with the legends and stories associated with them.
The traditional practice of worshipping the moon with the rabbit god can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was practiced mainly in Beijing, Tianjin, Jinan, and Qingdao. The rabbit god is known as Tu’er Ye in Beijing and Tuzi Wang in Jinan, and both share the same origins, although there are minor differences in their appearance. They are traditionally crafted from mud and clay.
The rabbit god is an important symbol of safety and good health in Jinan, and citizens worship the clay rabbit god named Tuzi Wang during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Wang’s works reflect the legend and history of Jinan’s folk culture, which is an integral part of Shandong’s intangible cultural heritage.
Yang Jianzhong is a Chinese artist who creates traditional lord rabbit statues that have become a popular cultural symbol. He spends about a week crafting one batch of statues, although sometimes the process can take more than a month. The differences between Tu’er Ye and Tuzi Wang, two of his most famous rabbit figures, are subtle but distinctive. According to Yang, one of the main differences is in the ears, with Tu’er Ye’s being fixed and Tuzi Wang’s linked with spring, and the latter having a slightly different color.
Another difference between the two statues is that Tu’er Ye’s face has no painting, while Tuzi Wang’s face has some. Additionally, the traditional Tu’er Ye has one banner on its back or none at all, while Tuzi Wang usually has four. Yang’s first-ever statue was purchased by a tourist from New Zealand, who informed him that rabbits have an auspicious meaning in their country.
In 2006, Yang participated in an art, culture, and tourism exhibition in Singapore, where many tourists purchased his rabbit statues as gifts to take back to their countries. Since then, he has hoped that his artwork could serve as a conduit for traditional Chinese culture to reach a broader audience. He founded his studio in 2007 and has relocated it several times before finally settling in the Shandong Arts and Crafts Exhibition Center last year.
Yang’s studio not only showcases his work, but it also has cultural creative products such as T-shirts, puzzles, badges, and notebooks featuring the lord rabbit. Visitors can also try their hand at making a rabbit figure themselves. On weekends and holidays, many local residents bring their children to Yang’s store to create their own rabbit statues. Additionally, tourists from across the country come especially to view his artwork.
One of Yang’s favorite memories is an elderly lady who visited his studio and shared her childhood stories about the lord rabbit. Whenever she was sick as a child, her father would buy her a new rabbit statue. According to Yang, when older people recount their memories to him, they glow with happiness. His creations may not be identical to the ones they remember, but they evoke fond memories and a sense of warmth.
As the Year of the Rabbit approaches in 2023, Yang plans to expand his artistic repertoire by creating more works while collaborating with other artists to generate fresh sparks of creativity. He is also actively engaging with other intangible cultural heritage inheritors in Jinan, discussing ways to incorporate additional elements of intangible cultural heritage into his rabbit creations. Yang aims to develop new lord rabbit figures that showcase the rich cultural heritage of Jinan.
“I keep thinking how to infuse more elements of Jinan into my works. I hope that tourists can see the variety and get to know the stories behind them, as well as Jinan’s history and culture, and fall in love with the city,” Yang says. With his creativity, Yang has managed to make the lord rabbit a treasured cultural symbol, bringing joy and happiness to those who come into contact with his artwork.