Sovereign of the Clouds of Dawn

Sovereign of the Clouds of Dawn

Bixia Yuanjun is a goddess in Chinese folk religion and Daoism. She is the daughter of Dongyue Dadi, the main god of Mount Tai, the easternmost of the Five Sacred Mountains in Shandong Province, where the Shrine of the Blue Dawn (Bixia Ci) was built at the top of the mountain during the Ming dynasty. Her name has been rendered variously in English-language sources, such as ‘Sovereign of the Clouds of Dawn’ or ‘The Primordial Goddess of the Morning Clouds’.

During the Ming and early Qing dynasties, Bixia Yuanjun became one of the most popular deities in Northern China with her influence actively spread by Tai'an City, Shandong Province. Her following extended to the Lower Yangzi region as well, and she also enjoyed significant patronage from the Imperial court. As the goddess of dawn, she attends the birth of each new day from her home high in the clouds. As the goddess of childbirth, she attends the birth of children, fixing their destiny and bringing good fortune. Bixia Yuanjin is venerated in the Temple of the Purple Dawn at the summit of the holy mountain, Mount Tai, where women wishing to conceive come to ask her for help.  













Mount Tai
is known as the eastern mountain of the Sacred Mountains of China. It is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal, and is often regarded the foremost of the five. Mount Tai has been a place of worship for at least 3,000 years and served as one of the most important ceremonial centers of China during large portions of this period.
The Shrine of the Blue Dawn near the top of the mountain is a grand building complex, a special combination of metal components, wood, bricks and stone structures, dedicated to Bixia Yuanjun. A large statue of the goddess is enshrined in the main temple building. It is a replacement of a significantly earlier sculpture, which was probably stolen during the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), the Taiping (1850-1864) or Boxer Rebellions (1900-1901), the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949), or maybe even as early as the transition period from the Ming to the Qing dynasty.






The world of Chinese art and its history are rife with stories of looting and theft, sometimes resulting eventually in repatriation. One of the perhaps most dramatic and famous begins with the destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860, during the Second Opium War. As the Anglo-French expedition force steadily approached Beijing, two British envoys, a journalist for The Times and a small escort of British and Indian troopers were sent to meet Prince Yi under a flag of truce to negotiate a Qing surrender. Meanwhile, the French and British troops reached the palace. As news emerged that the negotiation delegation had been imprisoned and tortured, resulting in 20 deaths, the British retaliated by ordering the complete destruction of the palace. The palace was so large – covering more than 3.5 square kilometers – that it took 4,000 men three full days of burning to destroy it. One of the most important artworks stolen were the twelve bronze fountainheads in the shape of zodiac animals that were part of a water clock fountain. Supposedly designed by Giuseppe Castiglione for the Qianlong Emperor, the statues would spout out water from their mouths to tell the time.





Almost exactly 150 years later, in February 2009, two of the bronze sculptures – heads of a Rat and a Rabbit – were sold for 28 million euros to Cai Mingchao, an adviser to the People’s Republic of China’s National Treasures Fund, as part of an auction of art works owned by the late French designer Yves Saint Laurent. Cai then refused to pay the sum bid, claiming that he was bidding on moral and patriotic grounds. A heavily publicized scandal ensued, with the heads becoming one of the most visible examples of attempts to repatriate Chinese art and cultural artifacts. Eventually, the Rat and Rabbit bronze heads were returned to China, donated by François Pinault in a ceremony on June 28, 2013. The bronze heads are now housed in the National Museum of China.