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Kuanyin (Avalokiteshvara) is the bodhisattva that embodies compassion. The name 'Avalokiteshvara' in Sanskrit literally means 'perceiver of the sounds of the world' indicating that the bodhisattva hears the suffering of sentient beings, and by extension, comes to their aid. This name was translated variously into Chinese as Guanzizai, Guanshiyin and Guanyin, the latter being the form most commonly used today.
To the Chinese, compassion was seen as a feminine virtue, and while Daoism had many goddesses to receive prayers related to women's issues, the Buddhists had few. The female Avalokiteshvara filled this void. In this Ming dynasty figure, reminescent of white porcelain figures from the Dehua kilns, the bodhisattva is depicted as an elegant lady, standing with her right hand in vitarkamudra and her left hand holding a vase which she uses to sprinkle elixir over devotees to ease their suffering. The vase has its origins in the kalasha, a Hindu symbol of abundance, wisdom, and immortality, believed to hold amrita, the elixir of life. She wears a sinicized, feminized version of the Buddhist tricivara, a triple robe comprising an inner garment, an upper robe and outer robe, open at the chest to reveal a lotus pendant suspending beaded chains. The robe is inlaid with silver wire to form an intricate cloud design and scrolling floral borders currently hidden beneath the oxidized patina. Her hair is tied in a topknot and held in place with a pin. Her expression is serene, her presence calming.
This figure is a typical Shi Sou style Kuanyin. Most examples of Shi Sou bronze figures of Guanyin tend to be table-top size, for example see one dated from the 16th to mid-17th century, illustrated in Emperor, Scholar, Artisan, Monk, Sydney Moss Ltd., London, 1984, pp. 280-81, no. 132.