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Why is Guan Yin not wearing Chanel ?

In this cultural appreciation workshop, we will discover how the material culture of the Goddess of Mercy – one of the most important figures in Asian culture – has evolved over the centuries, and spend a divine afternoon together enjoying Guan Yin culture via its artisanal, culinary, and botanical expressions.


Chan Chow Wah, a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (UK).


One of the most important figures in Asian culture, Guan Yin (观世音) plays the role of a Bodhisattva, akin to a deity living undercover among mortals, aiding us in our hour of need.

It is a role that requires disguise: That is why historically, Guan Yin was always depicted in the high fashion of the times.

During the Tang dynasty, images and statues of Guan Yin depicted her as a full-bodied figure in line with the Tang ideal of feminine beauty, and – unlike the under-stated elegance of today’s Guan Yin effigies – adorned with resplendent jewelry.

By the time of the Song, however, Guan Yin had morphed into a slender lady, dressed simply in austere white robes.

If this trajectory had continued, Guan Yin’s iconography should now depict her in the apparel of our times. Perhaps a versatile Decathlon dri-fit tree as she goes about her aid work. Or maybe, as a nod to her C-suite status, a pantsuit with a chic tote?

Instead, her image has been fossilised since the Song. What stalled Guan Yin’s evolution? The answer reflects the integration of political and religious powers that shook the foundations of Chinese society, a tension that continues to this day.

Come spend a divine afternoon with a speaker known for his knowledge, passion and wit.

It won’t be just serious talk; we will also enjoy Guan Yin culture together through food (eg. Tie Guan Yin oolong brew), botany (eg. lotus flowers) and the opportunity to admire up-close the handcrafted wooden statues of Guan Yin from Say Tian Hng, a Taoist effigy-making shop established in 1896.


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