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Moon Crystal
Moon Crystal, 19th - early 20th century
Rock crystal (quartz) with incised decoration; wood stand
10 7/8 x 9 5/8 inches (27.6 x 24.4 cm)
Gift of Major General and Mrs. William Crozier, 1944
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About This Crystal

This large crystal represents the moon delicately balancing on a base of wispy clouds, among which hides a rabbit, his soft ears lying gently on his head. More clouds drift across the face of the moon, pointing to the left bottom corner of the base, where the rabbit resides. A poem by Xie Zhuang (shee-eh jua-ang, 421–466) is incised on the surface, setting to verse several Chinese myths and stories about the moon. One tells of an ancient ruler who, parted from his beloved, found solace in gazing at the moon, knowing that she was doing the same. Another tells of the divine rabbit who stole the elixir of immortality and fled to the moon, where he mixes it daily.

The famous eighteenth-century calligrapher, seal carver, and painter Zhao Pingchong (gee-aw ping-chong) incised the poem on the crystal moon. A hard stone, rock crystal is a transparent form of the mineral quartz. Early Chinese writings refer to it as "water essence" for its resemblance to ice, and ancient Chinese recipes commonly used it as an ingredient in magical potions. This association made the substance an ideal material for portraying the imagery of the divine, elixir-pounding rabbit. The carver dated this piece to 1795, the last year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (chee-en long), who was probably the original owner. Qianlong, a successful military leader who presided over a huge expansion in the territory controlled by the Qing (ching) dynasty, was a great patron of the arts.

The Rabbit and the Moon

The rabbit and the moon are popular subjects in Chinese literature and art. When seen from Earth, the craters and shadows on the full moon are said to resemble a rabbit mixing a magic potion in a bowl. (Americans sometimes say that the craters and shadows give the appearance of the "Man in the Moon.") An old Buddhist legend tells of a kindly rabbit who threw his body into a fire, sacrificing himself as food for the starving Buddha. Moved by the rabbit's selfless gesture, Buddha rewarded him by pulling him out of the fire and sending him to live on the moon. Forever after, the rabbit on the moon pounds the elixir of immortality. The rabbit is also one of the twelve Eastern zodiac (more commonly known as the Chinese zodiac) animals. People born in the year of the rabbit are said to be compassionate, sensitive, loving, protective, timid, and attractive.

The moon's many phases also feature prominently in Chinese art and lore. Chinese people celebrate the August Moon Festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, in late summer/early autumn, when the moon is said to be the most beautiful. Families celebrate the end of the harvest season with a big feast prepared with newly gathered crops, fruits, and vegetables. They also eat round mooncakes made with a sweet bean paste filling and a golden-brown flaky skin. Mooncakes symbolize family unity and the season's abundance.

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.

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