Stoneware figure of Budai ('Laughing Buddha')

From Henan province, northern China
Ming dynasty, dated AD 1486

A smiling Buddhist monk

The fat, smiling monk Budai is a popular figure in Chinese Buddhism. His character is an accumulation of several Chinese legends; he is sometimes regarded as an incarnation of the Future Buddha, the Buddha who followed Shakyamuni. Sculptures of Budai are frequently placed in the entrance halls to temples and monasteries, surrounded by the Good and Bad Boys. These two appear as officials or judges, recorders of a person's good and evil deeds during life, who decide whether to send a person to heaven or hell.

This Budai is glazed in the sancai ('three colours') palette developed in the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906), and which re-appeared in the Ming (1368-1644). An inscription on the left side dates it to 1486, the twentieth year in the reign of Chenghua (1465-87). While many large, popular figures like this were commissioned for religious reasons, the majority of imperial Chenghua ceramics were delicately formed and coloured porcelains.

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Stoneware figure of Budai ('Laughing Buddha')

Stoneware figure of Budai


More information


J. Harrison-Hall, Ming ceramics (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)

S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)


Height: 119.200 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1937.1-13.1


Gift of John Sparks


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