Material and Medium: Ivory, wood
Dimensions: Overall: 175 x 45 x 50mm (6 7/8 x 1 3/4 x 1 15/16in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2007.229
Kui Xing is a character in Chinese mythology, the god of examinations, and an associate or servant of the god of literature, Wen Chang.
Kui Xing was an ugly but clever dwarf, who became the patron deity of those taking imperial examinations. He is unmistakeable in depictions. He has a grotesque smiling face, large threatening eyes, and a square mouth said to ward off demons and evil. He stands on a turtle's head holding up a writing brush in one hand, and with a scroll or tablet in the other, symbolising writing or recording literature.
Legends abound that the emperor, repulsed by the facial appearance of Kui Xing, failed to award him the customary golden rose due to the candidate who passed first in the palace examinations. Humiliated, Kui Xing threw himself into the river but was saved by a water monster. He then ascended to the northern part of the Great Bear constellation and became the stellar patron of scholars. Kui Xing is the name of one of the stars in the Great Bear constellation.
Kui Xing is also called the star ghost, a name for the North Star (Polaris) at the tip of the tail of the Little Dipper (Little Bear, or Ursa Minor). The two edge pointers of the Big Bear (Big Dipper, Ursa Major) point to the North Star. Navigators used this constellation for directional guidance. In this case, Kui Xing is portrayed bare footed with his left foot forming a right angle, pointing to the sky and representing the vertical bend of the side wall of a dipper or dou. In some examples, his raised foot bears a dipper that sumbolises the measuring and container of inspiration and wisdom. His bent foot points to the North Star. Chinese folklore says that if this star ghost appears in the dream of a scholar the night before the Civil Service Examination, good tidings will follow.