With the Year of the Tiger approaching, the National Museum of China is launching The Tiger as Talisman: 2022 Chinese New Year Exhibition, a meticulous, wide-ranging selection of artifacts and artworks that showcase the motif of the tiger in Chinese culture, history and art. In addition to being a celebration of the Chinese New Year, it is a chance to present the exquisite traditional culture and rich heritage of the Chinese civilization.

The brave and mighty image of the tiger is often regarded as a symbol of strength. As such, it has long been worshipped by the ancients as a tribal totem. After descending from the mountains and entering man’s domain, the tiger motif started to appear more frequently in places of worship and study, as well as on everyday objects, which continuously enriched the animal’s cultural significance. Cultural interpretations meanwhile have demonstrated the unique status of tigers in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. In the Book of Changes it is written that, “A great man changes as the tiger changes its stripes.” Historical documents speak of three thousand “tiger runners”, or elite palace guards, on account of their bravery, who helped King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty defeat the last king of Shang. “White Tiger” is the name given to one of the four groups of the Chinese constellations. The tiger is also seen as an auspicious animal that fights against evil with its majesty and strength. As one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, the tiger represents qualities like strength, courage, majesty and vitality. To this day, the image of the tiger is seen everywhere in the lives of the Chinese people, symbolizing their love of life and their yearning for happiness.

The collections of this exhibition date from the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th-11th centuries BC) to the beginning of the 21st century. Diverse in genre, they span various mediums, from bronze, jade, ceramics and silk, to calligraphy and painting, demonstrating the time-honored tradition of the tiger motif in Chinese culture and history. Among these items, the greenish-jade ornament carved in the shape of a tiger from the Shang Dynasty is simple yet eye-catching, and highlights the beauty of ancient culture. The bronze ying (water container) of the Western Zhou period (c. 11th century-771 BCE) is dignified and elegant in design, revealing its important role as a ceremonial vessel. The tiger-shaped tally with the inscription “Marquis of Tangyang” of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BCE-8 CE) is exquisite despite its primitive simplicity, being a warrant to move troops. Various kinds of gold, jade, bronze and pottery objects with tiger motifs have both practical and aesthetic functions, and add color to the daily life of the people. Seasonal paintings, calligraphy, and porcelain reflect the great expectations and emotions the ancients invested in the Chinese New Year. The exhibition also displays a range of paintings and calligraphic works by contemporary artists to celebrate the New Year and mark a new chapter of the times.

General Secretary Xi Jinping stated clearly that “we will draw on China’s fine traditional culture, keep alive and develop its vision, concepts, values, and moral norms, and do so in a way that responds to the call of our era. With this we will see that Chinese culture maintains its appeal and evolves with the times.” It is hoped that this exhibition can guide audiences in appreciating the culture of the Chinese people that has continuously evolved since prehistoric times. The aim is to promote the creative transformation and innovative development of the traditional culture of China in all its splendor.


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