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Budai Hesheng

Budai Hesheng - British Museum - Joy of Museums

Budai Hesheng

This almost life-size porcelain figure represents Budai Hesheng seated with one knee raised on a rectangular plinth. He is decorated in polychrome enamels and depicted as a fat smiling bald man with elongated earlobes and a large stomach. The Budai is dressed in the loose amber-coloured robes of a begging Buddhist monk, and he holds a sizeable green-glazed cloth bag under his right arm and the drawstring in his hand. His robes are edged with a border of scrolling flowers and foliage and the plinth is incised beneath the glaze with a dedicatory inscription giving details of the date when the figure was made and the maker of the statue.

Budai is a semi-historical monk as well as a deity who was introduced into the Zen Buddhist pantheon. He allegedly lived around the 10th century during the Liang Dynasty. His name literally means “Cloth Sack”, and refers to the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying as he wanders aimlessly. His jolly nature, humorous personality, and eccentric lifestyle distinguish him from most Buddhist masters or figures. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the “Laughing Buddha”, but he is not a representation of Gautama Buddha the primary figure in Buddhism. The “Laughing Buddha” is cherished as a popular luck charm and can be found all over the world in homes, restaurants and places of business.

Budai figures represent both contentment and abundance in Chinese culture. As Zen Buddhism was transmitted to Japan around the 13th century, the Japanese Budai was almost always depicted with his “cloth sack” that looks like a large bag which serves as a prominent motif within the context of Zen as it represents abundance, prosperity, and contentment.


  • Have you seen the “Laughing Buddha” outside of a museum?
  • “Laughing Buddha’s” great belly, is symbolic of wealth, good luck, and prosperity. Is the key reason for his popularity?
  • Budai is often confused for the Buddha. Is this statue Budai or Buddha?
  • Budai is almost always depicted with his “cloth sack” that looks like a large bag. Why has this symbolism become associated with good fortune?
  • Budai, also known as the Laughing Buddha, has become incorporated into Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto culture. What does this tell us about the connections between these cultures?


Budai Hesheng

  • Title:                Budai Hesheng
  • Artist:              Liu Zhen (according to inscription)
  • Date:                1486
  • Findspot:        China
  • Materials:       Glazed terracotta
  • Culture:           Ming dynasty, Chenghua period
  • Dimensions:   H: 119.2 cm; W: 65 cm; D: 41 cm
  • Museum:        The British Museum


“Habits are cobwebs at first;
cables at last.”

– Chinese Proverb


Photo Credit: 1) JOM