The origins of the deity Chen-wu (perfected warrior) go back to the Warring States (3rd century b.c.) and Han dynasty (206 b.c.-220 a.d.) periods. At that time, he was known as Hsuan-wu (the dark warrior), and was simply represented by a tortoise entwined by a snake. Hsuan-wu was the ancient symbol of the north and often appeared with three other animals: the dragon, red bird, and tiger, to symbolize the four directions. The transformation of Hsuan-wu from a snake-entwined tortoise to the Taoist deity Chen-wu, represented as a robust human-form warrior, occurred around 1000 a.d. The period of Chen-wu's greatest popularity was the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
This mold made image was produced in the Tz'u-chou kilns of north China, and it would have been used on an altar table for personal devotion. Chen-wu is shown here wearing formal court attire in a dignified seated posture befitting his status as a celestial emperor of the dark heavens. The dark warrior tortoise appears at his feet and the sleeves of his robe are decorated with images of the big dipper.