Chinese woodcut: Play of the five creatures, 3 - The Deer
Wanshou danshu (The Cinnabar Book of Longevity) is a 'nourishing life' (yang sheng) text composed in the Ming period (1368-1644) by Gong Juzhong. It records a far more ancient practice known as Wu qin xi (Play of the five creatures). This is a form of therapeutic gymnastics based on the mimesis of animal movements. Already described in Hua Tuo Zhuan (The Book of Hua Tuo [?-203 CE]) Hou han shu (History of the Later Han Dynasty), it probably represents a pre-Han popular tradition. This illustration depicts the third of the 'plays of the five creatures' - lu xi, the play of the deer. It is performed as follows: One holds one's breath, lowers one's head and clenches one's fists, and turns one's head like a deer to look right behind one. Straightening up and hunching one's shoulders, one leaps and prances on tiptoe, shaking the whole body from the neck to the heels. This is done about three times, once every day.