Magu is the female equivalent of Shoulao, the god of Longevity, and is often portrayed as a young girl. It is said that Magu had witnessed the ocean turn to a mulberry field three times, thus symbolizing her great age and confirming her title of goddess of Longevity. In many instances she is portrayed sailing on a log raft, with or without an attendant. She was believed to be able to brew longevity wine from lingzhi, the fungus of immortality, and as such is often portrayed accompanied by attendants bearing large jars of wine. She was also known to have been able to turn kernels of rice into pearls. Her image first appeared on early Ming-dynasty porcelain from Jingdezhen, and became popular during the Kangxi period, and it is quite possible that this carving was produced during this reign.
In the present carving, Magu holds a ruyi scepter, and is accompanied by a deer (lu), which is a symbol of longevity. It is also said to be the only animal which can find the magical lingzhi fungus, said to grant immortality to those who consume it. The crane, itself a symbol of longevity, carries in its mouth the stem of a lingzhi, further strengthening this wish. The presence of pine, a long-lived evergreen, which hangs over the group, also conveys the wish for longevity.
The present carving is a testament to the skill of the carver, who has spared no expense in its creation. From the openwork boughs and figures, to the detailed carving of the base of the raft and the waves atop which it sails, each portion of the carving is equally finished and as finely carved as the other. Due to the exceptional quality of the carving, it is quite possible that the present raft group was an imperial commission, and may have been made as a birthday present to convey the strong wish for longevity and a full life.