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Terms in this set (51)
Is a 'future Buddha' entering enlightenment who has chosen to stay in this world to help mankind. In China this deity has merged with the deity Guanyin. Many depictions are found in Buddhist temples, the original form when it come from India is distinctly male while in later centuries the form became female.
Bao Zheng 包拯
He is a historical figure who lived 999-1062CE in the Song dynasty . He was a revered figure with temples dedicated to his honor at Kaifeng, Henan and elsewhere. He passed the Imperial Examinations but instead of taking up a lucrative post at court went home to look after his parents (another example of filial piety). He eventually took up posts as a magistrate, governone and emissary. His claim to fame was his incorruptibility; he was an honest and upright judge. He is also known as 包青天 Bāo Qīng tiān. He offered access to justice to all and stamped out corrupt practices, even in his own family. He lived modestly and he is held up as the model for all officials to try to follow. He is a common figure in operas and popular TV series have been made about him.
Bixia Yuanhun 碧霞元君
The first Princess of the Purple and Blue Clouds is associated with childbirth. One deity of this name came from Fuzhou, Fujian and was the daughter of a great magician. She moved to a palace on the seas. The other deity of this name is the daughter of the God of Taishan mountain, Shandong. The legend talks of Jiang Taigong who ruled so well and so virtuously that no storms came. As the Princess needed storms in order to travel through the kingdom he had to move out of his kingdom so that the Princess could pass. She is easy to confuse with the Queen Mother of the West but can be distinguished by having three phoenixes in her headdress.
Cai shen 财神
The 'God of Riches and Prosperity' is an important and highly regarded deity. There are at least three candidates for the title. One of them Zhao Gongming who lived for a while as a hermit on Emei mountain at the time of the fall of the Shang dynasty. He rode a black tiger and had magic pearls that would explode as grenades. Jiang Ziya defeated him by making an effigy of Zhao and shooting it with arrows. Zhao fell dead but the Jade Emperor took pity and made him the god of wealth. Sometimes the god of riches is represented by a pair of figures, one of them is the 'god of war' Guandi or the 'heavenly twins' He-he. Some think the different incarnations represent different departments of the heavenly Treasury. Many Chinese homes will have a statue or two of him - he is shown with a gold ingot and ruyi. The 15th day of the 3rd lunar month is his festival date but he also honored on the fifth day of the New Year. He is the closest to Santa Claus in the pantheon of Chinese deities.
The Goddess of the Moon stole the potion of immortality from her husband the Archer God Hou Yi and fled to the Moon. There she is kept company by the Jade Rabbit. Her husband visited her and built a palace there, they meet at full moon each month. Another legend says she changed into a tortoise that can be seen as a marking on the moon. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival celebrates her and her story.
Cheng Huang 城隍
This deity defends cities and so is master of moats and ramparts. He is also regarded as the supreme minister of justice. Each town had its own version of him.
Da Fan Tian Wang 大梵天王
The Chinese name for Buddhist Brahma the 'Father of all Living Things'. He is also considered the Soul of the Universe who hatched the Cosmic Egg.
Feng Bo 风伯
The Duke of the Winds is depicted as an old man with a large sack, a white beard, yellow coat and red and white cap. Winds issue forth from his mouth.
Fo Tuo 佛陀 or Da Fo 大佛
He is the Chinese name for the Buddha. The full name Amitābha in Sanskrit is transliterated as 阿弥陀佛 Āmítuófó.
Fu, Lou and Shou
A trinity of deities giving good luck, respectively: Happiness; Prosperity and Longevity. They are often portrayed together in statues; ornaments and paintings. Collectively they are also known as the Three Star Gods. They are associated particularly with Feng shui and Daoism. Fu Shen 福神 (Happiness) is usually depicted with a scroll, and sometimes with children. The good luck character fu 福 is a representation of him as the 'God of Happiness'. Historically he was a judge in Hunan who rebuked the Liang dynasty Emperor Wudi for his predilection for making dwarfs work as jesters and slaves at court. In gratitude people began to worship his as God of Happiness, he is often shown wearing lucky red colored clothes. Lu or Lou (Prosperity) wears a Mandarin's outfit. Shou (Longevity) holds a walking stick and has a large bald forehead and often carries a peach of immortality. Lu is particularly associated with luck in passing examinations which were the traditional passport to prosperity as a government official. Sometimes he is mounted on or stands beside a stag and may be Chinese 'medicinal' mushrooms 灵芝 líng zhī (associated with immortality) carpet the ground.
Guan Yu 关羽 or Guan Di
The 'God of Righteous Action' comes by several names including 关公 Guān gōng 'Lord Guan'; Wu di and Guan Di. He was a war hero of the Three Kingdoms period and appears in the famous novel 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms'. He swore loyalty to Zhuang Fei and Liu Bei. He was captured and executed by Sun Quan. The Ming Emperor Shenzong elevated him to the status of a Daoist god. He is one of the most widely represented Chinese deities. Although termed a 'god of war' he is really about strategy, dignity and loyalty rather than aggression and violence - so 'God of Righteous Action' is a better description. The Qing Emperors took steps to lionize him and raise his stature. As well as the patron of all soldiers he was noted for his scholarship and is venerated for his knowledge of diplomacy and acquisition of riches. He is often portrayed in opera as a general on horseback with a red face and green robe. His birthday is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the fifth month.
The Buddhist Goddess of Mercy listens to any who will seek her help. She steers the boat carrying souls to paradise. According to legend she was the third daughter of Miao Zhuangwang; she soon decided she wanted to become a Buddhist nun. Her father continued to maltreat her and tried to break her will; when at last he lost patience, he commanded that she should be killed with a sword, but the sword broke into many pieces. Not giving up, he had her suffocated but she was rescued and re-incarnated on Putuo Island off Zhejiang. She then used a part of her own arm to heal her sick abusive father who recovered and, suitably chastised, erected a statue in her honor. She is the protector of children and often shown surrounded by them. She is the goddess who protected the travelers in the famous tale 'The Journey to the West'. The statue has many (sometimes a thousand) eyes and arms apparently because the order describing the desired form was misheard. She is often portrayed sitting on a lotus and accompanied by a boy with a bottle and a girl with a willow twig. In some ways she is similar to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian theology - she is compassionate and pure. The origin is probably from the youthful Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva of Indian Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is considered a reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara- the original god became a goddess in the Chinese tradition.
He-he Heavenly twins 和合二仙
The Heavenly twins are shown as two boys carrying a box and a lotus which symbolizes a wish for peace: 'hé' 和 (box) and harmony 荷 hé (lotus). One may also be holding a bowl over which fly five bats for good luck; it represents a wish for family peace and harmony. They may be based on the story of Shi de 拾得 the eccentric friend of the legendary poet Han Shan 寒山.
Heng and Ha 哼哈二将
The generals are frequently depicted as statues guarding Buddhist temples. The legend is that they lived at the time of the foundation of the Zhou dynasty and were given magical powers by Duè Zhenrèn who lived in the Kunlun mountains. General Heng could emit deadly rays from his nose. General Ha had been given the power to exhale a lethal gas. The two generals fought each other valiantly and they were rewarded for their prowess by being canonized by Emperor Jiang Ziya.
Hou Yi 后羿
The Divine Archer is associated with the sun and is the husband of Chang'e of the moon. His skill was discovered by Emperor Yao in 2436BCE when he claimed that he could hit a tree on a distant hill. Not only did he accomplish this but he rode the air to retrieve the arrow. He (also known as Shenyi) was also skilled in carpentry, and built a palace for Chang'e on the Moon and one for himself on the Sun. Some legends say that rather like Zhinu and Nuiling, he can only visit Chang'e at the Mid-autumn moon festival. He is said to have shot and killed nine of the ten sun ravens that threatened to burn up the Earth.
Ji Gong 济公
He was a very clever Buddhist monk who took delight in wrong-footing the corrupt and helping the poor. He was a maverick, choosing to eat meat in defiance of normal Buddhist practice. He is often shown as somewhat intoxicated with wine, holding a fan or leaning against a tree. The real life figure lived during the Southern Song dynasty but after his death he was imbued with magical powers.
Kongfuzi 孔夫子 Kǒng fū zǐ or Confucius
The leader of the Confucian religion. He lived in the Warring States period of the Zhou dynasty. He was a teacher of the right way for a society to function. In his view human nature is naturally virtuous but needs careful control. An analogy he used was the flow of water; water naturally flows down (the way of virtue) but circumstances can sometimes force it to flow up, as in the splashing at the base of a waterfall (a turn to the bad). He had no belief in an after-life or divine intervention, concentrating entirely on giving direction to the living. For many hundreds of years a student wishing to become a government official needed to know the his classics by heart. These examinations began as early as the Han dynasty (over two thousand years ago). At the heart of the doctrine is that people by studying become better people and that is why education and examinations have always been high Chinese priorities. His philosophy was the guiding doctrine throughout many dynasties and is still very important today.
Kuixing 奎星 kuí xīng
The god of literature is associated with a star in Ursa Major (the Big Dipper). There are other historical figures who are sometimes called his name for example Zhong Kui and Wen Chang - it is all a bit confusing. He is portrayed with an ugly face - large eyes and a square chin often in a pose based on the configuration of the pointer stars in the Big Dipper (as they point to the North pole star). His ill looks resulted in the emperor refusing to give him his just reward in the examinations, in response he threw himself in a river in despair. As god of the examinations his figure is a popular gift for aspiring students.
Laozi 老子 Lǎo zǐ or Lao tzu
The leader of the Daoist (Taoist) religion. Unlike Confucius details of his life are very sketchy; often based on myths and legends. His name just means 'Old (or Venerable) Master.' He is often portrayed as an old man seated on a water buffalo while on a journey to the West. Legends have grown up about his life over the intervening 2,600 years. Some say he was conceived by a beam of light and that he was born already with white hair. It is appropriate that he is associated with longevity and immortality.
Lei Gong 雷公
The Duke of Thunder, he is depicted as a hideous looking black demon with bat's wings; a monkey's face and an eagle's beak. In one hand he holds a steel chisel while in the other a hammer with which he beats numerous drums.
Lei Zhenzi 雷祖
He is separate from Lei Gong but is also associated with thunder. He has three eyes, an extra one in his forehead from which a ray of light emerges. He rides a black unicorn which covers huge distances in no time. The associated rain makes him a popular god for farmers; grain merchants and inn keepers.
Liang Shanbo 梁山伯 and Zhu Yingtai 祝英台
This couple figures in one of the most famous romances in Chinese tradition and are often termed the 'Butterfly Lovers' or the 'Chinese Romeo and Juliet'. She is said to have gone way to study in the house of him disguised as a boy. On parting Zhu promised the hand of 'his' friend to Liáng Shānbó in marriage. When Liang completed his studies and passed the exams he went to see Zhu but she at this time had been forced to be engaged to marry another man by her father. Liang pined away in grief and died. Some time later on Zhu's wedding day her carriage stopped during a great storm and she noticed the grave of Liang. In distress the ground opened up and the two were united in death, the story ends with a pair of strange butterflies emarged from his tomb.
Liu Hai 劉海
He is another Daoist god of wealth often depicted with a string of coins and accompanied with a three legged toad. Various tales are told about him. The magical toad was said to be able to transport him anywhere he wished. He may have been an official during the Jin dynasty and actually an alchemist called Liu Xuanying. China has some large toad statues that are associated with wealth and many people offer him coins for good luck.
Long Wang 龙王
The Dragon King is the chief of all the dragons and controls all the waters: sea; rivers; lakes and streams. He was defeated by the combined talents of the Eight Immortals.
Lu Ban 鲁班
The God of Carpenters and Craftsmen is based on the tale of a man who lived in the Shandong province in the Spring and Autumn Period. He was given the ability to rise in the air unsupported and ride the clouds. An alternative story is that he lived in Gansu and built a kite that could lift him from the ground.
Luo Han 罗汉
The Chinese name for an arhat, a Buddhist who has achieved enlightenment (nirvana) and is freed from all earthly cravings and so leaves the cycle of rebirths. An arhat works for personal enlightenment compared to a Pu Sa (Bodhisattva) who works for the general good of all. There are considered to be 18 identified Luohans each with their own object or attendant by with they can be identified in pictures and figurines.
Ma Gu 麻姑
An auspicious Daoist deity often shown with a bamboo staff and a boy carrying a peach of immortality or a basket of herbs. Often she is accompanied with a deer and the Queen Mother of the West. She is regarding as having lived in the Han dynasty and many temples, caves and mountains are named after her. She is most associated with having long fingernails, indeed legend has it that the Emperor wished Magu would scratch an irritating itch he had with her nails, he was punished by being whipped by a demon. A back-scratcher is often named after her in reference to this event.
The Daoist goddess is of importance along the coastline of Southern China as she is associated with the sea and there is considered the Queen of Heaven. Many temples have been built so fishermen and seafarers can seek her help in procuring good weather and a safe voyage. She is said to have 千哩眼 qiān lǐ yǎn 'eyes that see a thousand miles' and 顺风耳 shùn fēng ěr 'ears for favorable winds'. She is honored on the 23rd day of the third lunar month. There is a famous temple to her at Macau and the name 'Macau' may have its origin in her name. There is a number of cross-overs with the Buddhist goddess Guanyin.
Mi Le Fo 弥勒佛
The fat, laughing figure is often seen on Chinese paintings and as sculptures. The 'Laughing Buddha' represents the hope of future happiness. He is Maitreya, the Bodhisattva that will be the next to come after the Shakyamuni Buddha. A legend says he came to live in Zhejiang province in the tenth century where he helped the poor and needy. He is full of boundless love for mankind. He is usually shown seated near the entrance to Buddhist temples.
She is the exception to the rule that warrior heroes of Chinese history are male. She is an ancient tale of a fearless young woman who took the place of her elder father to serve in the army for years. The Emperor wished to honor her great valor in battle, but she chose to return home rather than take riches or a title. Only when she returned home to her father did she reveal she was a woman.
This legendary hero of the Shang dynasty is portrayed as a youth wielding a magic gold bracelet that he could increase in size at will. He also bears a spear and rides a fire chariot. He is mentioned in the famous book the 'Journey to the West'. He was able to stave off the attack of the Dragon King. In one tradition the layout of the city Beijing is based on the form of his body.
Pan Gu 盘古
The creator of the Universe according to tradition in China. He was the child of 'yin' and 'yang' and is shown as a dwarf in a bear skin. Other legends give different stories including one where he is the primal egg (盘 pán can mean shell of egg) from which he and then all life hatched. He holds a hammer and chisel and fashions the cosmos out of solid rock. He is the great architect; tortoises; phoenixes and dragons. The creation took 18,000 years and after that his body 'decayed' to become the heavenly bodies; mountains; humans and other part of the world. This legend seems to have appeared as late as 220CE and may have come from India. It is important among some of the ethnic people of Southern China.
He is reputed to have reached 800 years old, at the age of seventy he was said to still look like a baby. The quest for immortality in China goes back a long way, and is particularly associated with Daoists. It was considered that by careful control of the qi 'life essence' an age of 120 could be achieved, by knowing the dao 'way' an even greater age could be reached. He is the emblem of this dream and is often depicted praying and burning incense surrounded by children. When portrayed on a gift he symbolizes a wish for long life.
Pu Sa 菩萨
The term Bodhisattva is transliterated in Chinese as 菩提萨陀 Pú tí sà tuó in Chinese. A Bodhisattva is an enlightened Buddhist that continues in the cycle of rebirth to work for the good of others.
Pu Xian 普贤
The Buddhist God of Universal Benevolence (Samantabhadra 普贤菩萨) is usually portrayed riding a white elephant. He is particularly associated with the sacred Mount Emei Sichuan. He wears a yellow robe with a red collar and often carries a lotus. He is one of top Buddhas and often displayed in prestigious places in Buddhist temples.
Qing Long and Bai Hu 青龙; 白虎
The blue dragon qīng lóng and white tiger bái hǔ perform the same duties for Daoist temples as Heng and Ha do for Buddhist ones, they act as guardians. Bái hǔ Deng Jiugong of the Shang dynasty was a general and wounded by Heng becoming the spirit of the Blue Dragon star. Yin Chengxiu was an official who went as an emissary to Jiang Ziya but was executed by him. His son then went to avenge his death and was killed to be later canonized as the spirit of the white tiger.
San Qing 三清
The Three Pure Ones (Yu Qing 玉清: Jade Azure; Shang Qing 上清: High Azure and Tai Qing 太清: Supreme Azure) are a triad of Daoist gods that rule over the three traditional divisions of the sky. Yu Qing is the Jade Emperor while he governs yin and yang while Tai Qing is the celestial form of Laozi himself.
He is the Supreme sovereign and ancestor, it is he that gives power to the Emperor. He punishes the bad and rewards the good. He is omniscient and omnipresent and acts through his ministers Guan Yu; Cheng Huang and Tu di. The belief in this ancestral god somewhat faded by the time of the Han dynasty; he is venerated mainly by followers of Confucius. The Emperor was thought of as his representative on Earth and only the Emperor could worship him, he was the only conduit to heaven.
The god of Earth and cultivation passes on his power to good rulers with the result of a bounteous harvest.
Shenshu 神荼 and Yulü 郁垒
According to the Shanhaijing the Jade Emperor ordered these two to guard peach trees which were being attacked by demons. They are widely depicted as door guardians to ward off evil.
Si Da Tianwang 四大天王
The four Celestial kings are guardians of the Universe. They act as Temple guardians and are also associated with the four seasons and four elements (Fire; air; earth; water). Li carries a pagoda; Ma a sword; Zhao two swords and Wen a pointed stick.
Sun Wukong 孙悟空
The Monkey King is the hero of the famous book 'Journey to the West' which tells the story of Xuanzang and his followers travel to India. He is endearingly dismissive of authority and loyal to his friends. He wields a cudgel stick that can grow to any size he chooses. He is mischievous but very clever and full of energy. He is the god of official messengers.
Tudi Gong 土地公
The guardian of the rural countryside and wild places. The similar deity Sheji has jurisdiction only to cultivated areas of land.
Wen Chang 文昌王
The God of Culture and Literature is based partly on the life of an exceptional Tang scholar Zhang Ya born in Zhejiang. He moved to Zitong, Sichuan where he was worshiped as a god after a mysterious disappearance. He is often associated with a wise serpent. Other legends base him on Zhong Kui who although exceptionally talented was so ugly that the Emperor refused to hire him. In despair Kui threw himself in the sea but was rescued by a sea monster. He is represented as standing on the head of a fish (carp) brandishing a writing brush. He went to heaven and forms part of the stars. He is associated with four acolytes : a servant; the Celestial Deaf man; the Earthly Dumb man and Kuixing (a fat dwarf with a demon's face).
Xi Wangmu 西王母
The Queen Mother of the West is the spirit of pure yin as the opposite of Dong Wanggong pure yang. She lives in the Kunlun mountains in far western China defended by a spirit army. She is sometimes portrayed with a panther's tail and tiger's teeth. She represents integrity and virtue. Her palace is bedecked in gold and precious stones and is the location where the gods hold their banquets. Great emperors of antiquity visited her on occasions. It is possible that she is based on an historical leader of a separate kingdom in western China a little like the Queen of Sheba. She is mostly associated with the quest for immortality as the peaches of immortality grow there, and it was there that the Monkey King stole some. She was one of the most revered of Chinese deities and her worship was fanatical in the later Han dynasty. She is often attended by two young girls one with a fan and the other a bowl of the magic peaches. She flies on the back of a crane and accompanies by bluebirds and phoenixes.
The Pure August (Yu Huangdi) or Jade Emperor is the Daoist supreme sovereign of the Universe somewhat similar to Shangdi; there are many cross-overs with Buddhist deities too. He was able to command all sorts of spirits and genies as well as the kings of hell. He is one of the trinity of Three Pure Ones. . He came into prominence under Song Emperor Zhenzong who claimed to have contact with the Jade Emperor. This supposed connection helped stabilize his rule in troubled times.
Zao Jun 灶君
The Hearth or Kitchen god (also known as Zaoshen and Zaowang) is an important god because he observes the conduct of all families. With food being so important to a family he controls the health and prosperity of the home. It is on the eve of Chinese New Year that families pay particular deference so that he can relay a favorable report on the household's life to heaven for the last year - his lips are smeared with honey. Traditionally a portrait of him was hung in the kitchen which was ritually burned and replaced every New Year. Originally, before the Song dynasty, he was important as the God of Furnaces and associated with alchemy.
Zhang Daoling 张道陵
He was a sage of Daoism, born 35CE during the Han dynasty he quickly learned all about Daoist concepts of yin yang; astronomy and nature. He developed recipes for potions for immortality and alchemy. By the age of 60 he had perfected the immortality pill by uniting the blue dragon and white tiger. Eventually he moved to Yuntai in Sichuan from where he ascended to heaven in 157CE leaving a magic book and sword.
Zhang Qian 张骞
He was a historical figure from the Han dynasty. He served as a diplomat and explorer of Central Asia. Over the centuries his life has gathered legends, he is said to have discovered all the animals. He journeyed all the way to the source of the Yellow River where he met the goddess Qi Nu. He became a Daoist immortal often shown on a raft and carrying a gourd.
The Spinning Damsel, she was a daughter of the sun god who was concerned that she spent too much of her time spinning and wanted her to marry his neighbor the Herdsman 牛郎 Niulang across the Milky Way. She soon followed his wishes and was married but then entirely neglected her spinning tasks in a life of dissipation. Her father was so angry that he separated Niulang from her husband. They could only meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. To make a bridge over the Milky Way he commanded magpies to spread their wings. As they would only come if it was dry she earnestly prayed for rain to keep away on that day. Nowadays this event is celebrated as Chinese Valentine's Day.
He, the Demon Queller or Ghost Catcher, is one of the most powerful deities for keeping away evil spirits. His picture is displayed at the Dragon Boat Festival (summer solstice) and also by front doors to keep out evil. He may be shown wielding a sword attacking the five noxious creatures. He is shown with wild hair, fierce eyes and a sword. His hideous looks resulted in him being denied an official position at court despite coming top in the Imperial examinations. In some traditions he is also the god of examinations Kui xing .
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