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Chinese Deities

CHINA AO The Four Dragon Kings Ao Chi'in, Ao Kuang, Ao Jun, and Ao Shun, gods of rain and the sea. Subjects of the Jade Emperor.

CH'ENG-HUANG God of moats and walls. Every village and town had its own Ch'eng-Huang, most often a local dignitary or important person who had died and been promoted to godhood. His divine status was revealed in dreams, though the gods made the actual decision. Ch'eng-Huang not only protects the community from attack but sees to it that the King of the Dead does not take any soul from his jurisdiction without proper authority. Ch'eng-Huang also exposes evil-doers in the community itself, usually through dreams. His assistants are Mr. Ba Lao-ye and Mr. Hei Lao-ye -- Mr. Daywatchman and Mr. Nightwatchman.

CHU JUNG God of fire. Chu Jung punishes those who break the laws of heaven. KUAN TI God of war. The Great Judge who protects the people from injustice and evil spirits. A red faced god dressed always in green. An oracle. Kuan Ti was an actual historical figure, a general of the Han dynasty renowned for his skill as a warrior and his justness as a ruler. There were more than 1600 temples dedicated to Kuan Ti.

KWAN YIN also KWANNON Goddess of mercy and compassion. A lady dressed in white seated on a lotus and holding an infant. Murdered by her father, she recited the holy books when she arrived in Hell, and the ruler of the underworld could not make the dead souls suffer. The disgruntled god sent her back to the world of the living, where Kwan Yin attained great spiritual insight and was rewarded with immortality by the Buddha. A popular goddess, Kwan Yin's temple at the Mount of the Wondrous Peak was ever filled with a throng of pilgrims shaking rattles and setting off firecrackers to get her attention.

LEI KUNG God of thunder. Lei Kung has the head of a bird, wings, claws and blue skin, and his chariot is drawn by six boys. Lei Kung makes thunder with his hammer, and his wife makes lightening with her mirrors. Lei Kung chases away evil spirits and punishes criminals whose crimes have gone undetected.

PA HSIEN The Eight Immortals of the Taoist tradition. Ordinary mortals who, through good works and good lives, were rewarded by the Queen Mother Wang by giving them the peaches of everlasting life to eat. They are: LI TIEH-KUAI Li of the Iron Crutch. A healer, Li sits as a beggar in the market place selling wondrous drugs, some of which can revive the dead. CHUNG-LI CH'UAN A smiling old men always beaming with joy, he was rewarded with immortality for his ascetic life in the mountains.

LAN TS'AI-HO A young flute-player and wandering minstrel who carries a basket laden with fruit. His soul-searching songs caused a stork to snatch him away to the heavens. LU TUNG-PIN A hero of early Chinese literature. Renouncing riches and the world, he punished the wicked and rewarded the good, and slew dragons with a magic sword.

CHANG-KUO LAO An aged hermit with miraculous abilities. Chang owned a donkey which could travel at incredible speed. The personification of the primordial vapor which is the source of all life.

HAN HSIANG-TZU A scholar who chose to study magic rather than prepare for the civil service. When his uncle chastised him for studying magic, Han Hsiang-Tzu materialized two flowers with poems written on the leaves. TS'AO KUO-CHIU Ts'ao Kuo-Chiu tried to reform his brother, a corrupt emperor, by reminding him that the laws of heaven are inescapable.

HO HSIEN-KU "Immortal Maiden Ho." A Cantonese girl who dreamed that she could become immortal by eating a powder made of mother-of-pearl. She appears only to men of great virtue.

P'AN-CHIN-LIEN Goddess of prostitutes. As a mortal, she was a widow who was much too liberal and inventive with her favors, and her father-in-law killed her. In death she was honored by her more professional associates and eventually became the goddess of whores.

SHI-TIEN YEN-WANG The Lords of Death, the ten rulers of the underworld. They dress alike in royal robes and only the wisest can tell them apart. Each ruler presides over one court of law. In the first court a soul is judged according to his sins in life and sentenced to one of the eight courts of punishment. Punishment is fitted to the offense. Misers are made to drink molten gold, liars' tongues are cut out. In the second court are incompetent doctors and dishonest agents; in the third, forgers, liars, gossips, and corrupt government officials; in the fifth, murderers, sex offenders and atheists; in the sixth, the sacreligious and blasphemers; in the eighth, those guilty of filial disrespect; in the ninth, arsonists and accident victims. In the tenth is the Wheel of Transmigration where souls are released to be reincarnated again after their punishment is completed. Before souls are released, they are given a brew of oblivion, which makes them forget their former lives.

TI-TSANG WANG God of mercy. Wandering in the caverns of Hell, a lost soul might encounter a smilng monk whose path is illuminated by a shining pearl and whose staff is decorated with metal rings which chime like bells. This is Ti-Tsang Wang, who will do all he can to help the soul escape hell and even to put an end to his eternal round of death and rebirth. Long ago, Ti-Tsang Wang renounced Nirvana so that he could search the dark regions of Hell for souls to save from the kings of the ten hells. Once a priest of Brahma, he converted to Buddhism and himself became a Buddha with special authority over the souls of the dead.

T'SHAI-SHEN God of wealth who presides over a vast bureaucracy with many minor deities under his authority. A majestic figure robed in exquisite silks. T'shai-Shen is quite a popular god; even atheists worship him.

TSAO WANG God of the hearth. Every household has its own Tsao Wang. Every year the hearth god reports on the family to the Jade Emperor, and the family has good or bad luck during the coming year according to his report. The hearth god's wife records every word spoken by every member of the family. A paper image represents the hearth god and his wife, and incense is burned to them daily. When the time came to make his report to the Jade Emperor, sweetmeats were placed in his mouth, the paper was burned, and firecrackers were lit to speed him on his way.

TU-TI Local gods. Minor gods of towns, villages and even streets and households. Though far from the most important gods in the divine scheme, they were quite popular. Usually portrayed as kindly, respectable old men, they see to it that the domains under their protection run smoothyly.

YENG-WANG-YEH "Lord Yama King." Greatest of the Lords of Death. Yeng-Wang-Yeh judges all souls newly arrived to the land of the dead and decides whether to send them to a special court for punishment or put them back on the Wheel of Transmigration.

YU-HUANG-SHANG-TI "Father Heaven." The August Supreme Emperor of Jade, whose court is in the highest level of heaven, originally a sky god. The Jade Emperor made men, fashioning them from clay. His heavenly court resembles the earthly court in all ways, having an army, a bureaucracy, a royal family and parasitical courtiers. The Jade Emperor's rule is orderly and without caprice. The seasons come and go as they should, yin is balanced with yang, good is rewarded and evil is punished. As time went on, the Jade Emperor became more and more remote to men, and it became customary to approach him through his doorkeeper, the Transcendental Dignitary. The Jade Emperor sees and hears everything; even the softest whisper is as loud as thunder to the Jade Emperor.

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Last updated: December 31, 1969

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