Tiger Spirit

Bǎoshēng Dàdì 保生大帝, the God and Protector of Life, with his tiger assistant. (Contemporary water colour and ink painting by Wang Xingru at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, Canada.)
Hǔ shén 虎神 or Hǔ yé 虎爺 are the titles given to the tiger spirit or tiger guardian who is acts as either the mount of Zhao Gongming 趙公明, the God of Wealth or Cáishén 財神, or the attendant of Bǎoshēng Dàdì 保生大帝, the God and Protector of Life. 

His shrine is usually placed below a temple's main altar, but there are temples dedicated solely to him in Taiwan.

A wooden statue (18-19th century) of God of Wealth Cáishén 財神 on his tiger mount.

I am not sure if the tiger with Cáishén 財神 is the same as the one with Bǎoshēng Dàdì 保生大帝. Logically, it shouldn’t be the case. In any case, the tiger spirit is conferred the powers of the deity it serves/accompanies and devotees pray to it accordingly.

White tiger or Báihǔ 白虎 carving. (Pic from Wikipedia entry on the White Tiger.)

Apart from the tiger spirits, the White Tiger or Báihǔ 白虎 is also worshipped in Malaysia. I have read that he is sometimes known as the Tiger General, but I’ve also read that he is not to be confused with the Tiger General. Some sites say he is the same tiger associated with Cáishén 財神 is the same as the one with Bǎoshēng Dàdì 保生大帝. Other immortals linked to or depicted with tigers are Zhāng Dàolíng 張道陵; Tudigong 土地公 (below whose altar the tiger shrine is often placed); and Sūn Sīmiǎo 孫思邈. 

The White Tiger is of course one of the guardians of the four cardinal directions in Chinese astronomy. The White Tiger guards the West, the Blue Dragon the East; the Black tortoise the North; and the Red Bird the South. Many Daoist temples have paintings or carvings of the White Tiger and Blue Dragon by their left and right entrances respectively.

Tiger carving at Chia Kongsi, George Town, Penang.

Favourite Uncle

A Tua Pek Kong statue sold on the online store Feng Shui Cabinet. (https://fengshuicabinet.com.my/)

I have joined a Facebook group devoted to Tua pek kong or Dà bógōng 大伯公, a deity that Malaysians (and other South-east Asian devotees) worship, and refer to as the God of Prosperity. Tua pek is Hokkien for eldest uncle, while gong is a title of respect. Dà bógōng is just the Mandarin version of the same.

In a group post, some members were discussing what you can ask from the deity. Lottery numbers, one said, only to be told not to do this! In general, it’s agreed that Tua Pek Kong’s blessings lead to a prosperous business, success in studies and good health for the elderly, as well as other rewards. Perhaps it’s considered crass to ask to win the lottery? The person never explained himself.

I wonder how gods feel to always be asked for stuff. Devotees are only devotees if you give them nice things, or because they hope to be given nice things. I remember my sister saying she was sad because I was going to burn in hell as a result of being an atheist. So … should I believe in god only to escape being barbecued for all eternity? That seems a pretty crass reason for worshipping the holy trinity!

Continue reading “Favourite Uncle”

Do Not Enter

Door gods guard the entrances of temples, homes and other buildings. They are represented in the form of statues or paintings.

Legend has it that these gods became a tradition thanks to two Tang Dynasty generals who were tasked to guard the entrance to the Emperor Tai Zong’s (太 宗 皇 帝) bedchamber as the ruler suffered from nightmares and feared that demons and ghosts would come to abduct him. The emperor slept soundly when the generals stood guard. Even portraits of the two warriors were said to be sufficient in ensuring that Tai Zong got a good night’s rest.

The two generals were Yuchi Gong and Qin Shu-bao, and they are the ones usually painted on the main doors of temples and so forth. Yuchi Gong (also known as Yuchi Rong, Jingde and Duke Zhongwu of E) is easily indentifiable as the door god with swarthy skin. 

These paintings of Yuchi Gong and Qin Shubao can be seen at the Thean Hou or Tianhou (天后) Temple in Seputeh, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

The following door gods include Yuchi Gong (dark skinned), but I can’t identify the others. They are at the  Tow Moo Keong Temple on Gat Lebuh Noordin, George Town, Penang. (Tow Moo or Dup Mu Yuan is the Queen of Heaven, mother of the Nine Emperor Gods.)

Yanluo the King of Diyu, the Chinese Underworld

Yanluo is often portrayed with an angry red face and long beard. (Wait a minute, isn’t that also Guan Yu’s signature look?)
He is not only the king of the underworld, but also the judge who decides the fate of the dead.
Rather than an individual deity, Yanluo Wang is sometimes said to be a celestial position that can even be assumed by worthy mortals after death.
Some say that the famous Justice Bao Zheng of the Song Dynasty was appointed as the judge of the dead, assisted by his three assistants Old Age, Illness and Death.

Azuchi-Momoyama period wall scroll depicting Yanluo Wang.

Do read this excellent post on The Jade Turtle Records blog that describes Yanluo Wang in detail, including the Indian Vedic King Yama.

Officers of the Underworld: Horse-Face and Ox-Head.

I have not been able to find much on Horse-Face (Mǎ miàn 馬面) and Ox-Head (niú tóu 牛頭), the two officers of the Chinese underworld.

There are brief descriptions of the pair guarding the gates of ‘hell’ (Dìyù 地獄) or even escorting the dead from doorstep to doorstep, as it were. Most people would find half-human escorts quite alarming so I’m guessing that the aim is to make the whole process as unappealing as possible?

Personally, I don’t get it, especially in the case of those average souls who aren’t guilty of anything heinous. Why would they deserve such treatment? Or are they greeted/accompanied by different, more friendly-looking creatures? The Chinese concept of ‘hell’ is unlike the, say, Christian one. Everyone has to pass through this place. If you haven’t been wicked, then you will escape being sawn in half or disembowelment, but I have a feeling no one gets off too easily.

The wiki entry for Horse-Face and Ox-Head includes a snippet on how Ox-Head was a faithful and hardworking ox who the King of Hell rewarded by making him an officer of the underworld. I haven’t been able to find an origin story for Horse-face.

What I really want to know is how the two get on. Is there rivalry? Do they fight? Or are they besties? And what’s their relationship with the other hellish pair Heibai Wuchang? I have so many questions …

Perhaps they have a friendship like what’s reflected in the photo on the below.

Officers of the Underworld: Heibai Wuchang

I’ve seen these deities at temples, but, for some reason, have never given them a second thought until I came across one of them in The Way That Lives in the Heart: Chinese Popular Religion and Spirit Mediums in Penang, Malaysia by Jean DeBenardi [NUS Press].

DeBenardi calls the one in white the Inconstant Uncle, and I have to admit I immediately thought he sounded like something out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. In fact, the unit name for these underworld lords is Heibai Wuchang (黑白無常): Heibai just mean ‘blackwhite’, while Wuchang is usually translated as ‘impermanence’.

DeBenardi’s ‘Inconstant Uncle”s name is Xiè Bì’ān, while his partner is Fàn Wújiù (范無救). Their duties include escorting wandering spirits back to the underworld and punishing the sinful.

Xiè Bì’ān is usually portrayed wearing white robes and a tall hat. He is tall and slim, and his tongue extends quite a long way out of his mouth. On his hat is written ‘Get Rich at First Sight’ (一見發財), or ‘Luck at First Sight’ (一見大吉), or ‘You Too” (你也來了). He holds a fan in one hand and a fish-shaped shackle or wooden sign in the other hand.

Fàn Wújiù wears black and is usually portrayed as the darker skinned, shorter, more rotund of the two. On his hat bears the characters ‘World Peace’ (天下太平) or ‘Arresting You’ (正在捉你). One hand holds a fan, while the other holds wooden sign that says “Good and Evil are Separate and Distinct’ (善惡分明) or ‘Reward Good and Punish Evil” (獎善罰惡). A long chain is wrapped around one of his arms.

There are various stories that explain how Xiè and Fan were granted immortality and given their underworld jobs. In one, the pair were constables. One day, when a convict they were escorting escaped, the pair decided to split up to look for him. They agreed that they would meet under a certain bridge, but when the appointed time came, one of them was delayed by heavy rain. However, although it started flooding, the one who was waiting under the bridge refused to budge and was eventually swept away into the river. When the other man finally got there and saw his friend’s body floating away, he was so distraught that he hanged himself. I have read this story on different websites, and there’s no consensus on which man drowned and which one hanged himself. Either way, the Jade Emperor was so impressed by the Xiè and Fan’s loyalty and devotion to one another that he made them guardians of Diyu (地獄), the Daoist underworld.

Nine Gods

The Nine Emperor Gods are the sons of Father Emperor Zhou Yu Dou Fu Yuan Jun (斗父周御國王天尊) and the North Star Dou Mu Yuan Jun (斗母元君).

They are the seven (visible) stars that make up the Big Dipper, plus another two (invisible) ‘assistant’ stars.

The Nine Emperor Gods are often wrongly conflated with folk heroes like the sea pirates of the Ming dynasty who plotted to overthrow the Qing dynasty. They are actually high ranking Star Lords who preside over the movement of planets and coordinate mortal Life and Death issues.

Their parents, Dou Fu and Dou Mu, hold the Registrar of Life and Death.

The festival for the Emperor Gods lasts nine days, from the eve of the ninth lunar month.

A couple of years ago, when I was on one of my wanders around George Town, Penang, I came across a part of town flying yellow banners as there was a temple there dedicated to the nine gods. That visit was a rainy one and apparently it tends to rain a lot during the Emperor Gods festival. Here’s the boat that would have been carried in a procession to the sea at the climax of the festival:


During that visit I also visited the Lee Clan Jetty and saw this offering and flag at the end of the walkway:


I’ve been planning to go back to witness the procession at the end of the festival, but life has got in the way and, this year, Covid-19.

There is a temple (Kau Ong Ya) dedicated to the nine gods in Ampang (just on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur city centre), but I have never got around to going for the festival although I did visit once, on a Datuk Gong hunting expedition. If I can find the pictures I took, I will post them.

28th September, 2020: Found a pic I took of the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Pekan Ampang …


This year’s festival begins on the evening of 17th October and ends on the evening of 25th October.

Datuk Gong


This post is by no means a definitive guide to the deities known collectively as Datuk Gong, but rather a general overview of their worship.

While I have a great interest in these deities, I know very little about them. What I do know has been acquired through reading online articles, Wikipedia entries and some academic texts; and also from conversations with various people, including those who revere the deities, but, unfortunately, do not have in-depth knowledge of them.

What follows is my impression and personal interpretation of what I have read and heard about Datuk Gong. Continue reading “Datuk Gong”

Fa Zhu Gong


Statues of this deity have long fascinated me because of their appearance. Many I know would cringe at Fa Zhu Gong’s coal-black face, bulbous forehead, and his bulging eyes, but there must be a reason for them.

I have yet to find any recorded research that touches on Fa Zhu Gong’s appearance, but one online seller of a statue of the deity attributes his black skin to a fight he had with a fireball-wielding demon.

In any case, when he was a mortal, Fa Zhu Gong was said to be a helpful individual who never hesitated to assist those in need. He healed the sick and defended the weak, and was eventually venerated for his good deeds.

The cobra that is often depicted coiled around his arm was a beast he subdued and made his pet. The deity was able to transform the snake into a whip, which he used to fight evil, particularly when treating the victims of demonic possession. Continue reading “Fa Zhu Gong”



Mazu (媽祖) is a Chinese sea goddess. Some say she was a tenth century shaman called Lin Moniang () who was deified as the protector of seafarers. Myths and legends ascribe various heroic deeds to her, all to do with the sea.

So popular a goddess is she that Mazu is regarded as the Queen of Heaven (天后, Tianhou), the wife of the Jade Emperor. She is also known as Heavenly Consort (天妃); and Holy Heavenly Mother (天上聖母, Tianhou Shengmu). However, some legends say that she is celibate.

qian-li-yan-shen-feng-er 2
Mazu, flanked by Qianliyan [left] and Shunfeng’er [right].
One story tells that the demons Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er competed for Mazu’s hand in marriage, but when she defeated them both in combat, they swore eternal loyalty to her and became her guardians. Thus, you can find their statues or images at Mazu temples.