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.

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: 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.

The Eight Immortals


As far as I know, there are more than eight Daoist immortals so I’m not sure what sets the eight, in the group known as The Eight Immortals (Bāxiān  八仙), apart from the rest. 

Each immortal has an instrument or implement onto which the immortals may transfer his/her power. These instruments are known as the Covert Eight Immortals (暗八仙).

The exact identities of the Eight Immortals are unknown, but some of them are associated with actual historical figures born during the Tang and Song dynasties. Apparently they reside on a group of five mythical islands in the Bohai Sea, namely Mount Penglai (蓬莱) Island, Fāngzhàng (方丈), Yíngzhōu (瀛州), Dàiyú (岱輿), and Yuánjiāo (員嬌).

The Eight Immortals are He Xian’gu (何仙姑), Cao Guojiu (曹國舅), Li Tieguai (李铁拐), Lan Caihe, Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓), Han Xiangzi, Zhang Guolao and Zhongli Quan (钟离权). Continue reading “The Eight Immortals”

The Way


The Dao at the heart of Daoism is a Chinese word (道) that has several English interpretations. The ‘way’ is probably its most common English definition. Others include ‘path’, ‘key’, ‘method’ and even ‘doctrine’. However, it is generally agreed that ‘Dao’ cannot and should not be defined.

Here is Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘rendition’ of a saying from the Daode jing (道德經) …

The way you can go

Isn’t the real way.

The name you can say

Isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth

begin in the unnamed:

name’s the mother

of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul

sees what’s hidden,

and the ever-wanting soul

sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,

but different in name.

whose identity is mystery.

Mystery of all mysteries!

The door to the hidden.

~ ‘Chapter 1: Taoing’, Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way, A New English Version by Ursula K. Le Guin, with the collaboration of J. P. Seaton, Professor of Chinese, University of Carolina, Chapel Hill.(Shambhala Publications Inc., 1997)
N.B. I will be referring to the above publication in this blog as well as other translations of the Daode Jing.




The Teacher


Laozi (老子) or Laotzu was the philosopher said to be the author of the Daode jing (道德經), the fundamental text for the religion and philosophy of Daoism; the founder of philosophical Daoism and a deity in religious Daoism and Chinese traditional religions.

We don’t know if he really existed, but there are theories that say that he was teacher to Confucius. That, however, would have placed Laozi in the sixth century (BCE), whereas there exists a first century (BCE) version of the Daode jing.

One theory suggests that the Daode jing is a collection of sayings, compiled over several centuries, and that one of its authors is a teacher referred to naturally as Laozi, meaning ‘Old Master’.

Laozi’s personal name is said to be either Li Er (李耳) or Li Dan (李聃). Claimed by the Tang Dynasty emperors as the founder of their lineage, the sage was granted the title ‘Supremely Mysterious and Primordial Emperor’ or Taishang Xuanyuan Huangdi (太上玄元皇帝).

As a deity and religious personage, Laozi is known as the ‘Supreme Old Lord’ or Taishang Laojun (太上老君) and one of the Three Pure Ones.