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.