Chinese Gods & Goddesses

Instructor: Daniel McCollum

Dan has a Master's Degree in History and has taught undergraduate History

China, possibly, has more gods than any other nation in the world. From those deities influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism or Taoism, to those present in traditional Chinese folk religion, a multitude of gods exist. This lesson examines some of the best known and most prominent of these gods.

Chinese Mythology

Chinese Mythology is the collection of stories told about figures from traditional Chinese religions. Chinese mythology was never really unified, but contained stories and gods from a lot of people, like the Han, who lived in the region we now call China. The mythology was not only influenced by the folk religions of the Chinese peoples, but by a number of religious and philosophical movements, such as Taoism, Confucianism, and even Buddhism from India. Because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to speak of Chinese mythology as a whole. However, there are certain prestigious gods or goddesses that are prominent throughout the country.

Creation

Although there's several creation stories present in China, the most popular one deals with the primordial giant Pangu. Upon waking up, Pangu split the heavens open, separating Yin and Yang. Eventually Pangu died of old age and, when he did, his body became the sun, the moon, and much of the world. However, the four pillars that held up the sky were broken. The twin gods Nuwa and Fu Xi, who are often depicted with the upper body of humans but the lower body of a serpent, arrived and brought order to the world by repairing the pillars, and also created human beings. Fu Xi then took the humans under his wing and taught them the art of cooking, hunting, and fishing. The twins are revered to this day as the creators of mankind and the bringers of order to the cosmos.

Mazu

The goddess Mazu, also called the 'Empress of Heaven,' is one of the most popular and worshiped goddesses in all of Chinese religion. She was once a 10th century moral woman from the Fujian province, who became involved in Taoism. She became locally renowned after she saved her brother and father from a typhoon. When she passed away at the age of 27 or 28, she was recognized as the patron saint of fishermen in her village. Over the next several centuries, she began to be worshiped throughout the coastal villages of south China, and various Emperors awarded her with the title 'Empress of Heaven' and she came to be seen as the Goddess of the Sea. Today she is still honored by many; she's particularly important in the city of Hong Kong where there's over 80 temples dedicated to her.

The Jade Emperor and Supreme Emperor

Throughout Chinese mythology, there have been two distinct figures that were traditionally seen as the ruling deity. The first was Shangdi, also known as the Supreme Emperor. Shangdi had originally been a tribal god of the Shang and the Zhou peoples. As both groups rose in prominence, Shangdi came to be seen as the preeminent god throughout China. He was associated with the sky and heavens, and was also seen as ruling through agents and intermediaries which would do his bidding. However, as time passed, Shangdi came to be usurped, and absorbed, by Yu Huang, the Jade Emperor. Yu Huang came from the Taoists and is seen as the supreme ruler of all levels of the world. On his birthday, it's thought that Yu Huang will judge each person by the deeds and actions over the preceding year. He was viewed as an ideal Emperor who ruled the world through the lesser gods who gave him advice and carried him news and requests from human beings.

The Jade Emperor
The Jade Emperor

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