|Investigative Essay on a Chinese traditional cultural object, deity, myth, folk story or any other topic inspired by the film
Due after Thanksgiving Break on Wednesday (December 4) before mid-night
Check XiaoMenShen_Religion PPT for ideas
1. Title: choose a topic and title for your essay
2. Length: 400 words; use Word Count
3. Format: three paragraphs
4. Sources: list at least one credible source (What is a Credible Source?)
5. Submission: submit online on Chinese4u.edublogsAbout Chinese deities: Little Door Gods https://youtu.be/VhWWCyKyoT0 | 小门神
1) Door Gods (Men Shen)
2) Earth God (Tudi Gong)
3) China’s atheist Communist Party encourages folk religion– Officials pray that the goddess Mazu will help them woo Taiwan (The Economist)
32 thoughts on “Investigative Essay – on a self-selected topic related to the film The Little Door Gods”
Chinese Dragon Kings
Lóngwáng (龙王), Dragon King or Dragon God, is the Chinese god of water and weather. There are four Dragon Kings that are individually associated with one of the four seas. In ancient China, there were four main seas for each cardinal direction: The North Sea (Baikal Lake), The South Sea (South China Sea), The East Sea (East China Sea), and The West Sea (Qinghai Lake). The Black Dragon named Ào Ming (敖明) or Ào Shun (敖顺) is the Dragon King of the north sea. The Red Dragon named Ào Shun (敖顺) or Ào Qin (敖钦) is the Dragon God of the south sea. The Azure Dragon named Ào Guǎng (敖光/敖广) is the Dragon King of the east sea. The White Dragon named Ào Ji (敖吉) is the Dragon God of the west sea.
The Dragon Kings symbolize power, protection, fearlessness, and good fortune. They are believed to have power over bodies of water and aquatic creatures and can present themselves in the shape of water-related phenomena such as storms and tornadoes.
They can also take the form of a dragon and the form of a human. In their human form, they are depicted in paintings with royal robes and red skin. In their dragon form they are believed to be the biggest and most powerful Chinese Dragons and are described as having the tail of a snake and the head of a horse. Lóngwáng appears in many Chinese novels including The Investiture of the Gods and Journey to The West.
During the fifth and sixth lunar months, the Dragon King is celebrated and worshipped with parades and sacrifices. The Dragon King’s birthday is celebrated on the thirteenth of the first lunar month. Since Lóngwáng control the seas and weather, it is important for fisherman to worship and make offerings to him for a good fishing harvest. During times of drought, people pray to the Dragon King for rain. A traditional ritual that is held in honor of the Dragon King is dragon boat racing, a sport where canoe-like boats accommodating 18 to 20 people are decorated in the form of a dragon and raced in an event. There are also many shrines and temples dedicated to the worship of the Dragon King such as the Temple of the Dragon King in the South Sea in Sanya, Hainan. In the Summer Palace in Beijing, there is a temple called the Dragon King Temple that was built to pray for rain.
Credible source: Dragons: The Myths, Legends, and Lore by Doug Niles
Filial Piety in “Little Door Gods”
From the Door Gods themselves to the food, setting, and interactions between characters, the film “Little Door Gods” explores numerous facets of Chinese culture. One of the more subtle, yet ultimately more significant cultural phenomena evident in the movie is that of the Confucian ideal of filial piety. When Raindrop expresses her desire to leave their family’s dumpling shop in the city in order to move back to what she considered to be home, her mother tried to impress upon her the importance of the shop to their family and therefore to them. Because the shop had been home to Raindrop’s grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother, this meant that it was home to her and her mother as well. Furthermore, because running the shop had been important to their ancestors, it was important to them as well. This importance is particularly evident in the shot of the portraits of each of the grandmothers on the wall above the stairs, with each older generation placed higher than the last. This demonstrates the hierarchical nature of family in Chinese culture as well as the immense value placed on honoring the authority and legacy of elders and ancestors.
These two cultural characteristics of family in China can be traced back to the aforementioned Confucian concept of filial piety. A philosopher in ancient China, Confucius advocated for both hierarchical organization of family as well as an attitude of selflessness and altruism so as to promote social cohesion both in and outside the family. This stance is evident in the following quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
“Among the various ways in which social divisions could have been drawn, the most important were the vertical lines that bound multigenerational lineages. And the most fundamental lessons to be learned by individuals within a lineage were what role their generational position had imposed on them and what obligations toward those senior or junior to them were associated with those roles.”
This quote helps to clarify the obligation Raindrop’s mother feels to both stay in her family’s ancestral home and to keep the business open. As a daughter, she is responsible for respecting the wishes of her elders/ancestors. In addition, she bears the responsibility of both preserving their legacy (the dumpling shop) and passing that responsibility to her daughter as a part of their own hierarchical relationship.
While Confucianism has undoubtedly played a major role in shaping Chinese culture, it’s presence in this movie is interesting given the fact that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has historically condemned the philosophy as backwards and contrary to communist ideals. However, as the Economist article “China’s atheist Communist party encourages folk religion” exemplifies, traditional Chinese philosophies and religious practices are experiencing a resurgence. This might be a reaction to an ideological crisis in the ruling party as China has become increasingly capitalist, reducing the importance, or even relevance, of Communist doctrine to the country. As such, relics like the Door Gods and Confucius are being resurrected in order to facilitate a sense of national pride in Chinese citizens separate from their (waning) identities as communists. Lastly, the hierarchical nature of Confucianism might be useful to an authoritarian regime looking for justification for their continued rule.
The Nián Shòu 年獸 – Sophia Shepherd 沈繪雅
The legend of the Nián Shòu began thousands of years ago, and helped to create the origins of the Chinese New Year. The nián was a terrifying creature. Many descriptions exist, however commonalities include the head of a lion, prominent incisors, and the body of a bull. This horrific beast would dwell in the mountains for most of the year, and as a new lunar cycle marked spring, the beast would swoop down into the village and terrorize its inhabitants. It was known for eating livestock and children, as well as destroying anything in its path. Every year, the villagers would cower in fear as winter came to a close, knowing that when the new year started, the monster would make an appearance.
However, over time, the villagers figured out ways to weaken, distract, and scare the monster off. It’s debated whether a wise old man visited the village and shared this information with them, or if the villagers slowly discovered how over time. The nián, the mighty beast that it was, was actually scared of three things: the color red, fire, and loud noises. As the villagers would prepare for spring, they would also decorate their house with anything red: lanterns, signs, tapestries, candles, statues, and more. They would also defend their town against the nián by lighting fireworks and making noise with whatever they had available. This would scare the nián off every year, so the tactic was passed on through generations. Sometimes, it is even remarked that the nián was captured by Taoist monk Hóngjūn Lǎozǔ. This man simply approached the monster and asked it to stop the terror it was inflicting. The beast went to eat the monk, and was disgusted by his red undergarments. Eventually, using this weakness, the monk captured the nián and would ride it over China.
Eventually, people began to forget about the myth of the nián and instead would focus on the celebration of the Lunar New Year, something that is now celebrated worldwide. The color red and fireworks are strongly associated with the festival, but in reality it is the remnants of an old legend. Today, most people associate the color red with fortune and good luck, especially on the festival of the Chinese New Year, but this belief comes from the luck that the villagers had in defending themselves against the nián. Now, the celebration is also known as Guò Nián (過年), literally “to overcome the nian.”
Door Gods are spiritual guardians that are worshipped by the Chinese. They are put in place to protect the entrance to buildings and homes. The original Door Gods that are currently known are named Shen Shu and Yu Lei. These two Door Gods appear in the classic of the Mountains and Seas. This is a classic Chinese text of mythic geography and beasts. Originally, these Door Gods were thought to ward off evil spirits and bad influences. Instead, they were to bring blessings and good fortune to whoever was inside.
The first known Door Gods being used for these reasons appeared in the Tang Dynasty in 618-907 AD. The emperor at the time-honored two loyal generals by having their portraits painted onto his doors. Once this began to get recognized by more people around the dynasty, others followed along and painted these men onto their doors in order to keep them safe. Through all different cultures and beliefs, there are different things that people use to keep themselves and their families safe. Though the Chinese culture has a lot more than just these Door Gods to protect them, this has been passed through a very large number of generations. Whether it is due to tradition and belief or the cultural ideas behind it, Door Gods have been a very long-running thing through all of China.
In order to celebrate these Door Gods, people that follow all types of the Chinese culture, they are posted on doors and places all around during all Chinese celebrations. The main Chinese celebration where Door Gods are seen is mainly on the Lunar new year. The Lunar new year is also considered the Chinese New Year and is celebrated all around the world. All in all, Door Gods are a very culturally known piece of artwork that is used for many reasons.
Investigative short essay
In ancient China around 10th century CE, the unique yin & yang symbol was brought into the world. I have a little knowledge of its philosophy and the meaning of the Yin and yang. In the black and white, both have small specs of black and white. I believe it can illustrate a universal balance through an image using black and white. Examples of balance such as light and darkness or good and evil are good illustrations that can help explain the philosophy of the yin and yang. In an example of light and darkness, if there is light there is a spec of darkness and if there is darkness light can exist. There is a balance to light and darkness. In terms of good and evil, good can’t exist without a little bit of evil and evil can’t exist without a little bit of good existing. There is a perfect balance to all things that exist and how the universe works. Balance through the yin and yang brings in the concept of unity with it. Unity of all things is included in the yin and yang’s philosophy of universal balance. A simple reason is because all things have a connection to another in a positive or negative way. One thing affects another, and then another, etc.…
I think this universal balance and the idea of unity is interesting. I like it because it is a simple philosophy that covers a lot of ground in the way large concepts like good and evil or light and darkness work. One thing that I am curious about is, why the yin and yang were symbolized by the tiger and dragon. I thought that the yin and yang would have been symbolized by light and darkness or life and death. I thought that the dragon and phoenix represented masculinity and femininity. But the yin and yang are represented by the dragon and tiger. I see that as curious.
I find the philosophy of the yin and yang interesting and very cool for its history and the beliefs that the ancient Taoist masters believed in the universe being comprised of balance and unity in all things.
Mazu the Goddess of the Sea
Throughout Chinese history there have been many different gods, myths, and deities. Some examples include, Yudi god of heaven, Húshén god of the lake, Xuěshén god of snow, Shùshén god of trees and so many more. The Chinese people pray to the gods for many different things. For instance, people pray to the little door gods to keep their home safe and they pray to the gods for: goodluck,safety,wealth,love,etc. The most interesting god that I found was Mazu.
Mazu is a Chinese Buddhist goddess in Chinese culture. She has many different names such as MaTsu, A-ma, Tianhou, Motherly Matriarch, Daughter of the dragon, Empress of Heaven, but the most common name for her is Mazu. She is the goddess of the sea. Her role is to protect and save fishermen and sailors from the ocean. She is celebrated by millions of people worshiping her in temples all around the world. There are many myths about her. Many people believed that Mazu was one a real woman that lived on an island. They think that she was born in Lin Mo Niang. She was born because her mother prayed to the goddess of Kuan Yin to have a child. There are numerous different ideas of how Mazu got her powers. Some of the things that she could do was calm storms and rescue sailors. According to the article Mazu Goddess of the Sea Festival, she got her powers from taking a gold disk from a serpent. Mazu mysteriously ascended to heaven on a cloud and then joined the gods in the sky. No one quite knows where she went, which is the most interesting part. They just remember seeing a rainbow appear where she ascended and a sea dragon that represents the tie between the sky and the ocean.
Mazu is depicted in today’s society through art. She usually has red robes on. The red robes represent the red that was worn when she saved fisherman. The color helped the fisherman distinguish her and not get her mixed up with the color of the boats. Her robes also have jewels and a staff or a “ceremonial” tablet to show her powers. In the religious aspect she usually has the robes that an empress would wear. Her main temple is located in Fujian Province on Meizhou Island. Many people go there to pray and give thanks to the Goddess of the sea. Overall I can see how she had many different followers and why she is such an important Goddess.
Word Count: 422
“Mazu.” Goddess Gift, https://goddessgift.com/goddess-info/meet-the-goddesses/mazu/.
顾馨 . “Mazu – Goddess of the Sea.” Mazu – Goddess of the Sea – Culture – Chinadaily.com.cn, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/2016-10/10/content_27009079.htm.
Winters, Riley. “Mazu: Legendary Guardian of the Chinese Seas and Social Media Marvel.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 10 July 2019, https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-asia/mazu-legendary-guardian-chinese-seas-003094.
“Mazu Goddess of The Sea Festival – Pilot Guides – Travel, Explore, Learn.” Pilot Guides, https://www.pilotguides.com/articles/mazu-goddess-of-the-sea-festival/.
One of the things that caught my attention during the film was the scene with the God of Wealth (known as財神 or Cáishén). During this part of the film, 財神is introduced as a “reinvented” god who has adapted his role to fit with the changing times. However, there are still elements of the character that are symbolic of the more “traditional” elements associated with him. In the film, Caishen is depicted wearing a jacket, with a red shirt. His shirt is red because in Chinese culture, red is a very lucky color. Red is said to represent fire, fortune, and success among many other things. Caishen’s jacket is also representative of Chinese culture. His jacket has the symbol for mainland Chinese currency on it (¥). Not only that, but the jacket is yellow. The color yellow in Chinese culture is said to represent the earth, and is a color usually reserved for royalty. Being a god must give Caishen a “royal” status in order for him to be wearing the color yellow. Even the necklace the God of Wealth is wearing is representative of something he is commonly associated with. The necklace (or at least one of the necklaces) that Caishen is wearing is in the shape of a yuanbao (元寶). A yuanbao is a small boat-shaped metal ingot that was used in ancient China as currency. They are also a symbol of prosperity and wealth, so Caishen is usually seen with one near him at all times.
The other aspect of Caishen’s appearance in the film that I noticed were the toads carrying his “throne”. The three-legged money toad (called金蟾 or jīn chán) is also associated with money, wealth, and prosperity. The legend of Jin Chan states that a greedy wife of one of the eight immortals in Chinese mythology stole and drank the elixir of immortality. As punishment, she was turned into a toad with the tail of a tadpole instead of two hind legs (thus a three-legged toad). The toad is often associated with water and is usually depicted with a coin in its mouth. The Jin Chan is used to bring prosperity and wealth. They can be found in businesses, as well as in peoples’ homes. Often lottery tickets are placed under Jin Chan in order to bring luck. Being associated with wealth and prosperity, it makes sense why the three-legged money toads were carrying Caishen on his “throne” in the film.
Caishen and the money toads are also both heavily associated with another aspect of Chinese culture known as “feng shui”. Feng shui is an ancient Chinese pseudoscience that is often thought of as “the art of placement”. The main concept is that by understanding the placement of yourself and the objects within a space, your life can be positively or negatively affected. Both Caishen and the money toad are important objects in the art of feng shui. Both of them have certain rules associated with them in order for them to work correctly. For example, Caishen and Jin Chan should be placed in an entryway in order to bring in prosperity. Both should NEVER be placed in a bedroom or bathroom, as they will bring bad luck to these places. You should also keep the areas where Caishen or Jin Chan sit free of clutter and they should never be placed on the ground. Even though they play a small part in the film, both Caishen and Jin Chan are representative of many aspects of Chinese culture.
Word Count: 592 words
Word Count: 398
An important aspect of Chinese culture that is present in many Chinese storefronts or homes are Menshen or as they are more commonly known doorgods. Door gods are celestial figures that are said to ward off evil spirits and encourage the entrance of positive spirits. As with other gods in Chinese culture such as the Kitchen God, the door gods are said to protect the windows, doors and other parts of the house and it is customary in China to put up posters of doorgods in buildings for protection and as a sign of respect.
The legend of the door god is said to have originated when the kingdom of the Heavenly Lord was attacked by the king’s demons. After two brothers Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong were able to ward off the attacks from the demons, the Heavenly Lord entrusted the both of them in protecting the kingdom. During the Tang Dynasty, Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong were regarded as fierce protectors of the dynasty. The two brothers were said to have protected Emperor Taizong when he had dreamed of ghosts throwing bricks at him. The two brothers were able to stand by the emperor’s bedside and ward off the evil spirits. During this time, posters that depicted door gods as warriors started popping up around the Tang Dynasty. The posters of the door gods stayed in place even after the fall of the Tang Dynasty and the rise of the Song Dynasty. 900 years later, door gods remain an important part of Chinese culture as the posters of them are still common in public places.
One of the contributing factors as to why the legend of the door god has remained is because of the importance of tradition and respect in Chinese culture. Tradition and respect are two virtues that are especially important in Chinese society. The importance of tradition stems from China’s long recorded history that goes back to the 10th century B.C that established rituals and customs that are still practiced today. Respect is another virtue that is emphasized in Chinese culture. Since the time of the Shang Dynasty, the importance of respecting one’s elders has been emphasized in daily life. These two ideals come together in the form of door gods as they are both revered and an ancient tradition.
The real-world parallels of events in Little Door Gods
Little Door Gods starts by showing the lack of interest for the gods in the people from the very first scene and establishes this as being a major plot point to the entire movie. Gods are losing their jobs because of a lack of believers, and it does not seem likely that humans will care about gods anytime soon. This lack of believers can be taken as a reference to the “decades of state-imposed atheism.” (French) that has caused a large part of the Chinese population to become atheists. However, the movie ends with a resurgence of believers and a thriving world for the gods, which might also allude to the recent increases in religious people in China.
While some studies estimate the number of believers around 100 million, a study by East China Normal University estimated a much higher 400 million believers. This increase may in part be due to a recent resurgence of believers in China. The movie also captures this with its ending in which the whole town puts up door gods and presumably also starts praying to other gods as well, as the gods can be seen thriving again. This change in the attitude of the humans in the movie is caused by the defeating of the Nian, an ancient evil beast that attacks the town. The attack makes the sky cloudy and a mist/smoke covers the town making it dark. When the Nian is defeated, however, the sky clears up and the people cheer. This interestingly parallels parts of the article I read, in which a person attributes her reason for converting to a similar experience: “[…] the sky grew clear and the sun came out and people began cheering and screaming that the real Buddha was about to appear in the sky. Although I didn’t see the Buddha myself, I was amazed, and I began to feel the power of God.”. This is very similar to how the movie indicates the conversion of the people as well.
Another interesting parallel is that even now many Chinese people celebrate the traditional Chinese New Year, which is also the time of the year the events in the movie take place. This can be an indication of the fact that a large part of the population will only pray during certain important events. Together with all the other parallels the movie appears to have with the real world, it can be said that it contains a far deeper message than what it may appear to have at first.
French, Howard. “Religious surge in once-atheist China surprises leaders.” The New York Times. March 3, 2007. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/world/asia/04iht-web0304.china.4786768.html
In the movie “The Little Door Gods,” there was a scene where Yu Lei broke one of the seals separating the spirit world and the human world. This scene involved Yu Lei and raindrop being surrounded by a series of cherry blossom trees that eventually shed their petals once the seal is broken. Raindrop then takes some of the cherry blossom petals and brings them back to her grandmother’s restaurant where she and her mother continue to make wonton soup. One of the petals falls into the soup and makes the soup taste more amazing than before.
This theme of cherry blossoms follows the path of female roles in the film. This is significant because, in China, the cherry blossom is associated with female power and dominance. It is also a symbol of strength, power, and hope throughout China. This is reflected in the movie because the blossoms are taken by the little girl and taken to her mother to improve their family business. Their restaurant was close to shutting down forever but these cherry blossoms gave them hope and ultimately led them to have a successful restaurant
Cherry blossoms occasionally represent humanity and love reflected in women. This representation of humanity is reflected when Yu Lei breaks each seal and slowly becomes human which ultimately makes him elderly and closer to the end of his life. The cherry blossom is a reminder that life is beautiful but also very short at the same time. This makes it so people who see the cherry blossoms as powerful symbols live each day of their lives as if it were their last. Along with the significance of cherry blossoms in China, their color is also very important. In China, the lucky color is red, so the fact that the cherry blossom is pink and derives from the color red means that they are very respected and honored. Even though the cherry blossom was not super prominent in the movie, it still played a significant role pertaining to the success of the women in the film.
Word Count: 365
鲤鱼跳龙门 (lǐyú tiào lóngmén)
In the film, Little Door Gods, one of the door gods, Yulei, tries to release the Nian (年) so that humans will have to rely on the gods for protection. The first seal he breaks releases a red carp, which then swims up the waterfall and emerges as a yellow dragon. This scene is a reference to the Chinese proverb 鲤鱼跳龙门 (lǐyú tiào lóngmén), meaning “the carp has leaped through the dragon’s gate”.
The proverb 鲤鱼跳龙门 is based on the Chinese myth, where carps attempt to swim upstream to the Dragon’s gate located at the top of a waterfall. If a carp successfully makes it to the gate, it transforms into a dragon, which is shown in the movie. The image of a carp jumping over the Dragon’s Gate is a cultural symbol for courage, perseverance, and accomplishment. The proverb 鲤鱼跳龙门 was initially used as a metaphor for a person’s success in passing imperial examinations, and the expression will still sometimes be used today when a student from a rural area passes the national university examination. The proverb can also be used to communicate that working hard and diligently leads to success. The image of a carp jumping over the Dragon’s Gate could have been near a statue of the Kitchen God. People would worship the Kitchen God in the hope that it will report all good things back to the spiritual world and bestow peace in the mortal world.
In the film, the red carp turned into a yellow dragon; historically, the colors red and yellow were important representations of the Chinese culture and spirit. The color yellow was believed to be the color of the earth, which could explain why the landscape and water changed when the carp transformed. Additionally, yellow dragons are closely related to royalty and the Yellow River. The river that dries up after Yulei breaks the seal is most likely the Yellow River since it passes through north mainland China. Despite the symbolic meanings of the carp jumping over the Dragon’s gate and yellow dragons, when the carp transformed in the movie, everyone experienced misfortune rather than accomplishment. For instance, Yulei started to age, and the river dried up, causing the people not to have a source of water. However, I think that the river drying up could show perseverance because everyone, especially the mother and daughter, refused to give up and tried to find other ways to overcome their misfortune.
Word Count: 421
3 December 2019
Chinese Ink Paintings
Painters most often worked in ink on paper and chose subjects—bamboo, old trees, rocks—that could be drawn using the same kind of disciplined brush skills required for calligraphy. One’s style became a language by which to convey one’s beliefs. Artists employed symbolism, style, and calligraphic brushwork to express their beliefs and feelings (Hearn.) Artists would manipulate antique styles and reinterpret ancient subjects to lend historical resonance to their work.
The artistic style of brush-and-ink paintings comes not only from the artist’s intentional self-expression but from the way the ink interacts with the textured paper or cloth. Chinese paintings were done on silk until the invention of paper around the first century C.E. This paper was made from a variety of materials including wood pulp, old fishing nets, and bark. The strength and quality of the ink create additional variations (Hearn). Thick ink is deep and glossy when brushed onto paper or silk, while thin ink gives a lively, translucent effect. It is possible to convey light and darkness, texture, weight and coloring simply through the thickness of the ink. In addition, ink can be used dry or wet, pooled, splashed, splattered, clumped or dotted on the paper. Brush techniques include not only line drawing, but the use of stylized expressions of shade and texture (cunfa) and dotting techniques (dianfa) to differentiate trees and plants and also for a simple embellishment (Hearn).
One of the most famous Chinese ink paintings is Travelers among Mountains and Streams by Fan Kuan from 1000 AD in the Song dynasty. Fan Kuan was a Dowist follower and in Dowism, the power of nature plays an important role as the driving force of healing, intelligence, and peace. He lived in the mountains away from all people in a transcendental state of living, which allowed him to fully understand the power of nature within Neoconfucianism. He would paint on vertical silk, in this case, a seven-foot-tall hanging piece, to build up the landscape. Kuan was a literati, a type of scholar in China whose poetry, calligraphy, and paintings were supposed primarily to reveal their cultivation and express their personal feelings rather than demonstrate professional skill. In this landscape painting, the mountain is built up in texture so that it conveys jagged edges against smooth terrain to exemplify a contrast of nature, using ink to convey the depth of the area. The idea of the path is symbolic to travelers that are lost in the dominating landscape and that humans are powerless against nature.
Hearn, Maxwell. “Chinese Painting.” Metmuseum.org, June 2008,
“History of Chinese Painting.” China Online Museum, 2019,
My essay will focus on the religious aspects of the film we watched in class (Chinese deities: Little Door Gods). To gain more insight into the religion that inspired the film I read some of a book by Jan de Groot that talks about Chinese Religion. One thing that was cool about the film was how culturally accurate it was, it included several Chinese traditions that have existed for centuries. One of which was about the posters that are hung up on doors to show appreciation to the door gods that protect them. These door gods were the main characters in the movie and were distraught when they discovered that only one door still had a poster with them on it.
This describes one of the key aspects of the movie, that as the human world became more and more modern the spiritual world began to be forgotten. As the spiritual world begins to be forgotten the door gods have to take on meaningless jobs and become depressed. It even gets to a point where the gods are being fired if they cannot stay relevant. The main characters get nervous that they ill be completely forgotten so they decide to release a monster called the nian that will wreak havoc on the human world and require them to once again protect it. They would once again be important and would no longer have to worry about their jobs and existence.
In the book I read talked a lot about rituals involving death. This was especially interesting since in the beginning of the movie the main human characters, (a girl named rain drop) grandmother dies and they release a lantern into the sky with her favorite music box attached to it. This is a common practice in Chinese religion and is meant to pay respect to the spirits. Some other traditions about death I read about are the following. There is typically a long mourning period after a loved one’s death (Groot, 474). This custom was also a part of the movie. When their Grandmother passed they left their big city life and came to run the restaurant she owned. This was very important to rain drops mother as the restaurant was in their family for generations. At one point when Rain Drop wanted to go home she told her they couldn’t because the shop was run by her mother’s mother, and her mother before that. She goes on to say that Rain Drop will one day run the restaurant herself.
Jan J. de Groot. The Religious System of China: Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History and Present Aspect, Manners, Customs and Social Institutions Connected Therewith, 6 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1892-1910), 4:51. (Translation here differs slightly from original.)
*The following are things I’ve discovered in my own personal research. I fear that some information may be incorrect, but I hope to be corrected, even if it’s in the slightest, so I can gain an understanding of the multiple cultures within Chinese culture.*
I found interesting how a lot of the dominant Chinese traditional religion is rooted in Polytheism, which is the belief in multiple deities. However, even with this, a lot of the multiple deities are worshipped through a more pantheistic view, which is “the belief that the universe and all things within nature are God. Pantheists do not celebrate a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god, but accept all gods into worship because they view God as everything and everyone, and everyone and everything as God.” Given this, there is still a view of Heaven? If so, I’m very curious what Chinese people imagine heaven to be, and how it’s typically described. In the U.S, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure or sentiments of acting in accordance to certain values “or else you’ll go to Hell”. I wonder if China also has similar sentiments expressed, surrounding one going into Heaven or pressure-imposed so one can go to Heaven. With all the deities, I wonder if there’s some sort of ranked system or hierarchy of all the deities. Is one more important than the other, or because they have the title of being a deity, are they ranked and weighed the same? I also hear that some people can be deified after someone has made an extraordinary deed or efficacious legacy. Is this true? And if so, about how many people have been deified in the past? And, what’s the threshold for an extraordinary deed or efficacious legacy? Also, who decides who gets deified? Can people self-deify, or is it majority vote? What’s the process like of deifying people? I’m also curious how has the perception of traditional Chinese deities has shifted, if it has, from older times to now, especially now with the rise of modernization in China. I also wonder how prayer looks like. I know in typical American dinner tables across the U.S, people may pray to God before they eat, and I wonder if something like that happens in Chinese culture as well. If so, how does it look like? And how is it different from the U.S? Do people go through each deity? There seems to be an ever-expanding and long-lasting list of deities in Chinese cultures. Do people go through each one every time, or just pray to one/ a few gods? How does it look like?
Firecrackers bring more than just entertainment during the Chinese New Year. Rooted from a legend in which the evil spirit, Nián, would leave his den and hunt, mainly children and livestock. The Nián hunted once a year right before spring which lead to the people of villages to board up their houses and then go off to hide. One year, amidst the chaos of everyone leaving the village, a mysterious old man entered the village and begged for food. He came across an old lady who let him stay at her house as she fled with the other villagers. Night approached and the Nián became dizzy due to the three talismans the man hung upon the door and was spooked by the noise of crackling bamboo that the old man threw into a previously prepared fire. From then on, the Nián disappeared and never came back to hunt for prey (Hsueh).
Once the villagers returned, they celebrated the old man’s accomplishment of freeing the village from the horrors of the Nián (Hsueh). Considering the legend, it has become a tradition of lighting firecrackers on New Year’s and using talismans to protect the Chinese people and their homes. The legend helps to bring context as to why in the film, The Little Door Gods, the people of the city being attacked by the Nián were able to fight against the monstrous spirit by using firecrackers. The Nián cowered away in fear from the villagers every time the towns people would release a firework into the dark cloud of the Nián. The people of the city, like the old man in the village, were able to reign triumphant and scare off the Nián back into the world of the gods.
As a tradition revolving around the legend, firecrackers and even hanging the talisman on doors are used to help celebrate the Chinese New Year. The Lunar New Year has become extremely important to Chinese culture and by not only celebrating with the use of firecrackers and the talismans, people can feel protected from things such as evil spirits and enjoy the new year surrounded by family. Now, the Chinese people may not be protecting themselves from a terrible dark spirit, they still get to enjoy the unique sound of the firecrackers while experiencing, with some imagination and belief, the thrill the legend brings of fighting off a terrifying monster.
Word Count: 397
Hsueh, S. (2019). Why do we light firecrackers and give out red envelopes for the Lunar New Year?. [online] ideas.ted.com. Available at: https://ideas.ted.com/why-do-we-light-firecrackers-on-chinese-new-year/%5BAccessed 2 Dec. 2019].
Little Door Gods. (2016). [film] Directed by G. Wang and P. Victor-Lifton. Light Chaser Animation Studios.
Chinese religion has a large number of deities that reside in the three domains of the cosmos: Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld. I chose to write about the Earth God, or Tudi Gong, who, obviously, resides in the Earth realm. One thing that I found interesting was the fact that each village or community has their own version of their Earth God specific to that one place. Unlike other major gods and goddesses that are believed to reside in the Heaven domain, Earth Gods are believed to walk among the villagers. It is believed that before Tudi Gong became a god, he was a tax collection official who helped the poor pay their taxes with his own money, who became a deity after dying at 102.Tudi Gong is the protector of the natural environment around his shrine. He also grants wishes to worshipers according to their deeds. Tudi Gong is often depicted next to his wife Tǔ Dì Pó, meaning “Earth Grandmother.”
Worship of Tudi Gong has faced challenges in the past. During China’s Cultural Revolution, many places and practices or worship were destroyed. However, neighboring overseas Chinese continued to worship Tudi Gong in full force, quickly bringing back the practice to China in the late 70’s. I thought this was in interesting testament to the fact that while governments may try to be in control of and limit its citizens’ beliefs and lifestyles, mind control is not possible and people will go back to what feels right to them given the first opportunity.
Just recently the Chinese government has made another effort to put an end to traditional Chinese folk religion. In February and March almost 6,00 shrines dedicated to Tudi Gong were demolished supposedly in the interest of improving the city’s air quality and promoting a new spiritual culture. While I respect the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is an atheist institution, I think they are taking things a little far. For example, the government has prohibited the use of traditional burial practices in the Jiangxi Province, going as far as to confiscate already purchased coffins. The destruction of these shrines and traditional practices are actually against the Chinese constitution which guarantees freedom of religious expression.
Word count: 394
The Mythology of the Nian Shou
As the movie Little Door Gods reached its climax, we were introduced to the ultimate antagonist of the film, the Nian. The movie portrays this creature as a monsterous wooden beast with features similar to one of the Door Gods, Yu Lei. Unbeknownst to the Door Gods, they had been protecting humans from the Nian, and when Yu Lei releases it from its protective seals, the people of the town must protect themselves from the dangerous Nian fog that threatens to smother them. They do this by throwing firecrackers at the smoke, which seems to ward it off. Yu Lei and Shen Tu finally defeat the Nian, and peace is finally brought back to the town.
In traditional chinese mythology, rather than a wooden monster, the Nian is a beast described to have a range of different features, from draconian to leonian to ox-like. It is said the night before the Lunar New Year, the Nian, hungry from a winter with little to eat, will ravage villages of their crops, livestock and people. To protect themselves, the villagers took to leaving food offerings outside their doors, believing that the Nian would be satisfied with the food left for it and decide to leave the villagers alone. As time went on, the villagers discovers the Nians fear of the color red, loud noises, and fire. This brought on the use of firecrackers and red paper decorations around the New Year to ward off the Nian. (Source 1)
As far as I can tell of the mythology of the Nian, the Door Gods are not directly affiliated with this myth like they are in the movie. That being said, considering that the function of the Door Gods is to protect people from evil spirits entering their homes and buildings, it would make sense that Door Gods as well help protect people from the Nian, so at least the artistic liberty the writers of this movie chose to make does make some thematic sense. According to an article posted by china.org.cn, though, it was the Emperor Star Deity that eventually defeated the Nian, which is now celebrated by burning incense on New Years Eve. (Source 2) The mythology of the Nian though does seem to primarily be the story that makes sense of why the color red and firecrackers are used during the New Year, which we do get to see in the movie. All in all, Little Door Gods certainly took some artistic liberties with the rendering of the Nian myth, but it did retain the original method of warding off the beast.
In Chinese culture, food has a much deeper meaning beyond that of nutrition and sustenance. Food has many symbolic meanings and can play a role in various roles in daily life, beliefs, and socioeconomics. These ideas are very important and prominent in Chinese culture. Meals taken with others can been seen as a social event and can help establish and express relationships with one another. In Chinese society, people usually treat others to meals in order to make new friends or enhance established relationships. During these meals people talk about business, exchange information, and catch up. These relationships can be among individuals, community members, religious groups, and ethic groups. The type of meal and food can also be used to convey different meaning amongst eaters and indicate the closeness of the relationship. For example, a formal meal with expensive and rare foods usually shows the respect to the guests. Whereas meals with family, close friends, or colleagues, are usually more relaxed and go out for a meal may mean going to food stalls for drinking and eating.
Food can also be seen as symbols to celebrate important events or festivals and can represent various meanings. In religious circumstances, the symbolic meaning of the food is more significant than the nutritional value of the food because consumption of the foods can determine and reestablish the relationship between man and God, and between people. For example, during the Spring Festival in China, people eat dumplings to express the relationship between themselves and God. During festivals, there are specific foods served for that event. For example, rice dumplings for the Dragon Boat Festival, mooncakes for the Mid-autumn Festival, and dumplings for the Spring Festival. Various foods are used as symbols not only during festivals and events, but also during daily life. These foods are used to impart wishes, wisdom, and/or luck. Eating Chinese dates mean that the couples can have children early; peanuts are known as the longevity fruit; oranges and chestnuts mean good luck; rice cakes symbolize a promotion year; seaweed means riches; long noodles mean health and longevity; and glutinous rice balls means the family will stay together. Not only do some foods represent good luck and well wishes, but there are also some foods that are symbols of bad luck, such as the pear, which sounds like “away” and eating it could mean “separation.”
Citation: Ma, G. (2015). Food, eating behavior, and culture in Chinese society. Journal of Ethnic Foods, 2(4), 195-199. doi: 10.1016/j.jef.2015.11.004
Jocelyn Zweifel 左佳琳
4 December 2019
Magu(麻姑)(Mágū), the goddess of healing and health
For my goddess I picked Magu, known for helping people heal and have good health. In today’s culture, she is often depicted on get-well-soon and birthday cards with a hemp basket full of peaches. In ancient China Magu was often prayed to as well as have sculptures in places that needed healing. She is normally depicted as a young adult (around 18, 19) who is incredible beautiful and has birdlike fingernails. Her beauty is an overall symbol of health. The literal translation of Magu is hemp aunt. Hemp is heavily associated with her because of Shandong’s sacred Mount Tai is where she spent some of her time. The Taoist landmark is known for its heavy growth of the plant.
Magu’s origin story goes along the lines of this. Her and her father were very poor and they both worked very hard. One day a nice lady gave her a peach. She saw a weaker, poorer old lady that she decided needed the peach far more than Magu or her father did. She left the old lady to make her some porridge but her father did not want Magu giving it away to a stranger. He locked her up for a little while to prevent her from giving it away. When Magu returned she could not find the old lady only the peach pit that was left. Magu then planted the peach pit and took care of the little sapling till it grew large and she would give her peaches to whoever was in need of them. As time went on Magu started to give the peaches to the sick; her village started to claim that Magu’s peach tree was magic and she could heal people with her peaches.
Overall, Magu has more prominence in Korean culture than in Chinese but is still had a piece of history with ancient China. Magu supposedly was a real person, and this follows the similarities that ancient Chinese deities have. Then after her human life she turned into a goddess to continue helping people. I think it’s very different to have hemp incorporated into a goddess, at least in the eyes of someone from the western world. Supposedly in Taoist ritual chewing hemp seeds would help prevent bad being from coming into the body (that was from Wikipedia though so we can never be sure how reliable that is).
The Grand Archer Hou Yi
This story is about a “grand archer” named Hou Yi. In most Chinese stories, they focus on gods helping mortals. It makes sense that in the culture of China, being focused on the flawed nature of humans shown by confucianism, that gods would need very little help from mortals. This is what makes the story of Hou Yi so interesting to me. He isn’t some demigod or god of incredibly immense power, he is just an archer that works for King Yao. In that time, it was believed that there were 10 sentient suns birthed by the sun god and goddess Dijun and Shiho. Normally they rise and set one after the other, so I imagine it wouldn’t look too dissimilar to our own sun, only 10 of them. One day however, for some reason they all decided to come out at the same time and completely scorched the earth. Yao told Hou Yi that he needed to fix this situation. This lead to Hou Yi at first pleading, then pretending to shoot them down, and then actually shooting them down.
One key thing to keep in mind in this interaction is the difference in respect that Hou Yi and the suns have for each other. The suns are unruly and only wish to do what they want, and assuming they are considered gods, this makes them very atypical for gods. Hou Yi on the other hand, attempts diplomacy first and then attempts to scare them before finally having to shoot them down. When they were shot down, they turned into three legged crows, which represent the sun. So he didn’t even have to kill them, he basically only put them in time out. Only one sun was spared, which explains why we still have a sun today.
In some versions of this story, Hou Yi’s becomes a tyrannical king hero-king. This story could be used as a way to warn of what power can turn someone even as righteous as Hou Yi in the first story into someone to be feared. Overall, I believe that Hou Yi represents both mankind at its best and worst. He shows us that even though someone can be so skilled at a craft that they can save the world with it, that doesn’t necessarily make them a good person, and both good and evil are in every single person, just in different quantities. I chose this topic because I thought that Hou Yi would be an easy topic to write about archer who just killed bad things. I mean his title is “Grand Archer” for pete’s sake. But in reading more about him, I have come to appreciate both his respect in the beginning and his fall to evil in the end.
Word Count: 459
Yang, Lihui; An, Deming; Anderson Turner, Jessica (2008). Handbook of Chinese Mythology. Oxford University Press.
December 4, 2019
Earth God (Tudi Gong)
The traditional Chinese Earth God, Tudi Gong, is a very important deity that protects the Earthly Domain. Tudi Gong is unique in the sense that every village, neighborhood, and sometimes families had their own Earth God. Every Earth God was different and separate from one another, unlike other traditional Gods who reside in heaven, Earth Gods were meant to live and interact with humans. Developing a close and connected relationship between Earth Gods and people.
Tudi Gong’s deification and powers are determined by the residents and members of the community. The main defining characteristic of the Earth God is the limitation of his jurisdiction to a certain place and residence. Also, his subservience to the City God, Cheng Huang, just like the Earth Gods there is a City God for every major city and each is their own unique spirit. The City God is considered an important link connecting society and state. A City God is considered to be a reincarnated human who held an official position in the government of the past. It was believed that the City God changed every three years. The City God was expected to give supernatural assistance during floods, fires, and natural disasters out of human control. Along with having the important responsibility of taking the souls of the dead to his realm in the Underworld.
The majority of homes in South China had altars for their household Earth God. They were typically placed on the floor outside the door. The Earth Gods just like the Kitchen Gods were often shown as a married couple in order to reinforce the notion that these gods are closely related to human beings in both living proximity and lifestyles. The Earth God is the lowest ranking diety and yet the most popular because of its connection to human beings. The Earth God is often depicted as a respectable, shy, timid gentleman, of a dwarf stature or instead as a formless spirit. As the Earth Gods traveled and moved together with the communities that worshipped them different deities began to form. When communities did not agree on the identity of their Earth God that is when they chose to separate their deities creating multiple Earth Gods.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Tudi Gong.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia
Britannica, Inc., 28 Nov. 2016, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Tudi-Gong.
Living in the Chinese Cosmos: Understanding Religion in Late-Imperial China,
Mark, Emily. “Most Popular Gods & Goddesses of Ancient China.” Ancient History
Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 3 Dec. 2019,
Shihan. “The Earth God: Your Friendly Estate Manager: Gods and Gangsters.” Confinement
Diaries, 16 July 2019, confinement-diaries.com/earth-god.
Word Count: 464
The 太極圖(Tài jí tú) is a symbol that represents the 道(dào), the symbol is the most widely recognized aspect of Daoism. Even though it is the most well known, it is commonly misconstrued. The two halves of the symbol 陰(Yīn) and 陽(yáng) are often interpreted as opposing forces when viewed by westerners. When in Daoism they are actually meant to represent an ebb and flow, the two rely on each other for their individual existence. The misunderstanding may arise due to some of the concepts that the Yin and Yang are equated to. The Yin is the shadow, night, and in the symbol is represented as the dark half. Yang is the light, day, and is represented with white. This is where a disconnect occurs because western thinkers typically associate light with “good” and dark with “evil.” In truth Yin also represents females and our lower bodies, as opposed to yang being males and our upper bodies. It doesn’t seem likely that Daoism is trying to claim that women and our lower bodies are evil. No, instead it is more like a delicate balancing act. Women give birth to men, but also men are needed in order for the woman to give birth.
Although some phenomena are seen as Yin and others as Yang, none are completely one or the other. In the symbol, this is represented by the dots of the opposite inside each the Yin and Yang. Each contains a core comprised of the other, for it can only be formed and exist with the existence of the other. This is why it is best to visualize the Taijitu as the flow of the Dao, the Dao being the universe/existence itself. Daoism focuses on examining this flow by the multitude of patterns that can be observed in its wake. For example the pattern of night turning to day, or the rotation of the planets. The human body and its functions are also divided up into the Yin and Yang. The upper body is Yang, while the lower is Yin, these two meet in the center of the body. There is a practice called 氣功 (qì gōng) where the patterns of bodily functions and breathing are studied in order to maintain a healthy body.
Daoism studies the patterns in the universe around us, and the relationships between all phenomena. The Taijitu represents the Daoist understanding of the delicate balance that exists within us and throughout the universe. With this understanding Daoist followers strive to align themselves with this natural flow of the universe, for a happy and healthy life.
“Yin and Yang introduction” Personal Tao, author unknown.
“The hidden meanings of Yin and Yang” by John Bellaimey
Word Count: 527
The Dragon at the End of the Rainbow: How Dragons Represent Good Fortune in Chinese Culture
The first known portrayal of dragons in Chinese culture, and likely the world, was when carved jade dragons were excavated from sites of the Hongshan culture. These carvings could be dated back to 4500-3000 BCE according to an article written by historian Mark Cartwright back in 2017. Dragons were one of the earliest creatures to appear in Chinese mythology and stories, and were often depicted as giant animals that were graceful and benevolent. However, they were also considered to be the powerful spirits associated with bringing rains, floods, and storms. In many stories, dragons are followed by lightning and thunder and are seen after storms or near waterfalls.
In ancient times, dragons were also considered to be one of the most intelligent animals, in addition to the phoenix, unicorn, and tortoise. Thus, rulers were always encouraged to imitate and act like a dragon would in order to bring good luck and prosperity to their empire. Cartwright summarizes one well-known myth about dragons as follows: “One famous myth tells of a dragon actively helping a ruler, Yu the Great, the legendary founder of the Xia dynasty, who was helped by a dragon (or actually was a dragon) and a turtle to manage the floodwaters which were devastating his kingdom and so control them into a better irrigation system.” Through this story and many similar ones, it’s obvious how important dragons were for the ancient Chinese. Rural communities used to have a dragon dance that was thought to encourage rain during droughts. In this dance, the people would carry a dragon made of paper or cloth supported by a wooden frame and have a procession and celebration. Perhaps that’s where the inspiration comes from for modern-day Chinese New Year celebrations where a nearly identical dance occurs.
Because dragons were, and still are, so revered in Chinese culture, they can be found in many celebrations and clothing and accessories. In ancient times, emperors were thought to be the sons of heaven while dragons were seen as the most powerful creatures of mythology. Even more, some considered emperors to be a human incarnation of the dragon spirit. Because of this relationship, it only made sense for emperors to wear robes adorned with dragons, demonstrating their power over the empire and the natural world. In addition, wives and family members also wore robes decorated with dragons, however, their robes were different than that of the emperor’s to illustrate the social hierarchy in the royal family. Nowadays, dragons can be found etched in gold or as intricate designs on jewelry. Perhaps the most significant and obvious demonstration of the dragon in modern Chinese culture is during Chinese New Year during the special dragon dance when performers dance and prance around underneath a constructed dragon. This dance symbolizes the bringing of good luck and prosperity for the following year. Additionally, a drawing of a dragon can sometimes be found on the little red envelopes people exchange during Chinese New Year which often have money or small gifts in them. Because red is also a sign of good luck, the dragon on the red envelope is a hopeful sign of a prosperous year to come.
Interpretations of Tudi Gong
Tudi Gong is the ancient Chinese deity of earth. Tudi Gong has a multitude of different interpretations and meaning associated with the name. Tudi Gong is unique in the way that he varies from place to place. He typically is limited to a certain area like a temple or a house. Tudi also varies from village to village which each village having their own earth god and even certain neighborhood had their own different earth god to worship. This makes Tudi Gong a widely varying deity that can carry a multitude of different meanings. Tudi also is known for his functions being determined by the local residents. Tudi Gong is also a subservient of Cheng Huang the city god. Tudi Gong is a well know god in China and typically is portrayed as an old man with a long white beard, a red or yellow robe, and a red or black hat. Tudi typically comes from a real historical person who in a time of need helped out the village. In the case that a village did have a catastrophe it would be decided that Tudi moved on and a new deity or Tudi would be chosen.
The meaning behind Tudi Gong can carry different meanings then just the earth god. Due to the variety of Tudis from different villages Tudi carries slightly different meanings. In an academic paper written by John Sweeney he wrote “Tudi signifies more than mere earth and soil; he is in fact indicative of the natural human relation with the land and, more specifically, the built human environment–hence, site or locality and, perhaps, place are in some sense better” (Sweeney). This suggests that Tudi is not just the earth god but over time has gained attributes and meaning. Tudi is such an interesting deity due to his lack of universality throughout the different villages. This is partly why he could be changed into something with more meaning.
Tudi Gong is a very common deity to find within Chinese villages due to his uniqueness and personal connection in every village. Tudi is traditionally the deity of the earth but over times has come to symbolize and mean much more. Tudi Gong is still worshiped today even though less, and less people are now worshiping the ancient deities.
Sweeney, John A. “Unearthing the God of Place: Locating Space/Place in the Discourse(s) on Tudi Gong.” East-West Connections, vol. 8, no. 1, 2008, p. 11.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Tudi Gong.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Nov. 2016, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Tudi-Gong.
Chinese Door Gods Investigative Essay
Chinese door gods (or mén shén) are thought to have originated during the Tang Dynasty. The story is that Emperor Taizong began to be haunted by an evil spirit while at the palace. This spirit would frequent his room at night and leave him unable to fall asleep. Worried about its return, the emperor posted two armed generals, Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong, outside of his room at night. However, because this task was arduous and tiring, they were unable to keep up the posts for very long. The emperor then had their portraits drawn and hung them on his bedroom door. The evil spirit supposedly never came back again. This act started the Chinese tradition of door gods.
Originally door gods would be auspicious generals. Their likeness would be carved into the wood of the doors at the entrance of the house and were said to fend off evil spirits (much like the original story). They were also used to ward off bad luck and ensure safety for the family. As paper was invented, having these heroes drawn onto paper instead became more popular and also a sign of social status (because paper was expensive and harder to come by in China then, people who could afford it were typically of higher classes).
The use of door gods has changed somewhat over the centuries. Though they used to be a commonplace decoration seen year round throughout towns in China, now they are mostly brought out for important events such as Chinese New Year and Spring Festival. Their drawings are on each side of the entrance into the home and may also be found in the rear entrance of the home. It is considered bad luck to face them back-to-back, however, so placement is key. They are also typically found in pairs. Some door gods have also evolved to be important local figures. This may include someone who defended the town in a time of war or helped bring the town into a more prosperous time in some other way. The ability to make common people door gods led to an extreme diversification of the tradition. Many towns and cities have specific door gods that are only found in those specific places.
There are typically two kinds of door gods: martial and literary. Martial gods tend to be warriors which are made life-size and wear full armor with multiple weapons. Popular door gods in this genre are “Shen Tu and Yu Lu,” “Qin Qiong and Weichi Gong, and “Guan U” and “Guan Sheng”. Literary door gods are typically painted inside of the home and are based off of important scholars such as “Dou Yujun” and “Fu, Lu, and Shou”.
In Chinese culture, like shown in the movie, the thing that links the world of the living to the world of the dead are floating lanterns however Chinese people also burn paper offerings that can be in the shape of anything. While watching the movie, I remembered that in Hong Kong I used to see streets lined with shops selling models of anything you could imagine out of paper.
The idea based around the offerings was that it was everything that a person would need in the afterlife. By burning it, it was able to travel to the world of the dead similarly to the lanterns that were shown in the movie. Traditionally Chinese people had used the real items as offerings however it became expensive so they opted for paper. Originally offerings called Joss Paper were burned. Joss paper was traditionally white bamboo or rice paper, white representing mourning, with golden or silver foil on them, representing the monetary aspect. This paper was burned and treated like real money. This ritual of burning offerings was derived from a mix of Taoist, Buddhist and traditional beliefs. Since it had a sort of religious connotation, for a time this tradition was banned in China because of the communist regime however it has recently started coming back. Then, people started making items out of paper to burn as offerings for the dead. The items at first were more traditional in nature like money and birdcages but it quickly moved into more modern commodities. Some of the items that can be found include rice cookers, cars, planes, clothing, shoes and more. Most people burn these offerings during the Qingming (清明) Festival that takes place in April. This is also known as the “Tomb Sweeping Day”. On this day people travel to the grave sites of their loved ones and clean the graves. They also burn their offerings on this day.
Family is an important part of Chinese culture and the ancestors are a large part of family. This means that it is important to take care of your family even after death. It is interesting to see what is burned as well and how each item has meaning to each family for different reasons. The representation of the connection between the land of the living and land of the dead in the movie, I feel, was well done because it recognized the connection between the fire of the floating lanterns and the fire that is used to burn offerings for dead family members.
Earth God 土地公 Tudi Gong
Religious beliefs in China have a long history and diversity. The culturally notable religions to the country are Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddism. In addition, traditional folk deities hold great significance regionally with popular Chinese religion believing in the heavens or spirit world, the earth, and the underworld. Many of the Chinese deities worshipped have historical figured tied to them; Individuals who acted in service of their own communities and are thought to become immortalized in the afterlife to continue that service. One of these prominent gods is Tudi Gong, the Earth God. While many villages have temples to major gods, Tudi Gong is a more specialized deity to regions and towns, varying by locality. They are independent to their areas and don’t overlap like more major gods. Neighborhood in towns and families within those neighborhoods can also have their own Earth Gods.
The Earth Gods are believed to be living as people amongst the communities of those who believe in them. They often were pictured as married couples as a reflection of human relationships to emphasize the god’s closeness to humans. While Tudi Gong is generally known for protection, the Earth God’s specified meaning and functions vary based on those who deify the being and their needs in addition to the history of actions by Tudi Gong in their human life. Statues of Tudi Gong are sometimes in roadside shrines to protect local areas and can represent wealth as a result of the connection between riches and precious minerals found in the earth, treasures, and also all that is built on or grown in the land.
In the hierarchy of Chinese deities, the Tudi Gong is considered lowest in the ranking, yet are one of the most widespread and commonly worshiped. Earth Gods act as protective deities acting under the City God, known as Chenghuang Ye who were also specific by region and always have Earth Gods as subordinates. In some traditional Chinese homes, there is an altar to the family’s Tudi Gong located on the floor outside the door. In situations of need, the statues of the Tudi Gong may be moved outside of their altars so that he can observe what troubles those who deify him and aid them. While different religions like Buddhism and Taoism might dominate regions in China, folk traditional deities remain culturally significant and practiced by both those with and without other beliefs.
Sources/Links to read more
Cece Wulff/ 游璐
Bringing Your Life to the Afterlife
One of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century was the 1974 uncovering of the Terra-Cotta Warriors in Shaanxi China. 3 farmers discovered the clay warriors while digging a well in March of that year. In the 40+ years since the discovery, 8000 something warriors in roughly 600 pits spread over more than 35 square miles have been found. In 2012 I had the privilege of traveling to China and seeing these warriors in person. This clay army is not only an artistic feat but insight into the ideas surrounding the afterlife in the Chinese culture.
This 8,000 plus large clay army was built for Qin Shi Huang (or previously Ying Zheng), the first Emperor of Qin. He came into power in 246 BC when he was 13 years old and the creation of his clay army began shortly after. Qin accomplished many things during his time on the throne; he united various kingdoms, regulated currency and units of measure. Qin also created a road structure over 4,000 miles and is known for building the foundations of the Great Wall of China. Qin’s clay army was in creation for almost his entire life, about 45 years. The actual location of the tomb is known but has not been excavated yet as conservationists aren’t sure how to properly preserve the body and other items in it. The Emperor is also buried to those close to him and surrounded by many precious treasures and stones. A messy succession to Qin lead to a civil war and the end of the Qin dynasty before his death. This uprising resulted in many of the clay warriors getting destroyed and ransacked for their weapons during the war. The clay statues were not only different warriors but acrobats, dancers, horses, various birds and other bronze figures. It is thought that this collection of figures and animals were meant to accompany the Emperor into the afterlife with him. He even sent out men to retrieve immortality potions. It was incredible to see all the warriors, horses and chariots at the museum when we visited. There’s an aura of mystery surrounding the actual tomb, what’s actually inside and has it been tampered with? Each statue’s face is slightly different, with signs of life, the dancers in distinct positions and range of animals that were included. Instead of just ascending into the next life protected, he’s traveling with others of his time, bringing his world with him.
Analyzing the creation of these warriors speaks to the weight that the afterlife has in Chinese culture. It’s interesting to compare the westernized versions of the afterlife with that of the Chinese afterlife. I remember crossing a bridge in China that had some connection to the afterlife or the future. We were told to walk across it in a different number of steps depending on what you wanted and I remember my parents being told to walk over the bridge in 9 steps to ensure they’d find each other in the afterlife. There’s much less certainty surrounding heaven/an afterlife in western culture, there aren’t certain traditions or rituals to perform to achieve any standing or permanence when you get there. In contrast to the idea that Qin believed that he could merely create an afterlife for himself just by creating physical figures around his tomb. It makes me think even more about the afterlife and how strong certain beliefs must be go through the trouble of creating thousands of figures. While at the Terra-Cotta museum we were also able to meet one of the farmers that discovered the figures, what an experience it must have been to find them. As time goes on I think more and more what’ll be unveiled at the sites, how many more figures will be reconstructed and when they’ll open the tomb.
Lubow, Arthur. “Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 July 2009, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/terra-cotta-soldiers-on-the-march-30942673/.
Roach, John. “Unearthing Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army.” About Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army | National Geographic, National Geographic, 23 Mar. 2017, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/archaeology/emperor-qin/.
Brook Lapping Productions. “Discoveries May Rewrite History of China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors.” National Geographic, National Geographic, 12 Oct. 2016, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/10/china-first-emperor-terra-cotta-warriors-tomb/.
***None of my footnotes are showing up, I will share a google doc with the footnotes with you.
Typically when one thinks of China, we think of many things delicious food, great people. However, for many children, the first thought that comes to mind is dragons, although the concept of dragons existing might seem hard to believe in the present-day. Evidence presents, “Carved jade dragons have been excavated at the sites of the Hongshan culture, which can be dated to 4500-3000 BCE, far before any written records of the creature appeared”. Therefore, there has to be some form of significance between the Dragons an the people of China. One significance is thought to be, “The dragon was, therefore, a symbolic representation of the assimilation of these tribes into a single nation. An interesting hypothesis, it does not, however, explain the appearance of dragons long before any such political associations existed in early Chinese communities.” This theory leaves to doubt where did the concept of the Dragon originated.
Dragons are described in many ways, including “Alternative descriptions give similar attributes but sometimes with the body of a snake, the eyes of a rabbit, the belly of a frog, and the antlers of a deer. Other qualities of the dragon were that it could change its shape and size at will and disappear or reappear wherever it wished.” Another, a feature that is a tributed to dragons is the role of rulership being that they were seen as “just and benevolent creature.” Coincidentally this is also why Dragons were so strongly associated with emperors and depicted on wardrobe and palaces. Along with being just and benevolent, the dragon was also considered to be one of the most intelligent animals ever.
However, the dragon was not only used by the rulers of China as a sign of power. It is also used as a symbol of luck and bringer of wealth by the general public. “In rural communities, there was a dragon dance to induce the creature’s generosity in dispensing rain and a procession where a large figure of a dragon made from paper or cloth spread over a wooden frame was carried.” All in all, dragons were believed to be real and have extraordinary abilities. These magnificent creatures were also revered by many, be it their perception in different ways if it is to show power or to gain wealth and fortune.
Cartwright, Mark. “The Dragon in Ancient China.” Ancient History Encyclopedia,
Ancient History Encyclopedia, 1 Dec. 2019, http://www.ancient.eu/article/1125/the-dragon-in-ancient-china/.
The Five Perfect Earthly Emporers
In Chinese folklore, there existed five emporers, who were said to have taught humanity many skills. Including hunting, fishing, domestication of animals, agriculture, infrastructure, time and the calendar, devotion, and filial piety. The first earthly Emporer Fu Hsi taught man how to hunt, fish, and domesticate animals. The second Emporer Shen Nung developed methods of agriculture. The third Emporer Huang Ti discovered the wheel and developed much infrastructure including building many roads and bridges. The fourth Emporer Yao developed a sophisticated calendar system, he is credited with tracking the movement of the starts to help farmers know when to plant crops. The fifth and last Emporer Shun was seen as being very devoted to his parents, even though they tried to murder him a couple times in childhood. He is the embodiment of the Chinese idea of filial piety, or respect to one’s parents and elders. These five emporers granted humanity all they needed to survive.
I want to talk about this idea of filial piety a little bit more. In his child, Shun’s parents hated him, they tried to kill him twice by once leaving him in a burning building, and also trying to bury him alive. Despite these murder attempts, he remained respectful of them. It is because of these traits that the fourth Emporer Yao selected him to be the next Emporer. This decision was controversial for Yao because he had kids of his own. But Yao believed the trait of filial piety to be vital for humanity to thrive. Filial piety is vital in eastern culture because they believe in a very positive image of the family. Within filial piety, it is important not just to be respectful to those in the home but also to those outside the home. This way everyone gets along and society flourishes.
Overall, the five perfect earthly emporers existed to guide humanity into a golden age. Where humanity flourished, and many advancements in technology and culture were made. The first emporers introduced ways of life that were vital to humanity’s survival. As the decades passed by the ideas, the emporers introduced became more abstract and were concerned more with how one exists mentally as opposed to surviving physically. The last Emporer being the embodiment of filial piety, a cornerstone of eastern culture. All of these things were required for humanity to succeed.
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Echoes from Old China. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=j84ysksfk28C&lpg=PP1&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false.
A Symbol of Protection
Gods were a great way to offer a method of protection against pretty much anything. If you’ve got a problem, there’s usually a god you can pray to for help. In the film “The Little Door Gods,” the door gods Yulei and Shentu are for defending hearth and home. They stand guard against the evil spirits of the outside world, but were about to lose their jobs due to the lack of faith in the human world. Yulei decides that the best idea to regain human faith is to release some eldritch horror upon the world before defeating it in combat to show the weak humans who to put their faith into. He sounds like a terrible person, but his heart’s in the right place for the most part. After breaking three seals and straight murdering his friend, he kills the nightmare beast thing with the help of Shentu and becomes the owner of a restaurant. This movie’s a bit weird.
Yulei and Shentu are martial door gods, meaning they wear flashy armor, carry big swords, and are generally really good fighters. Martial door gods were the guardians of the house. They were usually painted on the doors, acting as an ancient security system, since any evil entities would have to face the door gods before entering the residence. The other form of door gods are the literary door gods. These weak, bookworm gods were usually based on scholarly figures and would greet a visitor once they passed through the martial door gods. They did their best to provide social stability inside of a household while also keeping guests feeling safe and secure.
In lore, Shentu and Yulei were the earliest door gods. They were like the angels who stood, guarding the pearly gates to heaven, but instead of pearly gates, they stood underneath a peach tree. Shen and Yu scanned deceased souls to see if they were worthy of moving on up to heaven, allowing those who passed the test to proceed while also catching, binding, and feeding the evil souls to tigers. Sounds extreme, but when you think of the eternal suffering that Christians go through when they sin or whatever, the quick second death of being eaten alive shouldn’t be too terrible.
In The Little Door Gods, Yu Lei breaks seals to try to free the Nian, an ancient monster, in order to try to bring humans and gods together again. The Nian is an old legend who was said to have lived in the sea and rise up at the end of every year to prey on people and livestock. In order to avoid the terror it brought, people would flock to the mountains. The tale goes that one new year, a stranger came to one of the villages terrorized by the Nian. In the panic and chaos brought by fear, no one took any special notice of the stranger, save for one village elder who took pity on him and brought him food. She described the monster and tried to persuade him to take cover in the mountains, but he did something odd; rather than listen to his pleas, he requested to stay a night in her home, promising to rid the village of the monster.
That night, when the Nian came, it went straight to the house for it was the only one lit up. When it tried to approach the door, it was deterred by the red papers pasted in the windows, the light, and most of all, the loud cracking of firecrackers. That year, the Nian fled in terror and did not ravage the village. When the villagers returned, they found their houses intact and their livestock alive. This tale is what began the tradition that continues on today of welcoming the new year with red, candles, and firecrackers and fireworks.
In the movie, this was portrayed in the final scene where the village fought against the Nian by throwing firecrackers at it to scare it away. Though the tale is old, the traditions it began still continue today. Chinese New Year is a time celebrated by people coming together with their families and friends and staying up to welcome the new year. At midnight, fireworks are launched to ward off any bad spirits and drive away evil. Often times, door gods are put onto doors as decoration and extra protection against evil for the new year.