A door god (simplified Chinese: 门神; traditional Chinese: 門神; pinyin: ménshén) is a Chinese decoration placed on each side of an entry to a temple, home, business, etc., which is believed to keep evil spirits from entering.
"The custom dates back to the Tang Dynasty, whose founder Emperor Tang Taizong (599 - May 26, 649) honoured two of his most loyal generals – Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde – by having their painted portraits hung on his front door. Ordinary families soon adopted the imperial custom, putting woodblock prints of the ever-vigilant generals on their front gates in the hope of attracting good luck and fending off evil spirits. The Door God business soon spread throughout China, adding other folklore heroes and mythological figures to the repertoire."
The door gods usually come in pairs, facing each other; it is considered bad luck to place the figures back-to-back. There are several different forms of door gods. The most frequently used are Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde (used on a pair of doors). The poster depicting Wei Zheng or Zhong Kui are used on single doors.
Origins of Door Gods
Qin and Yuchi, in a Tang dynasty legend, were told by the emperor to guard the door because of a ghost harassing him, thus resulting in sleepless nights. When Qin and Yuchi were called, they guarded the emperor's door. Thus, the emperor had a blissful sleep. The next day, the emperor, not wanting to trouble his two generals, called on men to hang portraits of the two men on either side of his door.
Other door gods
Shen shu and Yu lei carry a battle axe and a mace, respectively. Shen shu and Yu lei were immortals who were ordered by the Jade Emperor to guard peach trees which demons were gnawing at. The people of China thus respected the two immortals for their ability to ward off demons.
Zhong kui (simplified Chinese: 钟馗; traditional Chinese: 鍾馗; pinyin: zhōngkuí) - strictly speaking is not a Door God but a mythical exorcist (ghost catcher); nonetheless his image is often displayed as the "backdoor general".
The practice of placing door god figures is fading as of late, after a brief revival in the 1980s.
In the novel Journey to the West a fictional account of Emperor Taizong's invention of the Door god is mentioned. According to the novel, the Dragon King of the Jing River, wanting to outsmart scholar Yuan Shoucheng who had predicted the amount of rain to fall over the City of Chang'an, intentionally provided a different amount of rain from that required by a decree of the Jade Emperor. The Jade Emperor then sentenced the Dragon King to death. The execution was to be carried out by Wei Zheng at the noon of the following day. The Dragon King sought help from Yuan Shoucheng who told him that Wei Zheng was a minister under Emperor Taizong and advised him to ask the emperor to prevent the minister from executing him. Having a pity on the Dragon King, the emperor agreed to help.
The next day, Emperor Taizong invited Minister Wei Zheng to play a chess with him in order to make sure that the minister stays here until noontime. During the game, Wei Zheng fell asleep. A while later, a dragon's head fell down from the sky to the palace yard and a court officer reported this to Emperor Taizong, waking Wei Zheng up as a result. Wei Zheng told the emperor that in his dream he flew to the sky and beheaded the Dragon King at the behest of the Jade Emperor.
From that day on, the ghost of the Dragon King kept haunting Emperor Taizong at night. The ghost was angry that the emperor failed to help. After sleepless nights, the emperor ordered his senior ministers Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde to stand guard at the palace gate. Fearing the two ministers, the ghost of the Dragon King no longer entered the palace. Days later, Emperor Taizong did not want to disturb the two ministers any further. He then installed a large painting of each minister at each palace gate instead, hoping this was enough to ward off the furious ghost. After the paintings were installed, the ghost of the Dragon King was not seen again. From that time, citizens began to hang the portraits of the two ministers on their doors also.
The ghost of the Dragon King subsequently brought a lawsuit against Emperor Taizong before the underworld court. The emperor was then brought to the underworld and won the suit. After touring the underworld for days, Emperor Taizong returned to life.
- Tang, Rose. "Twilight of the Door Gods" The Standard. Hong Kong.
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