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Menshen (simplified Chinese: 门神; traditional Chinese: 門神; pinyin: Ménshén; literally: "Door God, Gate God") is the deity of doors, gates and passages in Chinese religion. Various historical persons are worshipped as incarnations of Menshen. They are usually painted or affixed pictures on each of the two wings of a door.
The Chinese custom of representing them on doors has a history of many centuries. In the Han dynasty, people believed that peach wood has spiritual properties and can ward off evil spirits so they started making auspicious carvings on peach wood and hanging them around their homes. Following the invention of paper, paper gradually replaced peach wood as people started drawing and writing on paper instead. In earlier times, Shentu and Yulü were the most common choice as Menshen. In the Tang dynasty, the two generals Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong became door gods when Emperor Taizong ordered portraits of them to be affixed on gates. Other folk heroes and mythological figures were subsequently added to the Menshen pantheon.
The following persons, some of whom are mythological figures, are known to have been worshipped as door gods.
|王天君 Wàngtiānjūn and 馬天君 Mǎtiānjūn||Two attendants of the North Deity (Beidi), one of the Five Deities of classic cosmology. They are seen at the entrances of Taoist temples.|
|"Azure Dragon" and "White Tiger" astral symbols||Often seen at the entrance of Taoist temples.|
|神荼 Shēnshū and 郁垒 Yùlǜ||Two deities mentioned in the Shanhaijing. The Jade Deity ordered them to guard peach trees which were being gnawed by demons. The people respected them for their ability to ward off demons and started to revere them as door gods.|
|Generals Heng and Ha||Their names are taken from the Fengshen Yanyi. They originated in Buddhism as Vajrapani ("Vajra Holder") and ultimately from Greco-Buddhist Heracles. They are seen at both Buddhist and Taoist temples.|
|方弼 Fāngbì and 方相 Fāngxiāng||Two characters mentioned in the Fengshen Yanyi|
|Randeng Daoren and Zhao Gongming||As above.|
|天官大帝 Tiānguāndàdì (Heavenly Official Great Deity) and Liú Hǎichán (劉海蟾)||A Taoist representation of the most high God and the founder of Quanzhen Taoism.|
|He-He er xian (Two Immortals He and He)||Deities of harmony and union.|
|千里眼 Qiānlǐyǎn (All-viewer) and 順風耳 Shùnfēng'ěr (All-hearer)||Attributes of the Jade Deity.|
|Sun Bin and Pang Juan||Two generals in the Warring States period. They are worshipped as door gods in parts of Shaanxi.|
|Bai Qi and Li Mu||Two generals in the Warring States period.|
|Fusu and Meng Tian||Fusu was the crown prince of the Qin dynasty while Meng Tian was a Qin general. They defended the Qin Empire's northern border from invasions by the Xiongnu.|
|Chen Sheng and Wu Guang||Rebel leaders who led an uprising against the Qin dynasty.|
|Ziying and Emperor Yi of Chu||Ziying was the last ruler of the Qin dynasty while Emperor Yi was the nominal sovereign over the Eighteen Kingdoms which were formed from collapsed Qin empire.|
|Ying Bu and Peng Yue||Generals who served under Liu Bang, the founding emperor of the Han dynasty.|
|姚期 Yáoqī and 馬武 Mǎwǔ||Semi-fictional characters in the novel Donghan Yanyi (東漢演義) who served under Emperor Guangwu of the Eastern Han dynasty.|
|Guan Yu and Zhang Fei||Two generals serving under Liu Bei, the founding emperor of the Shu Han state in the Three Kingdoms period. They are depicted as Liu Bei's sworn brothers in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and are among the Five Tiger Generals.|
|Zhao Yun and Ma Chao||Two other generals serving under Liu Bei. They are also among the Five Tiger Generals. They are worshipped as door gods in parts of Henan.|
|Ma Chao and Ma Dai||Ma Dai was Ma Chao's cousin and he served as a general in Shu Han. They are worshipped as door gods in parts of Hebei.|
|Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi||Zhuge Liang was a chancellor of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms period, while Sima Yi was a senior statesman and general of Shu Han's rival state, Cao Wei. They are depicted as nemeses in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.|
|Guan Yu and Guan Sheng||Guan Sheng is a fictional descendant of Guan Yu and one of the 108 Stars of Destiny in the novel Water Margin.|
|Guan Yu, Guan Ping and Zhou Cang||Guan Ping was Guan Yu's son. Zhou Cang is a fictional character in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms who is depicted as a loyal subordinate of Guan Yu.|
|Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong||Two Tang dynasty generals serving under Emperor Taizong.|
|裴元慶 Péi Yuánqìng and 李元霸 Lǐ Yuánbà||Fictional characters in the novel Shuo Tang (說唐). Pei Yuanqing was a general of Wagang (瓦崗), a rebel faction that emerged towards the end of the Sui dynasty. Li Yuanba was a fictional son of Li Yuan, the founding emperor of the Tang dynasty.|
|Wei Zheng and Xu Maogong||Two officials in the early Tang dynasty.|
|Xue Rengui and Yeon Gaesomun||Xue Rengui was a Tang dynasty general while Yeon Gaesomun was a Goguryeo general. They fought in the Goguryeo–Tang War. They are worshipped as door gods in parts of northern Hebei.|
|Zhang Xun and Xu Yuan||Two Tang dynasty officials who sacrificed their lives to defend the city of Suiyang from rebel forces during the An Lushan Rebellion.|
|Zhao Kuangyin and 楊袞 Yáng Gǔn||Zhao Kuangyin was the founding emperor of the Song dynasty while Yang Gun was the ancestor of the generals of the Yang Family.|
|孟良 Mèng Liáng and 焦贊 Jiāo Zàn||Semi-fictional subordinates of the Yang Family generals who served the Song dynasty.|
|Yue Fei and 溫太保 Wēn Tàibǎo||Yue Fei was a Song dynasty general while Wen Taibao is a Taoist deity.|
|岳雲 Yuè Yún and 狄雷 Dí Léi||Yue Yun was Yue Fei's son while Di Lei was Yue Fei's subordinate.|
|徐延昭 Xú Yánzhāo and 楊波 Yang Bō|
|樊梨花 Fan Lihua and 陳金定 Chen Jingding||Fan is a fictitious general in Western Liang married to Xue Dingshan after defecting to Tang dynasty. Chen is a fictitious daughter of general Chen Ming of Sui dynasty that became a wife of Xue Dingshan. They are portrayed at Xiaobei Taishuaigong (serving 尹鑾英 Yĭn Lúanyīng) in Tainan city. The goddess portraits were designed by Zhang Yiwen, based on Brigitte Lin (Fan, peony carrier) and Joan Lin (Chen, fruit carrier).|
|穆桂英 Mu Guiying and 秦良玉 Qin Liangyu||Qin is a female general from Sichuan in late Ming dynasty. Qin's portrait was designed in Jiajiang County during Qing dynasty. Mu's portrait was found in Jiajiang County and Mianzhu city during Qing dynasty.|
The novel Journey to the West provides a fictional account of how the custom of the door god(s) originated. In the novel, the Dragon King of the Jing River wanted to outsmart a fortune-teller, Yuan Shoucheng, who accurately predicted the weather. He disguised himself as a man and made a bet with Yuan on the weather forecast in the city of Chang'an on the following day. The Dragon King was confident that he would win because he was in charge of controlling the weather. Later that day, the Dragon King received an order from the Jade Emperor on the weather plan in Chang'an for the following day. He was shocked to see that the weather plan was exactly the same as Yuan had forecasted.
However, the Dragon King wanted to preserve his ego and win the bet, so he cheated by changing the weather plan. The next day, he mocked Yuan for his inaccurate prediction, but Yuan remained calm and revealed that he knew the Dragon King's true identity all along. Yuan told the Dragon King that he would meet his doom very soon because he disobeyed the Jade Emperor's order. The Dragon King was shocked and he immediately pleaded with Yuan to save him. Yuan told him that the Jade Emperor would send Wei Zheng, a senior minister in the imperial court of Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty, to execute him at noon on the following day. He instructed the Dragon King to approach Emperor Taizong for help, which the Dragon King did. Emperor Taizong took pity on the Dragon King and promised to save him from execution.
The next day, Emperor Taizong invited Wei Zheng to play weiqi with him in the morning and did not allow Wei to leave until after noon, so as to prevent Wei from carrying out the execution at noon. Emperor Taizong was delighted when he saw that Wei Zheng fell asleep during the game at around noon. However, a while later, he received news that a dragon's head had fallen from the sky. Wei Zheng woke up and told the emperor that his soul left his body while he was asleep and went to Heaven to carry out the Jade Emperor's order to behead the Dragon King.
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 keep his promise to save his life. The generals Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong volunteered to stand guard outside the emperor's bedroom at night to protect him from the ghost. The ghost of the Dragon King feared the two generals and no longer dared to disturb Emperor Taizong; the emperor slept in peace. After a few nights, the emperor did not want to trouble the two generals to continue standing guard every night, so he ordered artists to paint portraits of the generals and paste them on the doors. The common people soon also adopted the practice of pasting pictures of the two generals on their doors.
- Tang, Rose. "Twilight of the Door Gods" The Standard. Hong Kong.
- Media related to Menshen at Wikimedia Commons