Door god

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Colorful door gods adorn a temple door in Taichung, Taiwan.
Door god on a pair of doors
For the Roman god of doors, see Janus.

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. It is also seen in other East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

The custom of pasting pictures of door gods on doors dates back to ancient China. 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 for door gods. People drew portraits of them on paper and pasted them on doors. In the Tang dynasty, two generals – Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong – became door gods when Emperor Taizong ordered portraits of them to be made and pasted on gates in the hope of attracting good luck and scaring away evil spirits. Other folklore heroes and mythological figures were subsequently added 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 many different door gods, of which the most common ones are Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong. Portraits of Wei Zheng or Zhong Kui are used on single doors.

List of door gods[edit]

Military door god, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner
Civil door god, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner

The following persons, some of whom are mythological figures and fictional characters, are known to have been worshipped as door gods.

In fiction[edit]

The novel Journey to the West provides a fictional account of how the custom of the door god(s) originated.[2] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "词语"神荼郁垒"的解释 [Definition of "Shenshu and Yulü"". 汉典 [Chinese dictionary] (in Chinese). Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  2. ^ Wu Cheng'en (n.d.). The Journey to the West (Chapter 10) (pdf). Retrieved 2014-06-11. 


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