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
The following persons, some of whom are mythological figures and fictional characters, are known to have been worshipped as door gods.
- The Four Heavenly Kings are seen at the entrances of Buddhist temples.
- Skanda and Sangharama are seen at the entrances of Buddhist temples or standing on either side of statues of the Buddha.
- Generals Zhang, Huang, Su and Li (張、黃、蘇、李四將軍) are seen at the entrances of temples or shrines to Master Qingshui.
- Heavenly Lords Wang and Ma' (王天君, 馬天君) are two senior marshals under the Taoist deity Northern Emperor. They are seen at the entrances of Taoist temples.
- The Azure Dragon and White Tiger are seen at the entrances to Taoist temples.
- Shenshu (Chinese: 神荼; pinyin: Shēnshū) and Yulü (simplified Chinese: 郁垒; traditional Chinese: 鬱壘; pinyin: Yùlǜ) are two deities mentioned in the Shanhaijing. The Jade Emperor ordered them to guard peach trees which were being gnawed by demons. The people respected them for their ability to ward off demons and worshipped them as door gods.
- The Heng and Ha Generals are guardians of the Buddha. They are referred to as the "Heng and Ha Generals" in the novel Fengshen Yanyi. They are seen at the entrances of Buddhist and Taoist temples.
- Fang Bi (方弼) and Fang Xiang (方相) are characters in the novel Fengshen Yanyi.
- Randeng Daoren and Zhao Gongming are characters in the novel Fengshen Yanyi.
- Tianguan Dadi (天官大帝) and Liu Haichan (劉海蟾). Tianguan Dadi is a Taoist deity while Liu Haichan was a founder of the Quanzhen School of Taoism.
- The He-He er xian are two Taoist deities of harmony and union.
- Xuantan Zhenjun (玄壇真君) is a Taoist deity.
- Zhong Kui is a ghosthunter or exorcist in Chinese folk culture.
- Qianliyan (千里眼) and Shunfeng'er (順風耳) are two Taoist deities in charge of scouting and reporting news to the Jade Emperor.
- Sun Bin and Pang Juan were generals in the Warring States period. They are worshipped as door gods in parts of Shaanxi.
- Bai Qi and Li Mu were 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 were 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 were generals who served under Liu Bang, the founding emperor of the Han dynasty.
- Yao Qi (姚期) and Ma Wu (馬武) are 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 were 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 novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and are among the Five Tiger Generals.
- Zhao Yun and Ma Chao were 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 novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms who is depicted as a loyal subordinate of Guan Yu.
- Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong were Tang dynasty generals serving under Emperor Taizong. See below.
- Pei Yuanqing (裴元慶) and Li Yuanba (李元霸) are 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 were 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 (許遠) were Tang dynasty officials who sacrificed their lives to defend the city of Suiyang from rebel forces during the An Lushan Rebellion.
- Zhao Kuangyin and Yang Gun (楊袞). Zhao Kuangyin was the founding emperor of the Song dynasty while Yang Gun was the ancestor of the Generals of the Yang Family.
- Meng Liang (孟良) and Jiao Zan (焦贊) are semi-fictional subordinates of the Yang Family Generals who served the Song dynasty.
- Yue Fei and Wen Taibao (溫太保). Yue Fei was a Song dynasty general while Wen Taibao is a Taoist deity.
- Yue Yun (岳雲) and Di Lei (狄雷). Yue Yun was Yue Fei's son while Di Lei was Yue Fei's subordinate.
- Xu Yanzhao (徐延昭) and Yang Bo (楊波)
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.
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