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Investiture of the Gods

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Fengshen Yanyi
Cover of the Investiture of the Gods, book two, from the Harvard University's rare books collection
AuthorXu Zhonglin
Lu Xixing
Original title封神演義
GenreChinese mythology, shenmo, fantasy, historical fiction
Publication date
16th century
Publication placeChina
Media typePrint
Investiture of the Gods
Traditional Chinese封神演義
Simplified Chinese封神演义
Literal meaningThe Romance of the Investiture of the Gods
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese封神榜
Simplified Chinese封神榜
Literal meaningThe Name List of the Investiture of the Gods

The Investiture of the Gods, also known by its Chinese names Fengshen Yanyi (Chinese: 封神演義; pinyin: Fēngshén Yǎnyì; Wade–Giles: Fêng1-shên2 Yan3-yi4; Jyutping: Fung1 San4 Jin2 Ji6) and Fengshen Bang (封神榜),[note 1] is a 16th-century Chinese novel and one of the major vernacular Chinese works in the gods and demons (shenmo) genre written during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).[2] Consisting of 100 chapters, it was first published in book form between 1567 and 1619.[2] Another source claims it was published in a finalized edition in 1605.[3] The work combines elements of history, folklore, mythology, legends and fantasy.[4]

The story is set in the era of the decline of the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and the rise of the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC). It intertwines numerous elements of Chinese mythology, Chinese folk religion, Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, including deities, demons, immortals and spirits. The authorship is attributed to Xu Zhonglin.


Illustrations of Fengshen Yanyi from an edition of the novel featuring commentary by Zhong Xing (1574–1625) (book one)

The novel is a romanticised retelling of the overthrow of King Zhou, the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, by Ji Fa, who would establish the Zhou dynasty in its place. The story integrates oral and written tales of many Chinese mythological figures who are involved in the struggle as well. These figures include human heroes, immortals, and various spirits (usually represented in avatar form, such as vixens and pheasants, and occasionally as inanimate objects such as a pipa).

Bewitched by his concubine Daji, who is actually a vixen spirit disguised as a beautiful woman, King Zhou of Shang oppresses his people and persecutes those who oppose him, including those who dare to speak up to him. Ji Fa (King Wu of Zhou), assisted by his strategist Jiang Ziya, rallies an army to overthrow the tyrant and restore peace and order. Throughout the story, battles are waged between the kingdoms of Shang and Zhou, with both sides calling upon various supernatural beings – deities, immortals, demons, spirits, and humans with magical abilities – to aid them in the war. Yuanshi Tianzun ("Primeval Lord of Heaven") bestows upon Jiang Ziya the Fengshen bang, a list that empowers him to invest the gods of Heaven. The heroes of Zhou and some of their fallen enemies from Shang are eventually endowed with heavenly ranking and essentially elevated as gods, hence the title of the novel.

Some anecdotes[edit]

The novel features many stories in which various supernatural beings enter the human realm and change the fates of mortals and the course of history with their magical powers. The following are some of the better-known of its component anecdotes.

Nüwa and King Zhou[edit]

King Zhou visits the temple of the ancient Chinese goddess Nüwa to offer incense and pray. As he was doing so, there came a gust of wind which blew up the cover on Nüwa’s statue. He notices that the statue of the goddess is very attractive. The lewd king spouts blasphemy before the statue, "It'd be good if I could marry Her". He writes poems on the walls to express his lust for the goddess. He has offended Nüwa unknowingly and Nüwa foresees that King Zhou is destined to be the last ruler of the Shang dynasty. She sends the thousand year old vixen spirit, nine-headed pheasant spirit and jade pipa spirit to torture King Zhou, because the goddess was very angry when she saw that King Zhou could enjoy himself for 28 years. The king becomes obsessed with the spirits, who disguise themselves as beautiful women, and starts to neglect state affairs and rule with cruelty. The people suffer under his tyranny and eventually join Ji Fa to rise up and overthrow him.

Daji and Bo Yikao[edit]

King Zhou places Ji Chang, the Western Duke, under house arrest in Youli (羑里) for almost seven years. Ji Chang's eldest son Bo Yikao comes to Zhaoge (present-day Hebi, Henan) to plead with King Zhou to release his father. Daji falls in love with Bo Yikao and requests the king to permit Bo Yikao to teach her how to play the guqin. Daji attempts to seduce Bo Yikao but he rejects and ridicules her. The irate Daji complains to King Zhou that Bo Yikao molested her and insulted the king through his music. The king is furious and he has Bo Yikao executed, minced into pieces and made into meat pies, and served to his father. Ji Chang knows divination and has already foreseen his son's fate. He suppresses his sorrow and consumes the meat cakes. After that incident, King Zhou lowers his guard against Ji Chang and allows the latter to return home. Ji Chang builds up his forces and plans to avenge his son.

Ji Chang and Jiang Ziya[edit]

Jiang Ziya is an apprentice of master of the Kunlun Mountains Yuanshi Tianzun. He leaves his master at the age of 72. He only uses a straight fishhook without bait, three feet above the water, for angling. His neighbours are puzzled by his odd method of fishing. They ask him out of curiosity. Jiang replies, "What I'm angling is not a single fish, but the king and the great many vassals. Only those who really wish to go on the hook will be fished by me." Jiang Ziya means that he is waiting for a wise ruler who recognises his talent and needs him.

Inside the pages of the Zhong Xing printed edition of the novel (book three)

Some people tell Ji Chang about Jiang and Ji Chang becomes interested in him. One day, Ji Chang pays a visit to Jiang Ziya. Jiang demands that the duke helps him pull his cart. Ji Chang does so and stops pulling after he has moved 800 steps forwards. Jiang Ziya tells the duke that his future kingdom (the Zhou dynasty) will exist for 800 years. Ji Chang wishes to pull the cart for a few more steps but he is too exhausted to move forward. Jiang Ziya becomes the chancellor of Zhou afterwards and assists Ji Chang in building his kingdom.

Bi Gan loses his heart[edit]

From the prophecy revealed by the oracle bones, Jiang Ziya predicts that King Zhou's loyal and benevolent courtier, Bi Gan, will die soon. He gives a charm to Bi Gan. One night, during a banquet hosted by King Zhou, several "immortals" appear and the king is delighted to see them. The "immortals" are actually Daji's fellow fox spirits in disguise, and Bi Gan, who is also present at the banquet, senses something amiss. Bi Gan's suspicions are confirmed when the fox spirits reveal their tails unknowingly after getting drunk. Bi Gan gathers a group of soldiers and they track the fox spirits back to their den and kill all of them. Bi Gan uses the foxes' hides to make a cloak and presents it to King Zhou. Daji is horrified and saddened when she sees the cloak, and she secretly plots vengeance on Bi Gan.

Not long later, Daji tells King Zhou that she has a heart attack and only a "delicate seven-aperture heart" (七巧玲瓏心) can relieve her agony. No one in the palace has that type of heart except Bi Gan, who is revered as a saint. Bi Gan swallows the charm given by Jiang Ziya, grabs his heart, pulls it out of his body, and presents it to King Zhou. Bi Gan does not die immediately nor sheds a single drop of blood. Instead, he walks out of the palace and follows Jiang Ziya's instructions to go straight home without looking back.

When he is only a few steps away from home, a female huckster yells from behind, "Hey! Cheap cabbages without stems (hearts)!" (The "heart" rhetorically refers to the stem of the plant.) Bi Gan turns around, then asks the huckster in curiosity, "How can there be cabbages without stems?" The woman puts on an evil grin and replies, "You're right, sir. Cabbages cannot live without stems just as men cannot live without hearts." Bi Gan shouts, collapses, and dies. The huckster is actually the jade pipa spirit in disguise.

The Foursome of Nine Dragon Island[edit]

The Foursome of Nine Dragon Island (九龙岛四圣) are a set of four fictional characters. These four individuals are Wang Mo, Yang Sen, Gao Youqian, and Li Xingba; each of them are renowned as superior men. These four superior men would later be personally recruited by Grand Old Master Wen Zhong in an attempt to put an end to the threat of King Wu.

Creations of Daji[edit]

This is a list of the variety of projects created by Daji throughout the novel Fengshen Yanyi by Xu Zhonglin and Lu Xixing.[5]

The Bronze Toaster[edit]

The Bronze Toaster,[5] intended as a torture and execution device, was first suggested by Daji. It is a bronze cylindrical device that is over twenty feet tall and eight feet wide. It has two wheels on each side so it can be moved around. There are three layers of charcoal over three layers of burning fire inside the device. The victims were stripped naked and tied before being placed into the pit. The pit was used to execute Grand Counselor Mei Bo. Big fans were used to intensify the fire during the execution of Mei Bo.

The Bronze Toaster was only mentioned in Chapter 6.

The Snake Pit[edit]

The Snake Pit,[5] another torture device, was first introduced in Chapter 17. The 25-feet wide snake pit was dug beneath the Star-Picking Belvedere. Venomous spiders and exceedingly venomous snakes were put into the pit. Once this pit was finally constructed, seventy-two unfortunate maidens, with their hair shaved and clothes stripped, were tied and thrown into the pit to feed the snakes.

This torturing device was mentioned multiple times after Chapter 17.

The Wine Pool and Meat Forest[edit]

The Wine Pool and Meat Forest were introduced in Chapter 17.[5] The Wine Pool was located on the left side of the Snake Pit, while the Meat Forest was on the right, thus forming a small park before the Star-Picking Belvedere. Fifty maidens and fifty eunuchs were chosen and tied together to form 50 pairs. Each individual pair would then get thrown into the pool and would be asked to drink the pool's wine while performing swimming tricks. Once each pair is readily drunk, they would be put into the Meat Forest to enjoy an abundance of cooked duck, roasted pig, etc. By sunset a few pairs would then be beaten to a bloody pulp and secretly fed to Daji to ease her need for human flesh.

This method of torture, created by Daji, was first mentioned in Chapter 17, as well as multiple times afterward.

The Deer Gallery[edit]

The Deer Gallery is also mentioned in Chapter 17.[5] Daji had chosen this Deer Gallery as an ensured way to put an end to Jiang Ziya, who had been entrusted to complete the impossible mission of creating the Deer Gallery itself. This large tower-like structure was forty-nine feet in height (double the size of the Star-Picking Belvedere), fully equipped with columns of jade, floors of marble, roofs and ceilings of legendary jewels, and railings of great pearls and sea corals.


Although the novel is now seen as one of the great vernacular epic novels of Chinese literature, it has received some criticism from literary critics of the past. In comparing the work to other major Chinese novels, Lu Xun remarked in his 1924 book A Brief History of Chinese Fiction that Fengshen Yanyi "lacks the realism of Water Margin and the imaginative brilliance of Journey to the West."[1]


  • Xu Zhonglin (1992) [1550s]. Creation of the Gods. Translated by Gu Zhizhong. Beijing: New World Press. ISBN 780005134X.
  • Xu Zhonglin (2002) [1550s]. Tales of the Teahouse Retold: Investiture of the Gods. Translated by Katherine Liang Chew. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press. ISBN 9780595254194. This is an abridged translation containing only the first 46 chapters out of 100.

The book was also translated to Dutch as Feng Shen: De Verheffing tot Goden by Nio Joe Lan (Jakarta, 1940).


The novel has a significant impact on Chinese and Japanese popular culture. It has been adapted in various forms, including television series, manhua, manga, and video games. Some of the more notable adaptations are listed below:

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Less common translations of the title include The Canonisation of the Gods.[1]



  1. ^ a b Lu Xun (1959), p. 230.
  2. ^ a b Haase, Donald (2008). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales: A-F. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 340. ISBN 978-0-313-33442-9.
  3. ^ Chang, Kang-i Sun (2010). The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature Volume II: From 1375.
  4. ^ Chew, Katherine Liang (2002). Tales of the Teahouse Retold: Investiture of the Gods. Page XI. ISBN 0-595-65161-5.
  5. ^ a b c d e Liu Xinwu (2012). "6, 17, and 18". Apotheosis of Heroes (Chinese Edition). The MK Collector's Edition World Masterpieces: Investiture of the Gods (Set 2 Volumes) (Paperback ed.). China: China Zhigong Press (published June 1, 2012). ISBN 9787514503388.



External links[edit]