Mazu, also known by several other names and titles, is a Chinese sea goddess, the deified form of the historical Lin Mo or Moniang, a Fujianese shamaness traditionally dated to AD c. 960 – c. 987. Revered after her death as a patron of seafarers, including fishermen and sailors, her worship spread throughout China's coastal regions and expatriate communities throughout Southeast Asia. She was thought to roam the seas, protecting her believers through miraculous interventions. She is now generally regarded by her believers as a powerful and benevolent Queen of Heaven, a role in which she is sometimes syncretized with similar figures, such as Guanyin and the Virgin Mary. Mazuism is most popular on Taiwan; her temple festival is a major event throughout the country, with the largest celebrations around her temples at Dajia and Beigang. It is a notionally illegal cult in the People's Republic of China but is broadly tolerated and sometimes conflated with approved Taoist beliefs.
Names and titles
- Mazupo ("Granny Mazu"), a popular name in Fujian
- Tianhou ("Queen of Heaven"), which appears as Tin Hau in Cantonese and Thien Hau in Vietnamese contexts
- Tianfei ("Princess of Heaven")
- Tianshang Shengmu ("Holy Heavenly Mother") or Tianhou Shengmu
- Tongxian Lingnü ("Worthy & Efficacious Lady")
- Shennü ("Divine Woman")
- Linghui Furen ("Lady of Numinous Grace"), an official title conferred in 1156.
- Linghui Fei ("Princess of Numinous Grace"), an official title conferred in 1192.
- Huguo Mingzhu Tianfei ("Illuminating Princess of Heaven who Protects the Nation"), an official title conferred in 1281.
- Zhaoxiao Chunzheng Fuji Ganying Shengfei ("Holy Princess of Clear Piety, Pure Faith, and Helpful Response"), an official title conferred during the reign of the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming.
Although many of Mazu's temples honor her titles Tianhou and Tianfei, it became customary to never pray to her under those names during an emergency since it was believed that, hearing one of her formal titles, Mazu might feel obligated to groom and dress herself as properly befitting her station before receiving the petition. Prayers invoking her as Mazu were thought to be answered more quickly.
Very little is known of the historical Lin Moniang. She was apparently a shamaness from a small fishing village on Meizhou Island, part of Fujian's Putian County, in the late 10th century. Her Meizhou was an uneducated and superstitious place, where out of "perhaps a thousand households... not one person [could] read". She probably did not live there, however, but on the nearby mainland.[a] During this era, Fujian was greatly sinicized by influxes of refugees fleeing invasions of northern China and Mazu's cult may represent a hybridization of Chinese and local culture. The earliest record of her cult is from two centuries later, an 1150 inscription that mentions "she could foretell a man's good and ill luck" and, "after her death, the people erected a temple for her on her home island".
She was said to have been born under the reign of the Quanzhounese warlord Liu Congxiao (d. 962), which eventually developed into the specific date of the 23rd day of the third month of the Chinese lunar calendar[b] in AD 960, the first year of the Song.[c]
The early sources speak of her as "Miss Lin"; her given name Mo ("Silent One") or Moniang ("the Silent Girl") appeared later. It was said to have been chosen when she did not cry during birth or during the first month afterwards; she remained a quiet and pensive child as late as four. She was said to have been the sixth or seventh daughter of Lin Yuan (林愿), who worked as a fisherman. The family was helpful and popular within their village. Late legends intended to justify Mazu's presence in Buddhist temples held that her parents had prayed to Guanyin for a son but received yet another daughter. In one version, her mother dreamt of Guanyin giving her a magical pill to induce pregnancy and woke to find the pill still in her hand; rather than being born in the conventional way, Mazu shot from her mother at birth in the form of a fragrant flash of red light. Guanyin was said to have been especially devoted to Mazu or even to have been incarnated as Mazu; for her part, Mazu was said to have been entranced by a statue of Guanyin at a temple she visited as a child, after which she became an ardent Buddhist. She is now often said to have studied religious literature, mastering Confucius by 8 and the principal Buddhist sutras by 11. While still a girl, she was visited by a monk who taught her how to see the future and visit places in spirit without travel. She was able to manifest herself at a distance as well and used this power to visit gardens in the surrounding countryside, although she asked owners' permission before gathering any flowers to take home. Although she only started swimming at the relatively late age of 15, she soon excelled at it. She was said to have stood on the shore in red garments to guide fishing boats home, regardless of harsh or dangerous weather. She met a Taoist immortal at a fountain as a teenager and received a two bronze tablets which she translated or used to exorcize demons, to heal the sick, and to avert disasters. She was also said to be a rainmaker during times of drought.
Mazu's principal legend concerns her saving one or some members of her family when they were caught offshore during a typhoon, usually when she was 16. It appears in several forms. In one, the women at home feared Lin Yuan and his son were lost but Mazu fell into a trance while weaving at her loom. Her spiritual power began to save the men from drowning but her mother roused her, causing her to drop her brother into the sea. The father returned and told the other villagers of the miracle; this version of the story is preserved in murals at Fengtin in Fujian. One variant is that her brothers were saved but her father was lost; she then spent three days and nights searching for his body before finding it. Another version is that all the men returned safely. Another is that Mazu was praying to Guanyin; another that she was sleeping and assisting her family through her dream. Still another is that the lost boat was crewed by her four brothers (with no mention of a father) and that she saved three of them, with one lost owing to her mother's interference.
In earlier records, Mazu died unmarried at 27 or 28. Later, this sometimes became the specific date of the Double Ninth Festival in 987, making her 27 by western reckoning and 28 by traditional Chinese dating. In some accounts, she did not die but climbed a mountain alone and ascended into Heaven as a goddess in a beam of bright light. In others, she died protesting an unwanted betrothal. Still another places her death at age 16, saying she drowned after exhausting herself in a failed attempt to find her lost father. Her corpse then washed ashore on Nangan Island, which preserves a gravesite said to be hers.
In addition to the legends surrounding her earthly life, Mazu figures in a number of Chinese myths.
In one, the demons Qianliyan ("Thousand-Mile Eye") and Shunfeng'er ("Wind-Following Ear") both fell in love with her and she conceded that she would marry the one who defeated her in combat. Using her martial arts skills, however, she subdued them both and, after becoming friends, hired them as her guardian generals.
Mazuism is first attested in Huang Gongdu's c. 1140 poem "On the Shrine of the Smooth Crossing" (t 順濟廟, s 顺济庙, Shùnjì Miào), which considered her a menial and misguided shamaness whose continued influence was inexplicable. He notes that her devotees danced and sang together and with their children. Shortly afterwards, Liao Pengfei (廖鵬飛)'s 1150 inscription at the village of Ninghai (now Qiaodou) in Putian was more respectful.[d] It states that, "after her death, the people erected a temple for her on her home island" and that the Temple of the Sacred Mound (t 聖墩廟, s 圣墩庙, Shèngdūn Miào) was raised in 1086 after some people in Ninghai saw it glowing, discovered a miraculous old raft or stump, and experienced a vision of "the goddess of Meizhou".[e] This structure had been renamed the Smooth Crossing Temple by the Decorated Ancestor (Huizong) of the Song in 1123 after his envoy Lu Yundi (路允迪, Lù Yǔndí) was miraculously saved during a storm the year before while on an official mission to pay respects to the court of Korea upon the death of its king Yejong and to replace the Liao as the formal suzerains investing his successor Injong.[f] Her worship subsequently spread: Li Junfu's early-13th century Putian Bishi records temples on Meizhou and at Qiaodou, Jiangkou, and Baihu. By 1257, Liu Kezhuang was noting Putian's "large market towns and small villages all have... shrines to the Princess" and that they had spread to Fengting to the south. By the end of the Song, there were at least 31 temples to Mazu, reaching at least as far as Shanghai in the north and Guangzhou in the south.
As Mazuism spread, it began to absorb the cults of other local shamanesses such as the other two of Xianyou's "Three Princesses" and even some lesser maritime and agricultural gods, including Liu Mian and Zhang the Heavenly Instructor. By the 12th century, she had already become a guardian to the people of Qiaodou when they suffered drought, flood, epidemic, piracy, or brigandage. She protected women during childbirth and when they sought contraception. As the patron of the seas, her temples were among the first erected by arriving overseas Chinese, as they gave thanks for their safe passage. Despite his Islamic upbringing, the Ming admiral and explorer Zheng He patronized the Mazu temples of Nanjing and prevailed upon the Yongle Emperor to construct the city's Tianfei Palace; because of its imperial patronage and prominent location in the empire's southern capital, this was long the largest and highest-status center of Mazuism in China. During the Southern Ming resistance to the Qing, Mazu was credited with helping Koxinga's army capture Taiwan from the Dutch; she was later said to have personally aided some of Shi Lang's men in defeating Liu Guoxuan at Penghu in 1683, ending the independent kingdom of Koxinga's descendants and placing Taiwan under Qing control. In late imperial China, sailors often carried effigies of Mazu to ensure safe crossings. Some boats still carry small shrines on their bows. Mazu charms are also used as medicine, including as salves for blistered feet. As late as the 19th century, the Qing government officially credited her divine intervention with their 1884 victory over the French at Tamsui during the Sino-French War and specially honored the town's temple to her, which had served as General Sun Kaihua's headquarters during the fighting.
Today, Mazuism is practiced in about 1500 temples in 26 countries around the world, mostly in the Sinosphere or the overseas Chinese communities. Of these temples, almost 1000 are on Taiwan, representing a doubling of the 509 temples recorded in 1980 and more than a dozen times the number recorded before 1911. Further, there are more than 90 Mazu Temples in Hong Kong. In Mainland China, Mazuism is formally classified as a cult outside of Buddhism and Taoism, although numerous Buddhist and Taoist temples include shrines to her. Her worship is generally permitted but not encouraged, with most surviving temples concentrated around Putian in Fujian. Including the twenty on Meizhou Island, there are more than a hundred in the prefecture and another 70 elsewhere in the province, mostly in the settlements along its coast. There are more than 40 temples in Guangdong and Hainan and more than 30 in Zhejiang and Jiangsu, but many historical temples are now treated as museums and operated by local parks or cultural agencies. The Mazu temple on Macao Island is the probable source of its name in Portuguese and English; the historic and protected temple on Causeway Bay in Hong Kong is the source of the Tin Hau area's name, from the Cantonese pronunciation of Mazu's title "Empress of Heaven". The Mazu temple in Melbourne is the largest Chinese temple in Australia.
A major project to build the world's tallest Mazu statue on the northernmost tip of Borneo at Kudat was officially launched by Sabah. The statue was to be 10-stories high, but was canceled due to protests from Muslims in Sabah and political interference. In its absence, the world's tallest statue of the goddess is the 42.3-meter (139 ft) Mazu of Tianjin that was erected in 2012.
The primary temple festival in Mazuism is Lin Moniang's traditional birthday on the 23rd day of the 3rd month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It is celebrated widely in Taiwan, with the largest festivities around the 8-day, 250-kilometer (160 mi) annual "inspection tour" of a Mazu idol from the Zhenlan Temple in Taichung to Chaotian Temple in Beigang and back again. The highlight is an incense-cutting ritual used to restore the fires of the Taichung temple. As many as 6,000 join the tour itself, some dressed as medieval standard-bearers and foot-soldiers and, and more than 30,000 sometimes arrive for the idol's entry into Beigang.
Depending on the year, Mazu's festival day may fall as early as mid-April or as late as mid-May:
- 2011: April 25
- 2012: April 13
- 2013: May 2
- 2014: April 22
- 2015: May 11
- 2016: April 29
- 2017: April 19
- 2018: May 8
- 2019: April 27
- 2020: April 15
The lunar date of her death (variously, her ascension into Heaven) is also celebrated in October.
Mazu usually appears in paintings wearing the red robe associated with her in legends of her life as a mortal. In religious statuary, she is usually chubby-faced and clothed in the bejeweled robes of an empress. Common imperial accessories include a ceremonial tablet, a ruyi scepter, and a flat-topped imperial cap with rows of beads hanging from the front and back. Her temples are usually protected by the door gods Qianliyan and Shunfeng'er. These vary in appearance but are frequently demons, Qianliyan red with two horns and two yellow sapphire eyes and Shunfeng'er green with one horn and two ruby eyes.
Lin Moniang (2000), a minor Fujianese TV series, was a dramatization of Mazu's life as a mortal. Mazu (海之傳說媽祖, 2007) was a Taiwanese animated feature film from the Chinese Cartoon Production Co. depicting her life as a shamaness and goddess. Its production director Teng Chiao admitted the limited appeal to the domestic market: "If young people were our primary target audience, we wouldn't tell the story of Mazu in the first place since they are not necessarily interested in the ancient legend[;] neither do they have loyalty to made-in-Taiwan productions". Instead, "when you look to global markets, the question that foreign buyers always ask is what can best represent Taiwan". Mazu, with its story about "a magic girl and two cute sidekicks [Mazu's door gods Qianliyan and Shunfeng'er] spiced up with a strong local flavor" was instead designed with an intent to appeal to international markets interested in Taiwan.
- She may have been born on the mainland as well.
- This is sometimes mistakenly translated into English as "March 23", for example by Fuzhou University's overview of the Meizhou Temple.
- The coincidence of the date, only attested in late sources, is often doubted by modern scholars such as Clark.
- The inscription, entitled "Shengdun Zumiao Chongjian Shunji Miao Ji" (聖頓祖廟重建顺濟廟記), is preserved in a Li family genealogy (百塘李氏族譜, Baitang Lishi Zupu) and its legitimacy is sometimes questioned. It was translated in its entirety into English by Ruitenbeek.
- A similar story later circulated regarding the establishment of the temple at Fengting.
- The official account of the journey credited the miracle to now-forgotten "God of Yanyu in Fuzhou", the deified form of the eldest son of Chen Yan, a 9th-century warlord in the region. However, it's believed that the legendary account of Mazu saving only one of Lu's ships was mistaken and most or all of them survived, with their Fujianese merchant crews crediting their survival to different local deities, including the "Divine Lady" of Ninghai on Li Zhen's presumably Putianese ship. The Yanyu Temple received the title "Manifesting Merit" (zhaoli) from the Song court around the same time it honored the Ninghai shrine.
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- De wonderen van Mazu [The miracles of Mazu]. Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands.