giovedì 25 aprile 2013



                                                                        by Umberto Bresciani
In Taiwan, as in all other areas partaking to sinic culture, one meets some pure Buddhists and pure Daoists. But the great majority of the population are followers of the so-called popular religion,[1] a hybrid religious behavior, where you may easily detect Confucian, as well as Buddhist and Daoist elements mixed together. No other figure in the Chinese religious pantheon conveys more strikingly the hybrid nature of Chinese popular religion than Guan Gong (or Guandi), the red-faced god, one of the most honored figures among the Chinese masses, one with strong Confucian connotations, but also highly venerated by Buddhists and Daoists alike.
This article is meant as an introduction to the cult of Guan Gong (or Guandi), a key object of worship in Chinese popular religion. Here, however, we need to rectify the opinion of Westerners, who have translated the word shen as ‘god’, when in fact Guan Gong was a historical figure, who (whose spirit), because of his virtuous deeds, became powerful after death. Therefore, it would be less deceiving to use for him the appellation of saint, or patron saint, rather than god, or idol.[2] It is in fact self-understood that Guan Gong is powerful, but acting on behalf of Heaven. This is the meaning of the names they often give to Guan Gong’s temples, such as, for instance, xingtiangong (executing Heaven’s [will] temple), or xietian miao (temple of assisting Heaven).[3] This could be asserted by looking at a common way of worship at a Guan Gong temple. There one may watch worshippers going in and out.[4] When they get in, they take incense sticks, and first of all turn toward the sky (through the main entrance, which is usually wide open), in order to worship Heaven. Only after that, they turn to the statue of Guan Gong and pay homage to him.
I.           The historical man Guan Yunchang
Guan Gong (i.e. Lord Guan) is the honorific name of a historical person, said to have the surname Guan and name Yu, other name Yunchang (162-219 A.D.), a Chinese military general under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty in ancient China. Guan Yunchang played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the Three Kingdoms.
Strictly speaking, the period of the Three Kingdoms refers to the years 220 to 263 CE, when China was officially divided into three kingdoms, namely Wei, Shu, and Wu. However, chaos in the Han Empire started earlier, and so we can speak of an unofficial earlier period starting already by the year 190 until 220, marked by chaotic infighting between warlords in various parts of China.
The best historical source for the Three Kingdoms Age and for Guan Gong is the Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi), written by Chen Shou (233-297).[5] Numerous details of Guan Gong’s life have been later magnified by popular legend. Guan Yu was born around the year 160 or 162 CE.[6] His native place was the village of Changping, Xieliang District, in the area east of the Yellow River (Hedong) - at the time belonging to Henan Province - present-day Xiezhou County, near Yuncheng, in Shanxi Province. As a youth, perhaps under his father’ guidance, he pursued studies of China's classics while also working as a soybean curd seller.[7]  He was said to have a prodigious memory, and was able to recite extraordinarily long passages of the classics. He was especially fond of studying the Spring and Autumn Annals (one of the five Confucian Classics). In A.D. 178 he married a lady surnamed Hu and had a son, Guan Bing.[8]
It is said that, actually, his surname was not Guan, and that since his early years he was highly skilled in martial arts. He was tall and strongly built, and endowed with extraordinary physical strength. He had a fiery temper; he was courageous and ready to fight for any cause of justice, so that often he got involved in troubles and melees. Worried that he might end up in some serious trouble, his parents shut him up in a room in the backyard of their house. However, he dismounted the window and went out. On the road, he heard somebody sobbing. He got to know that a local bully, the young son-in-law of the district magistrate, had taken by force a girl of the people to become his concubine, and her parents were sobbing in pain. In a sudden burst of rage, wielding his spear, Guan Yu entered the magistrate’s office and killed both the magistrate and his son-in-law.
Thereupon he had to flee to the next province. While on the run, he took refuge in a Daoist temple. There, a Daoist sorceress told him to wash his face in a spring. The water turned his face a distinctive red, disguising him from his pursuers.[9] When he reached Tongguan (Weinan, Shaanxi), he saw hanging at the city gate the Wanted poster for his capture, with a prize. He tore it up and strode to enter the city. The gate guards stopped him and started to interrogate him. He presented himself: “My surname is Guan.” Because his face had changed to a reddish hue and his surname was different, he was able to pass unrecognized. From then on, he was known by the surname of Guan.
Later, he arrived in Zhuojun (present day Zhuozhou, Hebei Province), where he made the acquaintance of Liu Bei. Liu Bei, a blood descendant of the ruling Han Dynasty living in poverty in the countryside with his widowed mother. The story goes that one day Liu Bei had come into town to peddle straw mats and shoes and noticed a poster calling for courageous youths to enroll in an army to resist the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans. Later in the day, Liu Bei befriended a local butcher, a burly man by the voice like thunder named Zhang Fei, who invited him to dinner to convince him to join the patriotic army. While they were dining at a restaurant and dreaming of high feats for saving the country, Guan Yu came in. The two invited him to join in and so they became close friends. They swore eternal friendship with a special ritual in Zhang Fei’s backyard, a peach garden (taoyuan in Chinese) in full bloom. Their oath was: "we were not born on the same month and on the same day, but we wish to die on the same year, same month, and same day". The three, like three brothers, always ate at the same table and slept in the same bed. This case became known to posterity as the foremost example of loyalty in friendship: "The three sworn brothers of Taoyuan." (Taoyuan san jieyi).
Around 190 CE, the power of the Eastern Han Dynasty was in decline and various warlords were contending for supremacy. Among them, the most outstanding was the mighty general Cao Cao, a ruthless schemer (at least in the novel), who aspired to get hold of the whole empire and to start a new dynasty, the Wei. Guan Yu’s loyalty was tested by Cao Cao, when this, having heard of Guan Yu’s fighting ability, devised a way to capture him. In a battle arranged by Cao Cao, Guan Yu had to surrender and was made a prisoner. Although Cao Cao treated him lavishly, bestowed on him honorary titles, and tried by every possible means to win him over to his side, Guan Yu to the last did not change his allegiance. He accepted to work for Cao Cao at the sole condition that he would leave the day he discovered the whereabouts of Liu Bei. And so he did, leaving without saying hello to Cao Cao, but after returning every single gift he had received (except his horse). Through a long and dangerous journey he rejoined Liu Bei’s camp.
Gradually, China split into three separate kingdoms: Wei, Wu, and Shu. Liu Bei was the king of Shu, based in today’s Sichuan Province; Cao Cao was the king of Wei, based in Chang'an (Xi'an); and Sun Quan was the king of Wu, based in today’s Suzhou. Alliances among these contenders changed continuously. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei acted both as Liu Bei’s bodyguards and commanders of his armies. At the Battle of the Red Cliff (208 or 209 CE),[10] the allied armies of Liu Bei and Sun Quan won majestically against Cao Cao. Thereupon, Guan Yu took the opportunity to conquer further and put the siege to Fancheng, an important stronghold of Wei, and then to occupy Xiangyang (in today Hubei Province). Liu Bei made Guan Yu governor of Xiangyang, and handed to him a heavy responsibility: the defense of Jingzhou, a key city in the war against Cao Cao.
Soon later, the armies of Wei and Wu formed an alliance against Liu Bei and put the siege to Xiangyang. Guan Yu haughtily despised his enemy and took him lightly. Encircled, he fought courageously; he succeeded in killing Pang De, one of the commanding generals of the Wu Army, by cutting off his head. But then Sun Quan, king of Wu, sent another army to attack Jingzhou. Some generals of Wu had personal grudges with Guan Yu and were happy to take the opportunity for revenge. Eventually, they surrounded him and he refused to surrender; so he was captured and executed together with his son Guan Bin. They chopped off his head and Sun Quan sent it as a gift to Cao Cao, king of Wei. Cao Cao, moved by Guan Yu's sense of loyalty and righteousness, had him buried solemnly with the rite reserved for a noble feudatory.
According to legend, Guan Yu's head was buried in the Guanlin Temple in Luoyang, Henan (see below, section on Temples), and his body on Yuquan Hill (Yuquanshan) at Dangyang, Hubei.
II.              The Canonized Guandi
Toward the end (chapter 77) of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the author reports the following story, seemingly current long before the drafting of the novel. After being beheaded by will of the King of Wu, Guan Yu’s spirit kept roaming the land surrounding the hill (Yuquan Hill, near Dangyang, Hubei), where he was beheaded, crying out “Return my head!” Until one day the Buddhist monk Pujing[11] spoke to the spirit: “Now you ask for your head. How about the heads of all those that you beheaded in battle?” Thereupon Guan Yu became enlightened and disappeared.[12] He kept manifesting himself around that hill to protect the locals from evil. The locals built a temple on the hill to worship the spirit of Guan Yu. This way, the cult of Guan Gong had its beginnings.
Pujing was a historical figure, who lived toward the close of the Han Dynasty. Yuquan Temple is one of the earliest Buddhist temples in China. According to tradition the Buddhist monk Pujing built a hut for meditation on Yuquan Hill, on the very spot where Guan Yu had been beheaded. Later, the local people built a temple where the hut stood and that was the start of the cult of Guan Gong, which gradually spread far and wide from there.
The novel might report very ancient traditions as well, when it tells the story of the banquet held by Sun Quan, King of Wu, to celebrate the victory over Guan Yu and to thank a general who had been the strategist of it. During the banquet, the general became possessed with the spirit of Guan Yu and attempted to attack Sun Quan, then collapsed to the floor and died. Thereupon, Sun Quan was taken by fear and sent Guan Yu’s head to Cao Cao, hoping to turn the responsibility for Guan Yu’s death on Cao Cao (and also to sow discord between Cao Cao and Liu Bei, king of Shu). Upon receiving Guan Yu’s head, Cao Cao noticed that his face showed the expression of a living person, so that Cao Cao exclaimed: “I hope you have been well since we last parted.” To his horror, Guan's head opened its eyes and mouth and the long beard and hairs stood on their ends. Cao collapsed and did not regain consciousness until a long time later. When he came to, he exclaimed, "General Guan is truly a god from heaven!" Then he ordered the head to be buried with full honors.
In some way Guan Gong gradually acquired a place in popular worship. The process by which the folk hero Guan Yu became an important figure in the religious pantheon is still a kind of mystery. It needs to be faced by interdisciplinary research.[13] According to the opinion of Hu Xiaowei,[14] Buddhist masters played a certain role in the spread of the cult of Guan Yu. In the early centuries of their activity in Chinese soil, Buddhist missionaries relied heavily on the use of ghosts and ghost stories to convince the populace.[15] Hu quotes the examples of Zhiyi (538-597), the main founder of Tiantai Buddhism, who lectured at Yuquan Temple during the Sui Dynasty, and of the leaders of the Northern School of Zen Buddhism: Shenxiu (606-706), the founder of the School, and his successor Puji (651-739), who besides was a fellow countryman of Guan Yu. Thanks to the influence of such great masters and to the support of government authorities, a process of canonization of Guan Yu gradually developed during the Tang Dynasty.
From the Song Dynasty on, his worship started to spread wider and wider, and Guan Gong (or better Guandi, i.e. Emperor Guan, as he was customarily called by Daoists) became an important figure of the Daoist pantheon (see later, section on Daoism). Starting from the Song dynasty, the emperors saw him as the ideal of a military man, and conferred more and more privileges on him. From then on, in China they started to build temples all over to Guan Yu. The Song emperor Zhezong (r. 1085-1100) bestowed on him the title Xianlie wang, Huizong (r. 1100-1126) the title yiyong wuan wang (King of Military Pacification) in 1102. The Song emperor Huizong first proclaimed him as zhong hui gong; then Gaozong proclaimed him zhuang lu wu an wang.
The Yuan Dynasty also honored him. The Khan attributed the success in their conquest of China to the help of Guan Gong. Therefore they conferred on him the title Xianling yiyong wuan ying ji wang. The Yuan dynasty emperor Qubilai Khan proclaimed him zhongyi shen wu ling you ren yong wei xian guan sheng da di.  
Toward the close of the Yuan Dynasty there was born the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which brought the name of Guan Yu to the apex of popularity and influenced the masses enormously. It is the most famous and popular of the classical Chinese novels. A large portion of it describes the life and heroic feats of Guan Yu. Thanks to that historical novel, Guan Yu, not much important as a historical figure, came to be described as a perfect human being, as the incarnation of courage in battle and righteousness and loyalty in friendship.
The stories and adventures narrated in the famous classical novel had been an important repertory for popular storytellers for centuries before the drafting of the novel. Even nowadays, quite a few of those stories are well-known to most Chinese since their childhood and are the source for numerous proverbs and literary allusions in Chinese speech. They have been widely used by playwrights for countless plots of Chinese operas through the centuries.[16]
With the passing of time, the good name of Guan Yu had not only overtaken that of his two sworn brothers (Liu Bei and Zhang Fei), but had grabbed the first place among all generals of history: he became the foremost general of all ages. In Dangyang, Hubei, on Guan Yu’s tomb there is inscribed this couplet:
The peerless champion of righteousness and loyalty of the Han Dynasty;
The foremost supreme hero of all times.
Under the Ming, his cult spread even wider. Hongwu, the first Ming emperor, institutionalized popular religious cults and the way of worship, including the cult of Guan Gong.[17] Hongwu’s son Zhu Di (r. 1402-1424) was most devout of Guan Gong. He had grabbed the throne from his nephew by a successful coup d’état, and claimed it was all due to a special blessing from Guan Gong.
It was under the Ming that Neo-Confucianism was exalted, and Guan Gong was a good model of scholar-warrior, in a country living in fear of a Mongol invasion. Again, it was in that age that Guan Gong, being so powerful in many ways, became the giver of rain to the land, to be invoked for that by peasants in the countryside.[18]     Guan Yu became highly venerated and worshipped, especially as Wuwang (king of martial arts and military skills), or as Wu shengren (the sage of military-martial arts), perfect pendant and with equal dignity as King Wen (Wen wang) or the Literary Sage Confucius (Wen shengren). Thousands upon thousands of temples were constructed, each bearing the title Wumiao (Warrior temple) or Wusheng miao (Warrior Sage Temple). Many temples were built at government expense, so that prescribed sacrifices could be offered on the 15th day of the second moon and on the 13th day of the fifth moon.[19]
Thanks to the promotion by various emperors, Guan Yu’s dignity rose higher and higher. He not only became a god/spirit given cult by the masses; he became also an important divinity officially honored by the state. He became the protecting god of the reigning dynasty. Because of this, Buddhists and Daoists vied with each others to make this figure their own and include him inside their doctrines, in order to increase their own prestige.
In 1614, Emperor Wan Li (Shenzong, r. 1572-1620) canonized Guan Gong as ‘Great Emperor’ (Da di), the god of war, protector of China and of all its citizens. From merely a general, Guan Yu by then had already become a king (wang), an emperor (di), yet supreme emperor (da di), a title that no other historical figure, not even an emperor had dared to advocate for himself. Wan Li added on him the title ‘Grand Emperor of Righteousness Who helps Heaven and protects the Country’ (Xie tian hu guo zhongyi di), and also the title of ‘Grand Emperor Demon-Subduer of the Three Realms’ (Sanjie fumo dadi). Then they started also to place at his side two attendants (chengxiang), the generals Lu Xiufu and Zhang Shijie (two heroes of resistance against the Mongol invasion at the end of the Song Dynasty), and then also Yue Fei as generalissimo and Wei Xigong as jialan (patron saint).
During the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Shunzhi (r. 1644-1661) increased the dose of honors bestowed on Guan Gong.[20] He conferred to Guan Yu a title of 26 characters: Zhongyi shen wuling you ren yongwe xian huguo baomin jingwei suijing yuzan xuande guansheng dadi. In 1725 the Guandi cult was brought under systematic imperial control.[21] The best endowed of the hundreds of popular Guandi temples in every county was selected as the official Guandi temple. By 1853 the Qing raised his worship in the official sacrifices to the same level as that of Confucius. He was thoroughly confucianized as a master of the classical teachings; Guandi became a heroic protector and provider, a warrior loyal above all to constituted authority and the established order.[22] Guandi’s many symbolic functions at the popular and imperial levels reinforced one another.[23]
Since fame spread far and wide that Guandi held the power of deciding life and death of people, that he could help students in passing the state examinations, that he could heal sicknesses and liberate people from calamities, that he could expel evil ghosts and protect from harmful influences, that he could punish with death whoever did some acts of rebellion, that he could check people’s thoughts, and even that he could make people rich, that he could protect businessmen in their business, in a word, that he was endowed with almighty powers, the use spread among the people that each class of people, each category of activity, persons of any age (young and adult, old people and children, men and women), give him a universal cult with the most use of Li (rituals), more widespread and more solemn than those for Confucius.
Devotion and worship to Guan Gong continued strong also during the Republican Era, down to our own days.[24]
III. Guan Gong in Confucianism
Guan Yu has remained famous for practicing the five basic Confucian virtues (ren yi li zhi xin). He was praised as benevolent (ren) for seeking indefatigably his sworn brothers for thousands of miles. He was praised as righteous (yi) for releasing Cao Cao whom he had captured. He was praised as courteous (Li) for graciously escorting and protecting his sworn brothers' wives through a long and difficult journey. He was praised as wise (zhi) for his intelligence in tactics. He was praised as loyal (xin) for going to the ceremony of swearing among the three brothers with only his sword.
According to his biography, as depicted on the walls of the Taipei temple Xingtiangong,[25] Guan Gong practiced all the eight Confucian virtues (ba de) and passed through many hard tests and temptations; therefore he can help people overcome their problems and grow in their moral lives. The eight virtues are filial piety (xiao), brotherly piety (di), loyalty (zhong), trust (xin), propriety (li), righteousness (yi), integrity (lian), and feeling of shame (chi).
1.             Filial piety. As a youth, he was filial toward parents and elders. According to their wish, he married, and had three children. Then, viewing the world in turmoil because of the Yellow Turbans rebellion, begged permission from his parents to take leave and join the forces trying to quell the rebellion.
2.             Brotherly piety. At the age of twenty-five, he swore brotherhood with Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, together with them to fight to his death for peace in the country and the welfare of the people. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei always revered Liu Bei as their elder brother and tirelessly served him to the end of their lives. This is the virtue of piety toward one’s brother.
3.          Loyalty. In the year 200 CE, when he was 41, he was captured in battle by Cao Cao. At the time he was escorting the two wives of Liu Bei. He was very considerate in taking care of them. He settled them inside closed quarters, while he camped outside. This is called keeping one’s status in life: the virtue of Li.
4.               Trust. While in the service of Cao Cao, Guan Gong made clear that he was faithful to the Han House, not to Cao Cao, and that a loyal subject was not supposed to serve two lords. Therefore, as soon as he got word of the whereabouts of Liu Bei, he left Cao Cao and, regardless of the enormous distances ahead, he took the road in search of Liu Bei. After many difficulties and heroic feats, he rejoined his two sworn brothers. Loyalty to the end.
5.               Propriety. In 210, he was ordered to conquer Changsha. During the siege, he had to battle Huang Zhong, a former old comrade. This general was made to fall by his own horse and was in dire condition half locked under his horse. Guan Gong did not take the opportunity to slay him; instead, helped him get free from his horse, and return to active dueling. A great feat of mercy.
6.               Righteousness. In 214, he smelled trouble, but faithful to his word, joined a general of the king of Wu for dinner. It was an ambush. Guan Gong, lightly armed and with few soldiers, pretended to be drunk and holding the general by his neck, managed to fend for himself and retreat to a boat, on which he escaped. This means keeping one’s word, and also a feat of courage.
7.               Integrity. At sixty, he was wounded by an arrow and rescued by his son. Back in the camp, he extracted the arrow and found that its point was poisoned, and the poison had spread to his bones. Hua Tuo, a famous doctor, came to operate and scrape off the poison, while Guan Gong, in order not to depress his soldiers, kept playing go and drinking with his associates. A feat of incredible courage.
8.               Feeling of shame. Later that year, he was surrounded by an unexpected Wu army and captured. The king of Wu many times asked for his surrender. Both he and his son preferred to die instead of surrendering, with the famous saying: “Jade can be broken to pieces, but cannot be stained; a bamboo can be destroyed by fire, but cannot be broken at its joints.” [26]
The custom of swearing friendship on the model of the three sworn brothers is still widely practiced in Chinese society.
Finally, in the Confucian religion, Guan Yu is also worshipped as a God of Literature, because he was an assiduous reader of the Confucian classics. Guandi is reckoned as one of the Five Wenchang, meaning one of the five protectors of learning.[27] The underlying concept is that, in the Confucian view of life, the human world is but an examination hall, testing each person’s morality.
IV. Guan Gong in Buddhism.
        According to Buddhist tradition,[28] in 582, at the time of the Sui Dynasty (581-618), the great Master Zhiyi, of the Tiantai School (Tripitaka), had built a temple at Dangyang Yuquan Hill (Yuquanshan), the Yuquansi, which still stands today. That is the place where Guan Yu had met death and his body had been buried. Legend tells that Guan Yu appeared, together with a host of spiritual beings, before a meditating Master Zhiyi and asked for spiritual guidance. He also requested to receive the bonze ordination. Quickly learning the Five Precepts, Guan Yu became a Buddhist, reached Enlightenment, and now devotes the rest of his Immortality to defending the Buddhist faith.
According to Buddhist tradition, already by the Tang Dynasty (as in the writings of Shenxiu, the founder of the Southern Zen School) Guan Yu became the patron saint (qielan) of the temple (sangharama) built by Master Zhiyi. From then on, every temple was competing to have Guan Yu as its patron. In Shanxi, at Wanguashan of Jiaocheng, there is a famous temple complex (Tianningsi), where at the sides of the great hall (Daxiong baodian) there is a temple dedicated to Guandi, and another to Guanyin, to indicate that the two are equal.
In Chinese Buddhism, Guan Yu is honored as a bodhisattva and protector of the Dharma. Buddhists too extol Guan Yu’s virtues, and because of his virtues they see him as a protector of the Buddhist moral law. Therefore, they call him Old Buddha Covering Heaven (Gai tian gufuo), or also Patron Saint Protector of the Law (Hufa jialan). He is called Sangharama Bodhisattva (in Chinese: Qielan Pusa). Sangharama in Sanskrit means 'community garden' (sangha, community + arama, garden) and thus 'monastery'. For Buddhists, Guan Yu is the guardian of the temple and of the garden in which it stands. His statue is usually located on the far left of the main shrine, opposite his counterpart, Skanda Bodhisattva.[29]
Beside his role as guardian of the Buddhist dharma, Guan Gong is viewed by Buddhists also as the Great God who subdues Demons of the Three Worlds (same as Daoism, see Daoism here below), and whose awe spreads far and moves Heaven. A devout Buddhist website describes him in such words: “Guan Gong, during his lifetime, had official standing under Liu Bei, had equals in martial vigor such as Zhang Fei and Zhao Yun, and had far inferior intellectual abilities than Zhuge Liang. Nevertheless, generation after generation of Chinese everywhere admired and worshiped only him. I think, this is because while he was well accommodated in Cao camp he was never moved by worldly comforts, but still held on to pure sincerity and loyalty, and as soon as he learned about the whereabouts of Liu Bei, he declined all worldly fame and wealth, and then escorted Liu's two wives through much hardship on a journey of thousand miles to look for Liu. Such pure-mindedness that transcends all worldly considerations is the main reason why he had been naturally worshiped as a deity by generation after generation of Chinese everywhere.”[30]
In Lamaism there is also a widespread presence of Guandi. In Mongolia, numerous monasteries built in the 18th century were dedicated to Lord Guan, the bodhisattva Sangharama, also known as “the lord of the magnificent beard.” The most famous Lama temple in Beijing, called the Yonghe gong, or the Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple, contains a solemn hall or temple to Guandi. In the center of this hall a huge bronze sitting statue of Guandi is worshipped.
V. Guan Gong in Daoism
In the crowded Daoist pantheon, Emperor Guan is given a very high position. He is worshipped as a close acolyte of the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang Da Di). He is said to be the 18th generation Jade Emperor Great Heavenly Worthy[31]. They call him various titles, such as Yi han tian zun or Great Emperor Assisting Heaven (Xie tian da di) or Honorable King of Martial Peace (Wuan zun wang). Besides being honored as the saintly Emperor Guan (Guan sheng di jun, or simply Guandi), Guandi is also widely celebrated as a leading subduer of demons (Dangmo zhenjun, or also Fumo dadi).[32] They consider him a reincarnation of an ancient dragon (leishou shanzezhong zhi laolong). They created a huge variety of miracles in order to enlarge his prodigious power and influence (lingyan).
Taoist worship of Guan Yu began during the Song Dynasty. Legend has it that during the second decade of the 12th century, the saltwater lake in present day Xiezhou County gradually ceased to yield salt. Emperor Huizong (r. 1100-1126), who was quite superstitious, then summoned Celestial Master Zhang Jixian, thirtieth descendant of Celestial Master Zhang Daoling,[33] to investigate the cause. The emperor was told that the disruption was the work of Chi You, a deity of war. The Master then recruited the help of Guan Yu, who did battle with Chi You over the lake and triumphed, whereupon the lake resumed salt production. Emperor Huizong then bestowed upon Guan Yu the title of Immortal of Chongning (Chongning zhen jun), formally introducing the latter as a deity into Taoism. [34]
Today Daoist practices are predominant in Guan Yu worship. They stress his mighty power, capable to easily defeat any kind of demon and evil influence, including also all kinds of diseases. Many temples dedicated to Guan Yu, including the Emperor Guan Temple in Xiezhou County, show heavy Taoist influence.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, many Planchette Writing sessions[35] invited Emperor Guan to descend and handed down some writings popular among the people, such as the Perfect Book of Emperor Guan's Enlightenment, the Book of Emperor Guan's Manifest Holiness, and the Admonishment for the Literati.[36] During the Ming, Qing and Republican periods, Temples of Emperor Guan were built everywhere. Some large-sized Daoist and Buddhist temples also contained images or memorial tablets of Emperor Guan. The popularity of the belief in Emperor Guan can be compared with the cults of City God Temples and local earth spirit (Tudi Gong) temples. According to legend, the holy birthday of Emperor Guan is the 13th day of the 5th month or the 13th day of the 1st month of the lunar year; in certain areas it is on the twenty fourth day of the sixth month on the lunar calendar. [37] On the divine birthday of Guandi, temples of Guandi hold celebration rituals and a street parade in honor of Emperor Guan is unfailingly held.
The figure of Guan Yu has also the purpose of kindling in people’s hearts the courage to fight in war, and his cult was emphasized also for this reason. In the 19th century, the catechetical tract Tian qing daoli shu of the Taiping (Taiping tianguo) points out Guan Yu’s courage as a model: "To annihilate the millions of demons throughout the world, heroes must be par with or even superior to Guan Yu and Zhang Fei of the Han Dynasty." Also the Boxer fighters (Yiheduan) of 1900 used to wear on their bodies a statuette of Guandi as an amulet, so that it could irradiate into them the courage of Guan Laoye (Old Lord Guan).

VI.            Temples[38]
Temples to Guan Gong are quite numerous throughout China. Wherever there are Chinese people, there are temples to Guan Gong.[39] The three foremost temples in all of China are the temple at Xiezhou, his birthplace, the Guanlin Temple in Luoyang, where his head is buried, and the temple at Dangyang, the place where Guandi was slain and his body was buried.
The Xietian temple in Xiezhou, Shanxi, is the foremost temple to Guan Gong.[40] It is a huge architectural complex, built in imitation of the imperial palace, befitting his status as “emperor”. It is already 1500 years old – it was started in the ninth year of the Sui Dynasty (588 CE) – and occupies an area of 18,000 sq. m., split into northern and southern sections. It encloses gardens, pavilions, kiosks, memorial gates and arches, rockeries, among others - all surrounded by dense forests of peach trees.
Although it was repaired and partly rebuilt several times, the present temple, due to a consistent work of renovation, is still quite viable, and can show parts of about one thousand year ago. It is most famous for the ancient mural paintings. There are also plenty of sculptures, so that it can be considered one of the most striking sculptural marvels in all of China. The statue of Guan Gong is riding his horse, the celebrated Red Hare; at his side, his two attendants: his son Guan Bing and his general Zhou Cang.
The last building in the temple complex, and the tallest, is called the “Palace of Spring and Autumn.” There is a statue of Guan Yu reading at night the Spring and Autumn Annals written by Confucius. Guan Yu is sitting, slightly sideward, holding the book with his right hand, fully concentrated in reading, in front of a desk lighted by a lamp. All the buildings are built on wooden pillars. The suspended gallery surrounding the Spring and Autumn pavillion is unique in ancient China’s architecture.[41]
The Yuquan Temple in Dangyang is a very ancient architectural complex, occupying about 10,000 sq.m. The tomb itself is 8 m. high and 60 mt. round. The temple was enlarged several times along the centuries, with the addition in 1061 of a 13-story pagoda made of cast iron. The famous monk Zhiyi (538-597) lectured there. At the peak of its development, during the Song Dynasty, the temple was enclosed in a huge beautiful garden, comprised nine buildings and eighteen halls, and was house to 3700 monks.
The Guanlin Temple, situated near Luoyang (eight kms. south of the city), is where Cao Cao, out of respect for the character of Guan Gong, had his head solemnly buried. It is one of the main tourist attractions of Luoyang. The name of the temple means Forest of Guan, due to the fact that the temple complex is surrounded by a forest of roughly one thousand ancient pine and cypress trees. The temple buildings are imposing and house countless statues, among them a guilt statue, 8 mt. high, of a sitting Guan Gong crowned like an emperor. The alley leading to the temple entrance is lined with 170 stone lions.
Guandi’s temples – there are so many of them in China[42] - appear with a variety of different names. We may distinguish two groups of temples: those dedicated exclusively to Guan Yu and those where Guan Yu is venerated together with other figures. Most of those exclusively dedicated to Guan Yu bear the following names:
1) Guandi Miao, Guan Sheng Miao, Guan Wang Miao, Guan Sheng Di Jun, Laoye Miao. This last name is quite common among the common people, especially in the countryside, where Guandi is affably called Guan Laoye (grandpa Guan), an appellation that expresses at the same time veneration and familiarity.[43]
2) Fumo Miao, Fumo An. These names come from the honorific appellation Sanjie fumo dadi (great emperor chasing evil spirits in the three worlds) conferred by Emperor Shenzong (Ming Dynasty). In the time of Qianlong in Beijing there were twenty-five Fumo miao (o Fumo An). These form a group to be considered as Daoist temples to Guandi, the powerful spirit able to chase and subdue all kinds of evil spirits.
VII.         Iconography
A divine figure worshipped for so many centuries in such a wide territory has expectedly gone through a variety of iconographic developments. We are still awaiting a reliable and exhaustive research on this aspect of the Guan Gong cult. The five-volume work by Hu Xiaowei deals with this issue from a historical point of view, examining the iconographical developments of Guan Gong in certain historical periods.[44] This can undoubtedly become a quite interesting subject of anthropological or religious research. Hereby, I will limit myself to describe some general characteristics.
The novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, adding some color to the portrait presented in historical sources, describes the figure of Guan Yu as a man of "imposing looks and martial stature, long beard and mighty sword." This because in the popular legends he was nine feet tall, had a majestic aspect, and his horse (named Red Hare) was able to run at high speed for a thousand li (Chinese miles).
The iconography, along the centuries, has reflected his imposing figure. Most often, his statues represent him standing, a tall and imposing military commander, with a long beard and a spear (a spear or halberd) in his hand. According to folklore, Guan Yu's weapon was a particular kind of spear with a fat crescent shape - now known as guandao (the knife of Guan Yu) – called by the name Green Dragon Crescent Blade, which resembled a halberd and was said to weigh 82 jin (41 kilograms).[45]    Relatively few instances have him majestically sitting on a throne, always with his huge beard and awful spear. In all instances, he presents himself with a dark red face (rarely with a black face), phoenix eyes, flying eyebrows, very long beard, imposing and awe-inspiring presence. Always holding a fearful halberd in his hand, his appearance is awe-inspiring. In art, Guandi usually wears a green robe and has a reddish face, even though one may see some variations in his dress. Sometimes he wears a warrior uniform; sometimes he wears leisure dress and blue gown; sometimes a colorful court attire.
A sitting Guandi is called Wu Guandi (martial Guandi). Almost always he is accompanied by two warriors at his side, one with a spear is his attendant general Zhou Cang, the other with a stamp chop is his adoptive son Guan Ping.
A standing Guandi is called Wen Guandi (literate Guandi). He usually holds a book in his hand. It refers to the saying "Guandi by night studied the Spring and Autumn Annals." Therefore, such an icon would mean love for studying.[46]
VIII. The polyvalent Cult to Guan Gong
Since the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and thanks also to government sponsorship, Guan Gong came to be seen as the patron saint (for some of them even as the founder) of 22 trades, including bean curd makers and sellers, swordsmen, army men, fortune-telling, pawning and finance, etc. But most important of all, Guan Gong never lost his aura of Confucian worthy, the par with Confucius. As already mentioned, one has to recall especially the Confucius author of Spring and Autumn Annals (Qunqiu), a book insisting on the moral responsibility of humans for their acts and words. In the figure of Guan Gong, the halo of moral duty instilled by Confucius becomes action. It becomes Heaven’s judgment and punishment of evil deeds manifested through the wrath of Lord Guan.
People worship Guandi (i.e. Emperor Guan) not merely as a law-protecting heavenly deity, but also as god of war, god of wealth and god of righteousness. They pray to Emperor Guan for many reasons, such as success in imperial examinations, promotion in official ranks, and elimination of disasters, curing diseases, exorcising evil, punishing treachery, and inspecting hell, blessing merchants, enlarging the exchequer and judging doubtful cases.[47] Traditionally, secret societies even made the loyalty and righteousness of Emperor Guan their spiritual bond. For reasons varying from joining the society to becoming sworn brothers, they held all kinds of rituals in front of him, such as burning incense, prostrations and kowtowing, and smearing the blood of sacrifice on mouths when swearing oaths.
In Hong Kong, Guan Gong is present in people's houses, in offices and shops, in restaurants large and small, in hospitals, even in newspaper publishing houses. For his bravery, and because he died defending legal issues, he also became the patron God of Police Officers. In Hong Kong, a shrine for Guan Yu is located in each police station.[48] Though by no means mandatory, most Chinese policemen worship and pay respect to him. Also throughout China and Vietnam, you may easily see pictures of Guan Gong inside police stations. Though by no means mandatory, most Chinese policemen worship and pay respect to him.
Seemingly ironic, in Hong Kong members of the Triad gangs and the Hung clan worship Guan Yu as well. This exemplifies the Chinese belief that a code of honor, epitomized by Guan Yu, exists even in the underworld.[49]
Guan Yu is also worshipped by Chinese businessmen in Shanxi Province, but also elsewhere, in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia as an alternative God of Wealth, since he is perceived to bless the upright and protect them from the crooked.[50]
In Taiwan, the cult of wu sheng guan gong (martial saint Guan Gong) spread since the early times. In Confucian circles he has been worshipped as wen heng sheng di, or also as shanxi fuzi (i.e. the Confucius of Shanxi). There is the saying: "In Shandong there was a man who wrote the Spring and Autumn Annals; in Shanxi there was a man who read the Spring and Autumn Annals." He has been viewed as a par to Confucius, Confucius being the literate saint (wen sheng), Guan Gong the military saint (wu sheng). But the devotion to him exceeded the boundaries of the three religions (Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism).
Historically, the first temples to Guan Gong in Taiwan are in the Tainan area and belong to the late Ming Dynasty, to the time of Coxinga (Zheng Chenggong 1624-1662). By then, for the incoming Chinese settlers, Taiwan was still an unexplored and savage country. Both the political authorities and the population relied on the fear-inspiring aura of the warrior Guan Gong to help them pacify the savage land. Later, with the development of the place, there sprang up temples to Guan Gong everywhere. Presently, in the whole Taiwan area there are 193 Guan Gong temples, the majority of them in the areas of Yilan, Tainan, and Miaoli.
        In Taiwan, the Guandi temple that draws the biggest crowds of worshippers is the Xingtian gong, built in 1968 in downtown Taipei. The temple, as most Chinese temples, is neither Buddhist, nor Daoist. [51] It is a typical temple of the popular religion, where the temple program is spelled mainly in Buddhist terms (to help souls to transmigrate: pudu), temple rituals are mainly Daoist, and the openly declared ethical ideals espoused by the temple directors are purely Confucian.
The temple is served by a large group of old ladies in blue dress (not nuns, just volunteers), who assist visitors by handing out incense sticks and other objects, and dispensing various kinds of blessings. When inactive, they just kneel or sit in a large hall in prayer over their sutras. The temple’s policy is to avoid supporting any superstition, and to be less commercialized as possible. The visiting crowds, however, bring in huge amounts of money, which allows the temple management to be extremely active not only in the religious field, but also in the educational, medical, cultural, philanthropic, and recreational field.[52]
The tallest statue of Guan Gong in Taiwan is said to be the one in Xinzhu, eight meters high, of a sitting Guan Gong reading the Spring and Autumn Annals.
In the seventeenth century, Guandi’s cult spread to Korea, where it was believed he saved the country from invasion by the Japanese strongman Toyotomi Hideyoshi (During the Seven year war of Korea). Guan Gong is known also in Japan, where he is called Kanu (his temples are called Kanteibyo),[53] and in Vietnam, where he is also part to the pantheon of the Cao Dai religion.[54]
IX. A Brief Conclusion
        Guan Yu is an interesting character from Chinese ancient history. He played an important role as a military commander in the period of the Three Kingdoms. Then he became a folk hero, yet a symbol of the basic virtues of a Confucian personality, including concern for the common good, loyalty to the country, to superiors and friends, and devotion to study of the Classics. Later, Guan Yu became also a protagonist in the best known classic novel in Chinese literature, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
At the same time, with the passing of centuries, he gradually became an important religious personality – you may call him deity, or saint, or hero, or sage, or bodhisattva – spanning the whole spectrum of Chinese religious life. Model of virtue in Confucianism, eventually he became also a bodhisattva in Buddhism, and a primary divinity in Daoism. His importance is not easily exaggerated, since his cult embraces Confucianism (epitome of righteousness and loyalty, assiduous study of the Classics), Daoism (saintly character, powerful subduer of demons), and Buddhism (one of the primary bodhisattvas, in charge of protecting the Buddhist law and Buddhist monasteries).
He further occupies an important place in popular religion as an alternative god of wealth and protector of businessmen, of militaries and policemen, and as a powerful healer in the case of illness. In popular religion today, Guan Gong is viewed as always ready to intervene against anyone causing trouble to the people, be it foreign enemies, local rebels, sorcerers or evil spirits of any kind, even dangerous animals. No demon can resist the power of Guan Gong. Any evil spell is broken as soon as his name is pronounced.
As a conclusion, we may revisit a frequently asked question: is Guan Gong Buddhist, Daoist, or Confucian? Daoists and Buddhists alike claim Guan Gong as their own. Each side has strong arguments in its favor. Considering the historical figure, Guan Gong’s priority of belonging should be to Confucianism. Guan Gong’s cult is to be considered Confucian in another and deeper sense. The whole purpose of the existence of this figure (rescuing people, straightening up wrongs, materialization of that righteousness and mutual trust which are the basic fabrics of social and economic life) is to be found in the Confucian book Spring and Autumn Annals. The message of the book has been clearly identified for thousands of years with the ethical orientation of Confucius’ whole ideology, with all the theological or philosophical assumptions implied in it. In short: there exists a difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and Heaven is the ultimate judge about it. In this deep sense, the figure of Guan Gong becomes a proof for the validity of the equation: Chinese popular religion is the materialization (the religious version) of the ideology or ethical philosophy commonly known as Confucianism, same as Western popular cults (cult of Mary, saints, processions, prayers, sanctuaries, exorcisms, etc.) are the materialization (the religious version) of Biblical doctrines and Catholic theology.
On the other hand, Confucius was not so explicit on heaven’s intervention in human affairs. Neither did he stress the action of ghosts as executors of Heaven’s sanctions. There is where, for the masses of people, the contribution of Buddhism and Daoism comes handy. Therefore, in the end perhaps it is still better to conclude that the cult of Guan Gong or Guandi belongs to all three, and to none of them: he is a main figure of popular Chinese religion. Numerous other figures in popular Chinese religion show hybrid components in their cult. None of them belongs so clearly to all three.
Last but not least, even though his most common portrait presents him in the garb of an ancient warrior and holding a weapon, and the last two dynasties (Ming and Qing) promoted his cult as a model of courageous military defender of the country, it is wrong to refer to him, as sometimes Western publications do, as to the God of War, the Chinese correspondent of Mars of Western mythology. This is an obvious misunderstanding, due to the fact that he was a famous general, and his images are those of a warrior. Indeed, Guan Gong is no Mars. Neither is he considered among the Chinese as the helper of whoever goes to war to fight against other people. His role as a powerful spirit (always acting on behalf of heaven) is not to help those who are fighting in war. His unique role is to avenge evil deeds, to help the wronged, to fight for righteousness and loyalty, and to protect the people from evil persons, evil spirits, and diseases.

·  Barend, ter Haar, "The Rise of the  Guan Yu  Cult: The Daoist Connection" , in: Jan A.M. DeMeyer en Peter M. Engelfriet eds., Linked Faiths: Essays on Chinese Religions and Traditional Culture in Honour of Kristofer Schipper (Leiden: Brill, 1999) 183-204
·  Chen, Shou, Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms, Transl. by Achilles Fang, 2 vols., Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1962 and 1965.
·  Dong Fangyuan, Taiwan ren de shenming (Taiwaneses’ Deities), Taipei, Avanguard Publishing House, 2008.
·  Duara, Prasenjit,Superscribing Symbols: The Myth of Guandi, Chinese God of War,Journal of Asian Studies, 1988.
·  Hsia, T. C., The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction, New York, Columbia University Press, 1968).
·  Hu xiaowei, Guan gong xinyang yanjiu xilie, 5 volumes, Hong Kong, Forward Book Co., 2005.
·  J. K. Fairbanks, Merle Goldman, China, A New History, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2006.
·  Legge, James, The Ch’un Ts’ew (Spring and Autumn), in The Chinese Classics, Vol. V, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1895, reprinted by Culture Books Co., Taipei, 1992.
·  Li Huiyun, ‘Xianggang jingcha de Guandi chongpai’, in Taiwan zongjiao yanjiu tongxun, 2003, 5: 223-236. 
·  Lo Kuan-Chung, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Transl. by C. H. Brewitt Taylor, 2v. Shanghai, 1925, Reprint with an introduction by Roy Andrew Miller, Rutland, 1959.
·  Lo, Yuet Keung, “Pei Songzhi”, in A Global Encyclopedia of Historical Writing, edited by D. R. Woolf (Garland reference Library, 1998), p. 701.
·  Pregadio, Fabrizio, ed., The Encyclopedia of Taoism, London, Routledge, 2008.
·  Wang, Zhiyu, Taiwan de enshugong xinyang, Taibei, Wenjin chubanshe, 1997.
·  Website of Sept. 12, 2006.
·  Website April 23, 2007.
· Feb. 2, 2011).  

[1] An accurate figure is hard to reach. Wikipedia (“Chinese Folk Religion”) reports the figure “more than 30% of the population.” A Chinese scholar friend of mine suggested the figure of 90%. 
[2] At least in a “Confucian” world-view.
[3] Here I am basically talking about the Confucian outlook; in the case of Buddhism or Daoism, the perspective might be somewhat different. For two famous temples bearing exactly these two names (the xingtiangong in Taipei and the xietianmiao in Guan Gong’s native place), see later in this article.
[4] As I have done numerous times in Taiwan.
[5] Chen Shou, formerly a scholar of the Kingdom of Shu, then a court historian of the Kingdom of Wei, wrote it in 289. This is the third work inside the official Twenty Four Histories of the Chinese dynasties, after The Records of the Historian by Sima Qian and The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Ban Gu. (The History of the Later Han Dynasty was composed by Fan Ye in 445 CE.) Chapter 36 of Chen Show’s Records is a biography of Guan Yu. Chen Show’s biography is itself rich in historical and biographical details, including Guan Yu’s “ignorance of policy, childish vanity and unbearable conceit.” (Hsia, T. C., The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction, New York, Columbia University Press, 1968) It was further complemented in antiquity by a lengthy commentary on the Records of the Three Kingdoms by Pei Songzhi (372-451).
[6] The biographical profile of Guan Gong presented here is drawn from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is a historical novel (see below, page 6). Its data are based on Chen Show’s and Pei Songzhi’ materials, as well as on legends of popular tradition. A research on what data are historically accurate and what are popular legends or embellishments from the novelist is outside the scope of this article. For some hints on this question, see, among others, Steven A. Vaughn-Lewis,”History vs. Fiction in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” in Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 193 (2009),
[7] Even today, people in this profession consider him to be their patron.
[8] Pei Songzhi's commentary to the Records of Three Kingdoms speaks of Guan Gong having altogether three sons and one daughter, and two grandchildren. Pei Songzhi further notes that, right after the death of Guan Yu, the son of Pang De, a general slain by Guan Yu, massacred the Guan clan to avenge his father.
[9] Beside this legend, there is a variety of explanations why his face is usually red. Some say that it is a show of anger toward evildoers; others say that he was born with a ruddy face. Wikipedia (“Guan Yu”) reports, without quotation, an alternative explanation for the red face: the idea of his red face could have been borrowed from opera representation, where red faces depict loyalty and righteousness.
[10] A famous battle in history, it was fought in 208 or 209 CE in a strategic place of the Yangzi River between the warlord Cao Cao, and the allied troops of Liu Bei and Sun Quan. Cao Cao was trying to reunite China under his name (Wei Dynasty). He lost the battle, and this allowed the formation and survival in the South of two political entities, the kingdoms of Wu and Shu..
[11] This monk (according to the novel) had met Guan Yu during his life, and in a very dangerous moment had saved Guan Yu’s life.
[12] In a version of the story, after being enlightened, Guan Yu sought from Pujing to learn Buddhist doctrines and after a period received the vows.
[13] See Hu xiaowei, Guan gong xinyang yanjiu xilie, vol.I, Hong Kong, Forward Book Co., 2005, Introduction. Among Western scholars, some hold that Guan Gong cult started from one place (Dangyang), some simultaneously from several places, some stress the importance of the Song Dynasty miracle (see here below, section on Daoism) for the spread of the cult. (Barend ter Haar, "The Rise of the  Guan Yu  Cult: The Daoist Connection" , in: Jan A.M. DeMeyer en Peter M. Engelfriet eds., Linked Faiths: Essays on Chinese Religions and Traditional Culture in Honour of Kristofer Schipper (Leiden: Brill, 1999) 183-204.
[14] Hu Xiaowei is the author to the largest work of research (to my knowledge) on Guan Gong: Guan Gong xinyang yanjiu xilie, Hong Kong, Forward Book Co., 2005, a work in 5 volumes.
[15] Ibidem, p. 35
[16] In the Chinese world, either China itself, or Hong Kong, Taiwan, or the Chinese diaspora, or Korea and Japan, even today stories from Guan Gong’s life are normal fare in operas, movies, and videogames.
[17] Actually, right after establishing the empire, Hongwu institutionalized the cult of numerous deities, except Guan Gong. It was only on the twenty-seventh year of his reign that he suddenly became an active worshipper of Guan Gong. This fact gave rise to certain legends, in particular that of the dream of Hongwu. One night, Guan Gong appeared to Hongwu in a dream, complaining why the emperor had not established temples and sacrifices for him. Hongwu replied: “You did not deserve them! For what accomplishments should I have establish them for you?” Guan Gong replied: “At the Battle of Poyang, it was me who arranged for a hundred thousand spirits to fight on your side. How can you say that I did nothing for you?” The following morning, Hongwu ordered to build a temple to Guan Gong. (See Hu Xiaowei, op. cit., vol. IV, p. 53).
[18] Hu Xiaowei, op. cit., vol. IV, p. 10.
[19] One historical curiosity: It was customary, during the Ming Dynasty, to house the sword of the public executioner in Guandi’s temple. After a criminal was put to death, the magistrate in charge of executions worshipped in the temple, certain that the spirit of the dead man would neither dare to enter the temple nor to follow the magistrate home.
[20] The Manchu people were devout worshippers of Guan Gong even before their conquest of the territory of China. Yet, they held the belief that Guan Gong had helped them in the conquest.
[21] Hu Xiaowei points out how Guan Gong worship during the Ming and Qing Dynasties was strong, but with a difference: during the Ming it had Daoist overtones; during the Qing it rather had Buddhist, yet Lamaist overtones. In both cases it was a family devotion, even when practiced on a grand scale. Starting from Yongzheng (r. 1722-1735), the worship became official; it was included in the routine worship of the Confucian bureaucracy. (Hu Xiaowei, op.cit., vol. IV, p. 466)
[22] Prasenjit Duara, quoted in J. K. Fairbanks, Merle Goldman, China, A New History, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2006, pp. 156-157.
[23] Ibidem.
[24] At least in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. In China, during the Mao Era, manifestations of  popular religion were harshly repressed, but have gradually been revived.
[25] Website of Sept. 12, 2006.
[26] Ibidem.
[27] Together with: the God of literature (Wenchang dijun), Lu Dongbin, Kuixing, and Zhu Xi.
[28] References about these facts go back to the Song Dynasty.
[29] A prayer of “Supplication To protector Guan Gong” I found used by a famous Buddhist master (Yutang Lin) sounds like this: Long set as the epitome of righteous loyalty for generations, The Chinese all over the world pay respect and tribute to you! Bodhisattva Qie Lan, you attend well to all calls of your duties, Propagation and continuation of Dharma depends on you! ( April 23, 2007)
[30] April 23, 2007
[31] (Yu Huang Da Tianzun Xuanling Gao Shangdi), see the Daoist scripture Dongmin baoji, or the scripture Xuan ling yu huang baojing.
[32] According to Barend ter Haar, the belief in “a demonic Guan Yu,” in a “hungry demon-general, threatening to those who do not sacrifice to him with bloody meat and helpful to those who worship him in the appropriate manner” must be very ancient; it goes back to an ancient Chinese tradition of demon-generals. (See Barend ter Haar, op. cit., p. 19).
[33] An Eastern Han Dynasty Daoist hermit, said to have lived from 34 to 156 AD, who founded the Way of the Celestial Masters sect of Daoism, which is also known as the Way of the Five Pecks of Rice.
[34] In early Ming Dynasty, the forty-second Celestial Master of Daoism Zhang Zhengchang recorded the incident in his book Lineage of the Han Celestial Masters (Hantianshi shijia), the first Taoist classic to affirm the legend. The above story of the battle between Guan Gong and Chi You is narrated in literary sources in different versions. See Hu Xiaowei, vol. I, pp. 318ff. For the historical importance of the salt industry during the Song and of the problem with the lake in Xiezhou, see the exhaustive research by Hu Xiaowei (Vol. I, pp. 315-537).
[35] A very typical Daoist religious practice, also called spirit writing.
[36] These scriptures can be found in
[37] According to historical sources, Guan Yu was actually born on the twenty second day of the sixth month of the year 160 or 162 CE.
[38] This section (Temples) and the following section (Iconography) give just some general information about the temples and the iconography of Guan Gong. For a figure who has been worshipped for so many centuries (over 15 centuries) and through such a large territorial area, both temples and iconography would require a much voluminous amount of specialized research.
[39] In China there is the saying: “While there are Confucian temples in all districts, every village has its temple of Lord Guan.” (From Guan Gong wenhua, in website Feb. 2, 2011).
[40] The temple of Guan Yu at Xiezhou is situated about 20 Km. from the city of Yuncheng. It is classified among the monuments under the protection of the state.
[41] 10 km southwest of Yuncheng there is Changping, the native village of Guan Yu. The temple there – extremely simple and relatively well preserved - was built in the 12th century on the very place where Guan Yu’s house was located.
[42] A list of the eighteenth century mentions over one hundred temples in the Beijing area alone.
[43] Certain ancient and famous temples gave the name to the street where they are situated. There are numerous instances of this fact in Beijing, such as Guandi Miao Jie (now officially called Chongwai nanyang shikou jie), or Guandi Sheng Jing Hutong (now officially named Chong Wai Xue jiawan hutong), Guan Wang Miao Xiang (now officially named Guang wai bin he xiang), Guan Wang Miao Jie (now officially named Xiting hutong), Laoye miao hutong (now called xicheng jinlao hutong), etc.
[44] See, for instance, his essay on the iconography of Guan Gong during the Jin Dynasty: Op. cit., Vol I, pp. 99-314.
[45] A wooden replica of the guandao can be found today in the Guandi Temple in Xiezhou County, Shanxi Province.
[46] Regarding this point, there are two different opinions: according to one, it is not advisable to hang such a portrait, because Guandi used to study the Annals when he was in the most unfortunate circumstances, when he met some serious difficulty, when he was in a predicament. The other opinion is that Guandi always loved to study the Spring and Autumn Annals, no difference whether he was in trouble or in happy moments.
[47] Another reason why so many people in distress refer to him recalls a fact in Guan Yu’s life: during the Huarong Pass incident, when Cao Cao was practically in his hands, he let Cao Cao and his general pass through safely. Because of that, he was perceived to be able to give a lifeline to those in need of it.
[48] On this topic, see Li Huiyun, ‘Xianggang jingcha de Guandi chongpai’, in Taiwan zongjiao yanjiu tongxun, 2003, 5: 223-236.
[49] In Hong Kong, Guan Yu is often referred to as "Yi Gor" (Cantonese for ‘second big brother’), for he was second to Liu Bei in their legendary sworn brotherhood.
[50] And also because, according to tradition, he was good at managing business and was, among other things, the inventor of ledgers. In Hong Kong, Guan Gong is the official “God of Wealth”: his statue can be seen at the door of almost any business office, shop, restaurant, etc.
[51] As also its webpage states in clear terms.
[52] The temple runs hospitals, public libraries, etc.
[53] In today’s manga and anime version, Kan’u (the Japanese equivalent of Guan Gong) has become a scantily clad girl always fighting with the other roles of the Three Kingdoms stories. (See Wikipedia, “List of Battle Vixens Characters”).
[54] Throughout East Asia, where there are Chinese communities, of course there also are temples to Guan Gong. Even in the United States and Australia, where tens of thousands of workers were imported in the 19th century, right away temples to Guan Gong were built, including one in Mendocino, California (in wood, very humble), in 1854, and the Bendigo Joss House Temple in Victoria, Australia, built in the 1860s, during the Australian Gold Rush.

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