Pair of Taoist House Deities
Item No. 16850
19th - 20th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
8" x 3.5" x 2"
( 20.32 x 8.89 x 5.08 cm)
(H x W x D)
These small carved wood figures are house deities, sacred beings who are believed to protect and bring blessings of “fu” into the home setting. Fu broadly means happiness, luck, good fortune or blessing, and signifies the bestowal and receipt of divine favors. Chinese families make concerted efforts to attract fu to their homes such as placing furniture in certain locations, using certain colors (red attracts the most fu) and having a family altar upon which different types of major deities, house deities and ancestor figures were placed and revered. There, family members would propitiate them with offerings of food, flowers, incense, candles and other treasures on special holidays and important family occasions to bring the family, including the deceased, blessings of fu. Most homes had a family altar which “is usually an elongated high narrow table called a shenlong anzhuo that faces the entryway” and which was accompanied by a lower square table. On the longer table “ancestral tablets, images of gods and goddesses, and ritual paraphernalia are all arranged in a prescribed order. Ancestral tablets are usually placed on stage right of the tall table, and the gods on stage left. (Knapp p. 22).
It is difficult to identify individual Chinese house deities, especially since there is not much in the literature about them in English. Additionally, in the past centuries China’s four religious traditions, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and popular religions, have blended so thoroughly that it is difficult to extract one religion and its artistic traditions from the other. While “each of these has its own particular characteristics, the cross-fertilization of beliefs and practices between all four has been prolific, resulting, almost, in a fifth genre---Chinese religion. Thus, it is often difficult to extract Taoist from Confucian, Buddhist and popular beliefs and practices” (Fowler, p.5), let alone identify particular deities.
Based on their poses and attributes, we assume they are a pair of Taoist deities, possibly the God and Goddess of wealth. They are mirror images of each other are, seated on a backless chair set on a high undecorated pedestal. Each sits with his/her hands clasped together in front of their chests covered by a long red triangular ritual cloth with a carved slit which originally held "hu" tablets, small vertical tablets with pointed tops which were considered a mark of rank and were “routinely carried by Taoist priests or officials, and were used to call forth deities, exorcize evil forces and manipulate both deities and demons. “(Pregadio p. 411).
They are dressed in plain high collar official's robes, with undergarments with wide long sashes trailing down to the hem. He wears a fairly elaborate official’s hat of gold and black with two tassels in back, and she a rounded hat with a round scalloped band. His face has carved eyebrows meeting at the top of the slim nose, high cheek bones and slightly smiling mouth. His features are highlighted with pigmentation in the eyebrows, eyes, moustache and small goatee. Her face is fairly flat with little depth of features. Both figures have a closed bung which contains the original contents – sacred documents and messages to ancestors - placed there during an eye opening ceremony to consecrate the pieces. The pieces are in very good condition with all the gold, red and black lacquer on the faces and body in tact in the back and front of the images and some losses to the chair and pedestal. .
Jonathan Chamberlain, Chinese Gods, Selangor, Pelanduk Publications, Malaysia, 1997
Jeaneane D. Fowler, An Introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism: Pathways to Immortality, London, Sussex Academic Press, 2004
Jeaneane D. Fowler and Merv Fowler, Chinese Religions: Beliefs and Practices, London, Sussex Academic Press, 2007
David K. Jordon, Gods, Ghosts, & Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village, Third Edition, San Diego, Department of Anthropology, UCSD., 1999. (Published as a WWW document.
Ronald G. Knapp, China’s Living Houses: Folk Beliefs, Symbols, and Household Ornamentation, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1999.
Fabrizio Pregadio, The Encyclopedia of Taoism, Volume 1, New York, Routledge, 2008.
Wang Shucan, Paper Joss, Deity Worship Through Folk Prints, Beijing, New World Press, 1991
Keith Stevens, Chinese Gods: The Unseen World of Spirits and Demons, London, Collins and Brown, 1997.
Po Sung-Nien and David Johnson, Domesticated Deities and Auspicious Emblems: The Iconography of Everyday Life in Village China, Berkeley, The Chinese Popular Culture Project, Distributed by IEAS Publications, University of California, 1992.