Pair of Taoist House Deities
Item No. 16850C
19th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Lacquer over Wood with Polychrome and Gilt
9.75" x 3.75" x 3.75"
( 24.765 x 9.525 x 9.525 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 to place Buddhist deities, house deities and ancestor figures, which family members would propitiate 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 about them in English literature. Also, 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 double tier dais decorated with red paint and gold geometric designs. Each sits with his/her hands clasped together in front of their chests which originally held "hu" tablets, which were carried by high officials and were considered as marks of rank. These small vertical tablets with pointed tops 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 deeply carved layered gold official's robes bordered in red, with undergarments crossed at the neck and tied with red long sashes. The full and deeply carved faces have arched brows, almost closed eyes under hooded lids lowered in a solemn gaze, flanked by pendulous ears and hair pulled up and under a flat official's cap. The statues are in fine condition with most of the original red, black and gold pigmentation remains.
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.