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Taoist Deity on Dragon , Possibly (Lei Gong)
Item No. 16615

19th Century, Taoist / Popular Religions, China
Lacquer over Wood
15.25" x 5.5" x 4"
( 38.735 x 13.97 x 10.16 cm)
(H x W x D)

It is very difficult to identify specific deities within the Taoist pantheon. This image from South China probably is one of two gods who are associated with standing on the head of a dragon/fish like mythological beast. The first deity is Lei Gong, which is described in Wikipedia as follows: "In Chinese mythology, Lei Gong (—‹Œö) (Chinese: Duke of Thunder), also called Lei Shen (Thunder Godh), is the Chinese Taoist deity who, when so ordered by heaven, punishes both earthly mortals guilty of secret crimes and evil spirits who have used their knowledge of Taoism to harm human beings. Lei Gong carries a drum and mallet to produce thunder and a chisel to punish evildoers.

Lei Gong is (sometimes)depicted as a fearsome creature with claws, bat wings, and a blue face with a bird's beak and wears only a loincloth. Temples dedicated to him are rare, but some persons do him special honor in the hope that he will take revenge on their personal enemies.

Since Lei Gong's specialty is thunder, he has assistants capable of producing other types of heavenly phenomena. Dian Mu (“d•ê) (Mother of Lightning), for example, uses flashing mirrors to send bolts of lightning across the sky. Yun Tong (Cloud Youth) whips up clouds, and Yu Zi (Rain Master) causes downpours by dipping his sword into a pot. Roaring winds rush forth from a type of goatskin bag manipulated by Feng Bo (Earl of Wind), who was later transformed into Feng Po Po (Madame Wind). She rides a tiger among the clouds.

Lei Gong began life as a mortal. He encountered a peach tree that had come from Heaven, due to the struggle between the Fox Demon and one of the Celestial Warriors, and had become evil. When Lei Gong took a bite out of one of its peaches, he was turned into a human with bird wings. He soon received a mace and a hammer that could create thunder. This is how he became the God of Thunder. Lei Gong is said to be extremely prudish, and will not enter a house where copulation is taking place. Pictures of this act are also supposed to have the same effect. He rides a chariot driven by A Xiang."

Although the figure represented here is not exactly what is described in the Wikipedia entry above, the fact that he stands on a lung (dragon)is enough to establish his connection to clouds, rain, heaven and fertility.

The lung is a very significant creature in Chinese mythology, and it also plays an important role in Chinese art from an early date through the history of Chinese art. The Chinese very early believed that the dragon lived in the watery depths in the autumn and ascended to the sky in the spring to become the rain-bringing dragon and the productive force of moisture. The dragon is so tied to water that they are often carved in wood and placed in strategic places in temples and other buildings, both inside and out, to protect the buildings from fire. As one of the creatures of the Four Directions, the dragon has hegemony over the East from where the sunrise and rains, and, therefore, fertility comes. It is a divine mythical creatures that brings abundance, prosperity and good fortune and, unlike the dragons of Western thought, they are considered beautiful, friendly and wise. As they control the rain, rivers, lakes and seas, temples and shrines have been built to honor them. The Dragon (lung) is the ultimate symbol of the forces of Mother Nature and considered by Chinese as the greatest divine force on earth. The Chinese dragon is often shown with a flaming pearl. The pearl is seen as the moon or rolling thunder, and, in Buddhism, the Dragon Pearl symbolizes enlightenment and spiritual essence.

The second possible deity is the God of Examinations, Kuixing. Characteristically this deity stands on the head of a large fish, usually a carp. According to Welsh (p. 161) there are two reasons for this individual being placed on the head of a fish. The first is associated with the expression “standing alone on the head of a turtle” which is an idiom that means that one individual alone can reach the top of the class. Welsh explains that “Traditionally, the top three scholars in the imperial examinations were presented to the emperor, and the top candidate stood on a step in the imperial courtyard that also held the statue of a mythical turtle.” The second association is the “parable of the successful carp, which fighting its way upstream eventually turns into a dragon on reaching the Dragon Gate cataract. This image or metaphor is popularly used as an analogy for the work and effort required by young scholars in reaching their academic goals.” (Welch p.161)


Wolfram Eberhard, "A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought," New York, Routledge, 1998.

Hugo Munsterberg, "Dictionary of Chinese and japanese Art," New York, Hacker Art Books, 1981.

Patricia Bjaaland Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon, VT, 2008.

C.A.S. Williams, "Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives," New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1976.

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