Caishen, the "God of Wealth"

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on Sep 18, 2017.)

A statue of Caishen, the God of Wealth,
at the Tianhou Temple in Chiwan, Shenzhen

From time to time, one sees images of one of the more popular gods in today's China: Caishen is the "God of Wealth." I first encountered him at the very first temple I found on my own, the Tianhou Temple in Chiwan, Shenzhen.

Usually seen holding a gold ingot properly called a tael (but informally called a "shoe"), he may take many forms, as "Caishen" is a generic term covering a variety of figures. His image is most popular at New Year, when people invoke his help to ensure prosperity for the coming year. The "prosperity" function means he is often confused with the generous Mi'le Fo--the "Laughing Buddha"--among others.

As Zhao Gongming, an accomplished Daoist immortal, the Wealth God may be seen riding a black tiger and carrying a golden rod. (He could also have an iron rod that can turn iron into gold, a symbol of his power to create wealth.) This Zhao was a powerful man, who could control weather (affecting crops, a source of wealth), exterminate plagues and subdue evil spirits (both of which threaten wealth), and command a military force which would enforce his decrees.

Some people celebrate the fifth day of the first lunar month as his birthday. They offer him various foodstuffs--fish, meat, dumplings, and fruit--as well as light incense and fire crackers. Some believe he is a Muslim, though, so meat offering must not include pork. This may be a vestigial memory of the return of Admiral Zheng He's treasure ships during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yong Le.

One source I read says that a new temple has been built to Caishen in Xi'an just in the last decade or so.

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