Hua Guang, Opera Patron

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on July 18, 2016.)

Hua Guang in his temple in Nanshan District, Shenzhen

Like the "Four Heavenly Kings" of Buddhism, Daoist temples have their own protectors, the "Four Marshals." One of these is Ma Tianjun. He is known by many names, but in "Canton" (Guangdong) the most popular is Hua Guang. (The other three Marshals are Wang Shan, Zhao Gongming, and Wen Qiong.)

Hua Guang is widely known as a protector of opera, both in Hainan and Guangdong. The story of how he came to be their patron goes like this.

Yu Di, Lord of Heaven, once sent Hua Guang down to earth, and told him to set the planet on fire. When Hua Guang arrived, he happened upon an opera performance and was enchanted by the music. Stirred to compassion, he decided to spare the singers' lives, and consequently those of the others on earth.

But heavenly favors come with a price: he charged the performers to thenceforth keep all of their performances brightly lit (perhaps to make Yu Di think they were burning?) To this day, opera venues are brightly lit, and Hua Guang is venerated by opera performers. Not only is he found in small backstage portable altars, but he may even have his own temples, like the one in Shenzhen's Nanshan District.

Hua Guang is also known as a protector against fire (naturally) and demons, as well as the patron of goldsmiths, silversmiths, scaffolding workers, and makers and sellers of incense and paper grave goods. He can be recognized by the golden pyramid in his hand, and the "third eye" in his forehead (though this is a feature shared with another martial-looking figure, Erlang).

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