The Three Star Gods: Fu, Lu, and Shou

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on September 21, 2015.)

Fu, Lu, and Shou (R to L) at San Yuan Gong, Guangzhou

You might see three strange-looking men on a table somewhere in a Daoist folk temple, or they may be painted on a wall. One looks like a scholar; another wears the headpiece of a high government official; and the third has an oddly bulging forehead. These are the three deities known together as "Fu Lu Shou," said to be the earthly manifestations of three "stars" (one is actually a planet) and representing aspects of a good life.

Fu Xing is luck or happiness. He appears as a scholar holding a scroll, and sometimes holding a child--another indication of luck. One legend says that during the Western Han Dynasty, he was a governor named Yang Cheng. The emperor was abducting dwarfs from their homes in Yang's province to entertain at court as slaves. Yang pleaded successfully with the emperor to end this practice, and became a hero to his people. In the sky, he's the planet Jupiter.

Lu Xing was once a poor man named Shi Fen. Attaining a minor position at court, he worked hard and advanced to a high post. Thus he represents a good income (the word "Lu" refers to a government salary) and came to represent prosperity through effort. He is one of the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).

Shou Xing is perhaps the most popular, with many legends attributed to him. He was in his mother's womb for nine (or ten) years, and was already an old man when he was born with that enormous head. The night he was conceived, his mother saw the Southern Pole Star, which determines the date of people's deaths. So he is the God of Longevity, often seen holding the Peach of Immortality, and accompanied by a deer, crane, or bat--all symbols of long life.

Occasionally, a fourth "star" may appear, a woman named "Xi." When she is there, she represents happiness, and Fu's attributes are limited to luck alone.

This image from Hong Kong's New Territories shows the three star gods as well as the
woman named "Xi." The painting is interesting because it also shows animal symbols
for each of the three (sorry, Ms Xi). "Bat" is pronounced "fu"; deer is pronounced
"lu." So each of these is a pun. "Shou" is represented by a heron, associated with
longevity. The painting was on a wall in place of a main image in a village hall.

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