In Taiwan the 14th of February – one of the first days of the new year of the lunar calendar – is considered the most propitious day to worship Caishen (財神 ), the God of Wealth.
|The God of Wealth
This is one of those customs which to people like me who were raised in a Christian environment may appear extremely alienating. I could even begin to sound like one of those early Christians of the Roman Empire who inveighed against the “pagans”. No, of course I won’t inveigh against anybody. I will rather try as much as I can to immerse in the atmosphere of the religious rituals.
Thousands, if not millions of Taiwanese from North to South gathered this Thursday in temples all over the country to pray. Defying the huge crowds, people did their utmost to be among the first to welcome Caishen in the new year.
How Zhao Gongming Became The God of Wealth
|Illustrations from the Fengshen Bang
Like many Chinese deities, the God of Wealth is a semi-historical figure. The major literary source for the origin of the God of Wealth is the Fengshen Bang, (封神榜, translated as “The Investiture of the Gods”), a 16th century Chinese classical novel written during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Military strategist Jiang Ziya (姜子牙) was fighting for Wu Wang of the Zhou dynasty against the last of the Shang emperors. Zhao Gongming (赵公明), a hermit on Mount Emei, sided with the Shang sovereign. Zhao Gongming possessed supernatural powers, and he was defeated only by witchcraft. In order to kill this mighty enemy, Jiang Ziya made a straw image of Zhao, wrote his name on it, burned incense and worshipped it for twenty days. On the twenty-first day he shot arrows into the image’s eyes and heart. Zhao Gongming immediately felt great pain, passed out and died.
Later on Jiang Ziya convinced Yuanshi Tianzun, one of the major Daoist deities, to release from the underworld the spirits of the heroes who had died in battle. Yuanshi Tianzun praised Zhao Gongming’s bravery, expressed regret over the circumstances of his death, and appointed him President of the Ministry of Riches and Prosperity.
Until today, the God of wealth is worshipped in the whole Chinese-speaking world, and is one of the most popular deities during the first days of Chinese New Year, when people pray to secure prosperity and success for the next 12 months. (note 1, 2, 3, and 4: E.T.C. Werner: Myths & Legends of China, p. 251)
Praying To Caishen
As you may imagine, the celebrations are all about money. Temples such as Xiahai Chenghuang Temple gave people red envelopes (紅包).
In New Taipei City, more than 10,000 worshippers used shuttle buses to reach the Jinshan Caishen Temple (金山財神廟). Inside the temple there were bags with money and bankbooks. People signed with their identity card and then prayed. After the prayer, they “擲筊”. This Chinese word describes the throwing of two half-moon-shaped wooden pieces, one side of which is flat while the other one is round. If they fell on the same side for three times, the worshippers could go to the registration desk and get 300 Taiwan dollars.
Similar rituals were carried out in the thousands of different temples of both Taiwan and mainland China.
Below is a short video to show how this all works.And you will also see various 辣妹 (lamei=hot girls) dancing inside the temple. Well, this is also cultural difference. I bet you’ve never seen anything like this in a church, have you?