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Religions in China - Hufa sisheng 護法四聖, the Four Saints Protecting the Standards


The Hufa sisheng 護法四聖 "The Four Saints Protecting the Standards" are four deities in Daoist belief offering help to the emperor and the common people. They are thus very popular and statues of them are seen in many temples. Their number of four, connected with their protective tasks, might have been influenced by the Buddhist protective Lokapāla deities, the four Great Kings of the cardinal directions (Dṛtarāṣṭra of the East, Virūḍhaka of the South, Virūpākṣa of the West, and Vaiśravaṇa of the North). Several sources give different names for them, but there is a standard of who they are listed in the book Daofa huiyuan 道法會元. All of them are marshals (yuanshuai 元帥) riding in "fire chariots of their numinous offices" (huoche lingguan 火車靈官) and protect Daoist believers with their weapons and attributes. From the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) on they were given names, partially that of historical persons.
One set of the four protectors is the following: The first is the Tianlian yuzhen shouyuan zhenjun 天蓮玉真壽元真君 "Perfect Lord of the origin of longevity of the jade perfection of the celestial lotus". His attribute is a treasure seal (baoyin 寳印) with which he marks the believers. The second is the Tianyou renzhi lingfu zhenjun 天猷仁執靈福真君 "Perfect Lord holding the numinous luck of the Heavenly-schemed kindness" with a sword (zhangjian 仗劍) as his attribute. The third bears the religious title of Yisheng baode chuqing zhenjun 翊聖保德儲慶真君 "Perfect Lord assisting saint protecting virtue and saving felicity". His attribute is a halberd (ji 戟). The last is called Yousheng zhenwu lingying zhenjun 佑聖真武靈應真君 "Perfect Lord of the numinous sympathy, perfect warrior assisting the saints" or Xuantian zhenwu 玄天真武 "Perfect Warrior of the Mysterious Heaven". His attributes are water and fire.
Much more common and popular are the four (five) marshals Ma Lingyao 馬靈耀, Wang Shan 王善, Zhao Gongming 趙公明, Wen Qiong 溫瓊, and later on Guan Yu 關羽:

The first marshal is Ma Lingyao 馬靈耀. He is also called Ma Huaguang 馬華光, Ma Lingguan 馬靈官 "Numinous official Ma", Ma Tianjun "Heavenly Lord Ma" 馬天君, Ma Wangye 馬王爺 "Old King Ma", or similar names. Because he disposes of three eyes, he is also called Sanyan Lingguang 三眼靈光 "Numinous rays of the Three Eyes" or Sanyan Lingyao 三眼靈耀 "Numinous brightness of the Three Eyes. In order to save his "golden" mother, Mashi Jinmu 馬氏金母, he made an enormous uproar in Heaven and Hell, as the traditional stories go which are recorded in the Siyouji 四遊記 "Journeys into the four cardinal directions". He had been the head of the four marshals but gradually lost his place in favour to Marshal Wang. His nom de guerre is Huaguang huoche Ma lingguan 華光火車馬靈官 "Numinous official Ma with the fire chariot of the flowering brightness" (short: Huaguang tianwang 華光天王 "Heavenly king of flowering brightness" or Huaguang dadi 華光大帝 "Great emperor of flowering brightness").

Marshal Wang Shan 王善 or "Numinous official" Wang lived during the reign of Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-1125) from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) and became an adept of Perfect Man Sa Shoujian 薩守堅. A very different story told in the Liexian quanzhuan 列仙全傳 speaks of Perfect Sa's visit in the city temple (huangcheng miao 城隍廟 of of Xiangyin 湘陰. The magistrate of the town expelled Sa from the temple after the god had complained to the magistrate in a dream. Perfect Sa, with the use of magic power, burnt down the temple. The story of the burnt temple of the city god is also told in the book Sanjiao soushen daquan 三教搜神大全, but in this story the temple is the place were young boys and girls had to offer to the deities. Many years later a god appeared before Perfect Sa, namely Numinous official Wang. He told the Perfect that he was nobody else than the city god who was awaiting revenge for the Daoist's burning down the temple. Numinous official Wang had become a general of the Jade Emperor 玉皇. Seeing that Perfect Sa was not a mean person he, the god, decided to become his disciple. In reality Wang Shan might have been a Daoist of the Song period and a disciple of Perfect Sa and Lin Lingsu 林靈素. During the Yongle reign 永樂 (1403-1424) of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) a Daoist master named Zhou Side 周思得 came to the capital where he made apparent the power of Marshal Wang. The emperor thereupon had built a temple for him, equipped with 26 statues of Heavenly generals (tianjiang 天將) who stood under the command of Marshal Wang. The Temple of the Heavenly General 天將廟 was later renamed into Huode Monastery 火德觀, then Xianling Monastery 顯靈宮 and dedicated to the veneration of Perfect Sa, who was called there Chong'en zhenren 崇恩真人 "Perfect of the noble benevolence", while Wang was called Long'en zhenren 隆恩真人 "Perfect of the eminent benevolence" and bore the title of Yushu huofu tianjiang 玉樞火符天將 "Heavenly general of the fire token of the jade pivot". His nom de guerre is Xiantian dajiang huoche Wang lingguan 先天大將火車王靈官 "Numinous official Wang, great general of the Primordial Heaven, with the fire chariot". Marshal Wang was officially venerated by the government during the festival days. In many Daoist monasteries a statue of Marshal Wang is erected at the front gate (shanmen 山門), with red face and breast and a full beard, a third eye is placed on his front, he wears a metal helmet and uses a shield, an iron club in his hand, all in all a very fierce apperance which repells all evil beings. The Buddhist counterpart of Wang Lingguan is Weita 韋馱 (Hufa Weita zuntian Pusa 護法韋馱尊天菩薩, in Sanskrit called Skanda). In Daoist monasteries the statue of him is placed behind the door of the Shanmen halls 山門殿, which are therefore also called Lingguan Hall 靈官殿. Statues of him can be seen in the Baiyun Monastery 白雲觀 in Beijing, the Niangniang Hall 娘娘宮 in Tianjin 天津, the Changchun Monastery 長春觀 in Wuhan 武漢, the Xuanmiao Monastery 玄妙觀 in Suzhou 蘇州, and the Yuanhe Monastery 元和觀 on Mt. Wudang 武當山.

Marshal Zhao Gongming 趙公明 obtained the second rank among the four protectors or marshals after the ascendancy of Marshal Wang as the first of the four. Stories about Zhao Gongming appear already at a very early date. In the book Soushenji 搜神記 he funcions as a general saving mankind from ogres. He is also mentioned in Tao Hongjing's Zhengao 真誥 from the Southern dynasties period 南朝 (420~589) as one of five martial and powerful deities associated with a cardinal direction. From the Tang period 唐 (618-907) on he was venerated as a spirit in Heaven in his celestial apperance but concurrently as the saviour-god from pestilence (Wenshen 瘟神) in his terrestrial form. Statues of him wear a white robe and hold a cooling fan. Emperor Wen 隋文帝 (r. 581-604) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) bestowed to him the title of Ganying jiangjun 感應將軍 "General of sympathy". Only from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) on Zhao Gongming became one of the four marshals. From that time on stories about the life of Zhao Gongming flourished. He is said to have lived during the Qin period 秦 (221-206 BC) when he withdrew to the mountains to cultivate the Dao 道 where he was made a Heavenly vice-general by the Jade Emperor. As such he is said to be a bodily transformation into a warrior of wild appearance, riding on a black tiger. He controls the qi 氣 energy of the northern regions, distributes the Heavenly edicts at the gate of Heaven, taxes the three realms (sanjie 三界, Heaven, earth and man) and supervises the nine provinces on earth. He is the protector of Heavenly Master Zhang's 張天師 elixir furnaces, a function which brought him the title of Zhengyi xuantan yuanshuai 正一玄壇元帥 "Marshal of the mysterious altar of the Orthodox Unity" (short: Zhao xuantan 趙玄壇 "Zhao of the Mysterious Altar"). His subordinates are eight fierce generals (bamengjiang 八猛將), six poisonous deities (liudu dashen 六毒大神), the thunder gods (leishen 雷神) of the five directions, and 28 commanders. He is able to ride the flashes, assembles clouds and convokes the winds, repells evils and heals from pestilence. He is surveying trials and is responsible for peaceful business. Two of his epithets are Sanjie da dudu 三界大都督 "Great protector of the three realms", and Ershiba xie (sic!) duzongguan 二十八宿督總管 "Supervisor of the 28 constellations".

Marshal Wen Qiong 溫瓊 (courtesy name Yongqing 永清) is said to be born in Wenzhou 溫州, Zhejiang, as a son of elderly parents. He passed the state examinations, but not in a good rank and therefore gave up the pursuit of an official career in order to become a saint on Mt. Taishan 泰山 as which he would be able to save the world from evil. When he died he was posthumously given the title of Yiling zhaowu jiangjun zhengyou hou 翊靈昭武將軍正佑侯 "Correctly assisting Marquis, supporting numinous bright warrior general" and given the title of Zhengfu xianying weilie zhongjing wang 正福顯應威烈忠靖王 "Loyal and peaceful king wielding authority of correct happiness and visible sympathy". His appearance is described as follows: Red hair and blue face, a jade ring in the left and an iron strip in the right, traveling while seated, heroic and martial. The Jade Emperor granted him the title of Yuanjin dashen 元金大神 "Great deity of the primary gold" and gave him a golden tablet with the inscription Wu ju xiao han 無拘霄漢 "Unrestrained Empyrean Hero" that allows him to enter Heaven freely. His duty is to inspect the Five Sacred Mountais in order to help the people and expel away evil spirits. He is, of course, also one of the protective deities of Mt. Taishan, namely Wen Taibao 溫太保 "Grand protector Wen".
The last of the four marshals is the famous Guan Yu 關羽 who is called with his Heavenly title of Guansheng dijun 關聖帝君 "Holy Lord Emperor Guan" (short: Guandi 關帝) or otherwise with his popular name Guan Gong 関公 "Duke Guan".
The origin of these deities might go back to different stars. The Lianxing 蓮星, visible in the southwest, was interpreted as a celestial deity guiding the rulers and punishing obstreperous subjects. Its appearance promised peace and tranquility in the empire. In a religious sence the Tianlian marshal is able to repell ghost and ogres.
Except the four marshals Ma/Wang, Zhao, Wen and Guan there are also a lot of other deities referred to as "Saints protecting the standards", like the generals protecting the Heavenly gate (tianmen 天門), with the surnames Tang 唐, Ge 葛 and Zhou 周, or the Four Saints of the Numinous Sky Hall (Lingxiaodian sisheng 靈霄殿四聖), some stars of the Great Dipper (douben zhenggang 斗部正罡, i. e. the Ursa Maior), or the earth devils (disha 地煞).

Sources: Li Yangzheng 李養正 (ed. 1993), Daojiao shouce 道教手冊 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), pp. 155-157. ● Qing Xitai 卿希泰 (ed. 1994), Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教 (Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe), Vol. 3, pp. NNN. ● Ma Shutian 馬書田 (ed. 1995), Zhongguo daojiao zhushen 中國道教諸神 (Beijing : Tuanjie chubanshe), p. 318-321, 325-329.

August 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail