You can’t travel for very long in China without seeing a picture, or statue, of one of the most revered gods. Statues of gods are a dime a dozen here, but everyone, no matter what their religion gives this man his props. Who is he and why is he so important and honored? He is the god of wealth and everyone wants him on their side.
Unlike many of the other gods, who tend to be vengeful and finicky, the god of wealth is a pretty friendly guy. He is always shown with a big smile on his face (and a big belly to match) and he is often depicted riding a black tiger or standing on a big pile of gold. He has a long flowing black beard and often wears robes of red and gold.
You don’t have to do much to keep this god happy either. Every lunar new year he comes down to earth to check up on you and see how you’re doing. People leave offering and burn incense in front of the images to honor him. They also eat special food, dumplings, which look something like gold ingots of the past. (Personally, I don’t think they look anything alike, but apparently the god does.)
The god takes off the next day, in another shower of incense and offerings and if he is happy with what he saw you can expect a fortunate year. The god doesn’t get angry, he doesn’t take away any fortune you might have if you don’t honor him enough. Rather he rewards his friends and ignores those who ignore him.
The history of the god of wealth is a little murky. In fact, there are many names associated with the god of wealth: Cai Shen, Ts’ai Shen, Zhao-Xuntan, Chao-Hsuan-T’an and Zhao-Gongming. In ancient times there was not one god of wealth but many. Some say there are still many today, including ones specializing in civil officials and military leaders, but they all work under the god of wealth who manages his godhood like a small business.
Well, whatever his name is, I have become a fan. I mean why not, right? The guy is always smiling, always friendly and we have come across so many temples of his (and yes, given him some money) that I figured we should be best buds. In Xi’an I bought one of those holographic pictures if the god of wealth standing on nests of golden eggs. He now stands watch over my desk and will hopefully shower us with riches sometime soon!
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