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Religions in China - Fu lu shou sanxing 福祿壽三星 The Three Stars of Wealth, Status and Longevity


The Three Stars of Wealth, Status and Longevity (fu lu shou sanxing 福祿壽三星) are three very popular deities that can be found almost in any place where Chinese communities live. The Three Stars (sanxing 三星) are also called the "Three-Star Door-Gods" (sanxing menshen 三星門神, see Door-Gods). The trinity consists of the God or "Star" of Wealth (fushen 福神, fuxing 福星), the God of Status (lushen 祿神, luxing 祿星), and the God of Longevity (shoushen 壽神, shouxing 壽星). They are either shown as a trinity in one painting or picture, or crafted as three separate figurines. The tritinty of such deities as Celestial functionaries (sanguan 三官) has its origin in the religious movement of the late Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) master Zhang Daoling 張道陵. The three heavenly ministers administrated Heaven, the Earth, and the water. It was believed that the Minister of Heaven (tianguan 天官) bestowed fortune, that of the Earth (diguan 地官) was invoked to bring amnesty from punishment, and the Minister of Water (shuiguan 水官) was believed to bring support in dangerous situations. These three deities later transformed into the "three stars".
The God of Wealth (also called fupan 福判 "Supervisor of Fortune") is venerated to bring prosperity and money. As a star he is identified with Jupiter (suixing 歲星 or muxing 木星). The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) book Sanjiao soushen daquan 三教搜神大全 says that he was a regional inspector (cishi 刺史) in the prefecture of Daozhou 道州 during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) and had the personal name Yang Gong 楊公 or Yang Cheng 楊成. He was venerated highly by the local population because he insisted to end the emperor's inclination for the small people of his prefecture that were used at the court as dwarfs for entertainment. He soon transformed into a deity that was prayed for to attract money and fortune. The God of Wealth is shown in the robes of a state official, in red colour and embroidered with dragons, and adorned with a jade chain. He holds a large ruyi scepter 如意 in his hands and wears courtly shoes. His face is bright and happy, and he has a long beard. Sometimes a mountain of gold and silver (jinyinshan 金銀山) is shown above his head, and the character for "fortune" (fu 福, often wrongly translated as "luck") is written. The God of Wealth is sometimes accompanied by a bat, because of a wordplay of the Chinese word for "prosperity" ( 福) with that for "bat" ( 蝠).
The God of Status is believed to correspond the constellation of the six stars of the Wenchang Palace 文昌宮宫, in which, according to tradition, the deity lives which regulates access to state offices. The term lu 祿 actually means "register" (same as 錄), meaning the list of state officials who were to be salaried. In this context, the word lu does not refer to the actual money a state official is given, but to the social status he has achieved. The God of Status is therefore prayed to in the hope for a prospering career. An official career is, at least in popular belief, coupled with wealth and fortune. Deities in popular religion are commonly identified with historical or semi-historical persons. The God of Status is identified with Immortal Zhang 張仙 who was probably the same person as Zhang Yuanxiao 張遠霄 who lived in Sichuan during the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960), dwelled on Mt. Qingcheng 青城 and cultivated the Dao 道. He was also called Song zi Zhang Xian 送子張仙 "Immortal Zhang presenting a baby", and figures in a theatre play. In popular art the God of Status is shown in the robes of a ministerial vice director (yuanwailang 員外郎), with a peony blossom on his head, symbolizing wealth. He commonly holds a baby in his arms or holds a small child at the hand. In some pictures the figure of the God of Status is accompanied by a deer, or the picture is inscribed with the word for deer, which is a wordplay because "deer" ( 鹿) is pronounced in the same way as "status" ( 祿).
The God of Longevity is shown as an old man, and therefore also called Shouxing lao'er 壽星老兒 "Old Guy Longevity Star, Nanji xianweng 南極仙翁 "Old Immortal of the South Pole", or Nanji laoren 南極老人 "Old Man from the Southpole". The deity is identified with the starry constellations jue 角 and kang 亢. It was believed that if this constellation was visible, the earth was in peace. Therefore offerings were brought to this star deity from ancient times, not only at the court, but also among the people. The figure of the God of Longevity shows him as an old man, with a tall head, long ears and a long beard, but with the face of a young man. He is commonly holding a stick of peach wood. Sometimes he is riding on a deer, and the peach stick is carried by a retainer.

Source: Beijing dongfang shoucangjia xiehui 北京東方收藏家協會 (ed. 1996), Zhonghua shoucang da cidian 中華收藏大辭典 (Beijing: Beijing yanshan chubanshe), pp. 85-86.

December 22, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail