UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

God of the gate, protector of the door: door gods (menshen) in chinese popular religion Kardos, Michael Anthony


The door plays an important part in religious rituals and beliefs throughout many cultures and thus is often considered to be the residence of some spirit or is appointed a special protective deity. In China, door gods are called menshen and are associated with the lunar New Year celebration. They are pictures of mythological or deified historical figures placed on double-leaf gates or single-leaf doors to guard against evil influences. Sometimes, door prints depict mythological beasts, tigers, roosters, or exorcistic symbols, all of which are believed to provide protection from evil. There are also auspicious door prints which express the desire to attain wealth and prosperity, to give birth to a son, or to pass the civil service examination. Past studies of door gods have primarily focused on their artistic evolution and characteristics in the form of Chinese woodblock New Year prints. This study focuses on the role of door gods as deities in Chinese popular religion, ritual, and the New Year festival celebration concentrating primarily on literary evidence instead of artistic. It shows that door gods are not just printed images, but possess 'personality' and 'emotion'. I provide annotated translations or summaries of relevant short stories, tales, poems, popular novels, and dramas in which door gods play a role. I also briefly discuss the current use of door gods in the People's Republic of China based on the fieldwork and observations of myself and various scholars. The major conclusions reached in the thesis are: (1) there is no direct evidence supporting the belief that modern-day door gods evolved directly from or supplanted the five tutelary deities of first century BCE China; (2) Qin Qiong (?-638) and Yuchi Jingde (585-658) did not supplant the mythological door guardians Shen Tu and Yu Lei; (3) there is evidence to support the belief that door gods did receive sacrificial offerings; and, (4) only through the combination of literary and artistic evidence will the history and evolution of this deity be fully understood by future scholars.

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