BELIEFS IN SHENG HONG (CITY GOD)
“Sheng Hong” depicts the high walls and moats that were built as defense structures of a city against intruders. Cities were formed at certain stages of the agricultural revolution. To protect the people and their properties against intruders, high walls and moats were built. In addition, people believed that a Deity will look after all living conditions, lives and peace. Hence, Sheng Hong Deity was worshipped as the Deity that protects the city and its people.
Sheng Hong Deity is one of the earliest natural Deities worshipped by the Chinese to protect cities. It is believed that worshipping of Sheng Hong Deity is dated back to the 6th century (B.C. 555) when a city in Wuhan was on the verge of falling to the enemy. General Mu Ron (慕容) led the troops and people to pray to Sheng Hong Deity for protection. The advances of the enemy were mysteriously halted by natural elements. The people believed that Sheng Hong Deity had protected the city and saved the people from the enemy.
Between AD 618 – 906, the beliefs in Sheng Hong Deity had propagated. Local officials in many provinces frequently wrote offering scriptures to praise Sheng Hong Deity and to pray for peace and security.
During the Song Dynasty (AD 960 – 1279), the beliefs in Sheng Hong Deity was officially recognized and Sheng Hong Deity was included as one of the Deities for prayer rituals on a national level. It was during this period that the Emperor of Heaven, the Sheng Hong Deity, and the Earth Deity were ranked respectively in terms of seniority in the initial ranking of Deities that was developed.
Following that, between AD 1271-1368, a Sheng Hong temple was built in Da Du (大都, near the present Beijing, China) where Sheng Hong Deity was bestowed as the Lord, and His spouse as the Lady, who protect the city and its people.
During the Ming and Qing Dynasty, Zhu Yuan Zhang (朱元璋) developed a series of prayer rituals and ordered each province to construct a Sheng Hong temple in honour of Sheng Hong Deity. Prior to taking up of offices, all officials were required to pay their respects at their local Sheng Hong temples and to take an oath in front of Sheng Hong Deity to carry out their duties diligently. Sheng Hong Deity not only guides the officials, He also rewards mankind who do good and punishes the evil.
Sheng Hong Deity subsequently evolved from a City God to the highest ranked Deity who supervises both the Yin and Yang world.
In the early days, Sheng Hong Deity was a natural god. It was only after the Tang Dynasty that Sheng Hong Deity was widely respected and worshipped by people. The origin of Sheng Hong Deity may be classified into 5 different categories: Area Officer, Meritorious Officer, Honourable Officer, Benevolent Officer and Supernaturalism Officer.
Area Officer signifies one who was a Commanding official of a local area or an official who was widely commended by the locals. This is the most common Sheng Hong Deity. For instance, the Sheng Hong Deity at Jinhua (金华), Zhejiang was the Commanding official Song Yue (宋约). Song Yue was an outstanding official who was well-received by the locals for his contributions during his 3-year term. Upon his passing on, he was worshipped as Sheng Hong Deity in Jinhua. During the Tang Dynasty, Pang Yu (庞玉) served as the Head of Yue Zhou (越州) and was an official of high integrity. He earned the respect of the people of Yue Zhou and was worshipped as Sheng Hong Deity. The Sheng Hong Deity worshipped in Shanghai, Feng Xian (奉贤) is Zhou Zhong Xuan (周中铉). He cared for his people and was an honest officer.
Meritorious Officer is an official or military General who had distinguished contributions to the country or the Emperor. The Sheng Hong temple in Zheng Zhou (郑州) is General Ji Xin (纪信). In one of the many wars, the Lord of Han, Liu Bang (刘邦), was surrounded by his enemy. General Ji Xin donned the attire of his superior to divert the attention of the enemy. Jin Xin was later captured and burnt to death by the enemy. But his act of loyalty saved the life of his superior. People believed that such courageous act is key to the survival of a city and hence worshipped Ji Xin as Sheng Hong Deity. Other Generals from the Han Dynasty who are worshipped as Sheng Hong Deity include Guan Ying (灌婴), Fan Zeng (范增), Ying Bu (英布) etc as well as adviser Xiao He (萧何) who is worshipped by people of He Nan Nan Yang (河南南阳) and Rang Yang Gu (襄阳谷).
Honourable Officer is one with high integrity and is impartial. People are confident that one with such characteristics can take on the role of Sheng Hong Deity. The mid of the Ming Dynasty era was controlled by a treacherous court official Yan Song (严嵩). As an official, Yang Shu Shan (杨淑山) was imprisoned for being impartial and testifying for the crimes of Yan Song. He was subsequently tortured to death by Yan Song. People worshipped Yang Shu Shan as the Sheng Hong Deity in Beijing, China. Other Honourable Officers include Zhou Xing (周新) of Hangzhou Sheng Hong temple and Zhou Da Ling (周大令) of Jia Xing Sheng Hong temple.
Benevolent Officer is one who out of benevolence repairs bridges, pave roads for use, saves lives, practices filial piety etc. These are important values advocated by the Chinese. As the saying goes: “Every human and spirit will have the opportunity to be bestowed as Sheng Hong Deity if they carry out charitable services.”
Commonly known as “Zhang San Zi” (张三子), Zhang Shao Yi (张少仪) is the Sheng Hong Deity of Guilin Sheng Hong temple. He was one who was filial, gentlemanly and knowledgeable. According to legend, Qing Xi Xian You Bo Zhu (清溪显佑伯主) of Anxi, China was a benevolent spirit. Over a period of 9 years, He gave up 3 opportunities to be reincarnated as He could not bear to harm living beings. His benevolence touched Heaven and He was bestowed as Sheng Hong Deity of Anxi.
Supernaturalism Officer is one who is said to possess supernatural power such as the ability to hail the rain during drought and is able to heal the sick with his powers. He can defeat the enemy and help the people. Qu Tan (屈坦) of Taizhou, Zhejiang is said to be born after his mother had a dream of Deities. Qu Tan could communicate with the Deities and was able to command the clouds and rain. He lived in isolation with his mother in the mountains. Locals worshipped Him as their Sheng Hong Deity and He often answers the prayers.
Role and Duties
In the beginning, the main role of Sheng Hong Deity was to protect the city against natural calamities and advances by intruders. With the evolution from a natural god to a personified Deity, the role had expanded to include both the Yin and Yan worlds. After the Tang Dynasty, the duties of Sheng Hong Deity developed to include healing the sick, supervision of officials and comforting the spirits and souls of the underworld etc.
Protecting the City
The role of Sheng Hong Deity in protecting the city is evident from His blessings to avert natural calamities and preventing sufferings resulting from wars. According to legend, during the Ming Dynasty, the people of Anxi province was often attacked by tigers. The villagers prayed to Sheng Hong Deity for help. The prayers were answered when hunters succeeded in hunting down the tigers. During the Kangxi (康熙) era of the Qing Dynasty, when thousands of pirates were about to attacked the city of Anxi province, they were surprised to see a large military appearing from the East Gate. The pirates retreated in disbelief. People believed that it was Qing Xi Xian You Bo Zhu who had sent mystical soldiers to petrify the enemy into a retreat. In the 1940s, when the Japanese army bombed the Malayan states with numerous war planes, only the area with Qing Xi Xian You Bo Zhu (near the existing Singapore Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple) was unscathed.
Healing the Sick
All Sheng Hong Deities in China are dressed in red robes, and only the Sheng Hong Deity of Anxi is allowed to don a dragon robe. During the Song Ren Zong (宋仁宗) era, Qing Shui Zhu Si Chen Pu Zhu (清水祖师陈普足) and Sheng Hong Deity of Anxi were bestowed dragon robes as a recognition for curing the illness of the Empress.
During the Ming Dynasty, one of the roles of Sheng Hong Deity was to supervise the officials. During inauguration ceremonies, office bearers are required to take an oath to upkeep the security of the people and to serve the people with integrity and righteousness.
Behind this plaque “Shi Meng Jue Guan” (是梦觉关) hung in Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple is a story on how Sheng Hong Deity helped a magistrate resolved a murder case. The story was later choreographed into an opera titled “The Mystery Case of Qing Zhu Si (青竹丝). According to legend, during the Qing Dynasty in Anxi, there was a businessman by the surname of Jin who was often away on business trips. His wife was having an extramarital affair. When Jin returned home, the couple conspired to murder Jin with a poisonous green bamboo snake. The murder was witnessed by a burglar Li Bin (李彬). When Magistrate Huang Zhai Zhong (黄宅中) noticed that although Jin’s wife was mourning for her husband, he could not sense any sorrow in her. He was suspicious and ordered a disinterment for an autopsy. However, he was unable to find any evidence and was instead accused by the wife of bullying a widow. The superior of Magistrate Huang instructed him to close the case in 10 days or to resign from his position. As the magistrate had no other leads, he prayed to Sheng Hong Deity for directions. That night, the magistrate had a dream and was directed to travel eastward to look for evidence. The next day, Magistrate Huang met Li Bin while traveling eastward. Li Bin revealed the cause of the death, and the couple was tried and convicted for the murder of Jin. The 4 words “Shi Meng Jue Guan” was calligraphed by Magistrate Huang and presented to Sheng Hong Deity of Anxi.
Comforting the Souls
It is a belief that Sheng Hong Deity not only cares for the people on earth, He also comforts the souls of the deceased. People believe that when one is on the verge of death, Sheng Hong Deity will instruct Da Er Ye Bo (大二爷伯) to bring the soul to Him, and thereafter to be escorted to Dong Yue Da Di (东岳大帝) to establish the penalty. Sheng Hong Deity is also tasked with the discipline of the spirits in the underworld. He practices fair judgements for souls that had suffered injustice deaths, destitute or those that had died on a foreign land or of unnatural deaths. Annually, the procession held at Anxi, Fujian is for Sheng Hong Deity to comfort the souls of the destitute and to resolve cases in the underworld. During the annual 7th Lunar Month festival at Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple, abundant food and accessories are offered to the souls, in the name of Sheng Hong Deity.
Sheng Hong Beliefs and Taoism
Taoism has included Sheng Hong Deity to its list of Deities. Sheng Hong Deity is classified as a Deity that eliminates evils and protects the city. He has an additional duty to comfort and discipline the souls in the underworld. There is a close relationship between Sheng Hong Beliefs and Taoism. Majority of the rituals in Sheng Hong temples are conducted by Taoist Priests. Taoist scripts are prepared in the presence of Sheng Hong Deity. There is a close bonding between the superior of Sheng Hong Deity, Dong Yue Da Di and his subordinate – the Earth Deity. The scripture of Tai Shang Lau Jun (太上老君) introduces Sheng Hong Deity and the 26 types of affiliated Deities, as well as the duties of Sheng Hong Deity.
Beliefs of Sheng Hong in Singapore
Sheng Hong beliefs followed the Chinese immigrants to Singapore during the 19th Century. The beliefs in Singapore for the worship of Sheng Hong Deity can be classified into 3 types: as the main Deity in a Sheng Hong temple; as an affiliate Deity in a temple; and worship of Sheng Hong Deity together with other underworld Deities.
There are 4 temples in Singapore that worship Sheng Hong Deity as the main Deity. The first being Tanjong Pagar Du Sheng Hong temple (丹戎巴葛都城隍庙) which was constructed by Priest Rui Yu (瑞于法师). The other 3 temples are Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong temple and its affiliated temple Yang Tao Yuan (杨桃园) Sheng Hong temple, as well as Shuang Lin (双林) Sheng Hong temple which is managed by Shuang Lin Si (双林寺) temple. Temples such as Thian Hock Keng (天福宫), Hong San See (凤山寺) and Dong Yue Miao (东岳庙), etc worship Sheng Hong Deity as their affiliate Deity.