Zhu Bajie: Patron Deity of Sex Workers

Last updated: 02-20-2023

The Xiahai City God Temple (霞海城隍廟, Xiahai chenghuang miao) in the Dadaocheng district of (old) Taipei, Taiwan contains a Zhu Bajie (豬八戒) shrine statue (fig. 1) to which sex workers and other members of the hospitality industry pay reverence. Taiwan Today writes:

The novel depicts the travels to India by the monk Xuanzang in search of Buddhist sutras. He is accompanied by three main disciples, of which Pigsy, who was previously Marshal Tian Peng, Grand Admiral of the Heavenly River, took responsibility for social events. With his easygoing nature, he blessed the group with jubilance. This also gained him a reputation of living a good life with abundant food and numerous flirtations with women. As Chen Wen-wen, manager of the Xiahai temple noted, this makes Zhu Ba Jie “the only deity that the hospitality industry needs to worship.”

In addition to its role as an ancient trading area beside the Danshui River, the Dadaocheng District became famous for the richness of its theaters, restaurants, hotels and gaming dens. People working in the clubs, especially those in the sex industry, would come to worship Pigsy after they finished work when the temple opened in the morning. “Every morning around 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., many ladies and bigwigs driving black Benz cars would come to pray to the deity Pigsy. They tended to dress beautifully and look wealthy,” Chen noted, explaining that these people hoped their customers would be as easygoing as Pigsy and would continue to visit their businesses.

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Fig. 1 – Pigsy’s statue from the Xiahai City God temple (credit: Mark Hodson).

Although the area was no longer as affluent as before, and the piano bar trade long ago moved elsewhere, Chen recalled a woman visiting her temple just a few days earlier. “She said she was in charge of arranging girls for customers and admitted she had come here to pray for better business.” Chen asked to whom she was praying, to which the middle-aged woman replied “You have the Marshal Tian Peng here.” Chen asked if she meant Zhu Ba Jie, and the woman said, yes, that he had been educated and cultivated by his mentor, the monk Xuanzang, and had then became the spiritual figure of the hospitality business (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan), 2006). [1]

I visited the Xiahai City God temple but unfortunately did not see the statue since (as I was told) it was tucked behind those of more prominent deities. The temple has a book with listings for each deity housed therein. The listing for Zhu doesn’t provide any new information other than a title, Zhuge Shen (猪哥神, “Brother God Zhu”) (fig. 2 & 3). [2] It just mentions his previous incarnation as Marshal Tianpeng, his adventures in JTTW, and the demographics of his cult.

Note: An informant told me that the Hokkien version of Zhuge shen is “Ti Ko Sin.” 

Fig. 2 and 3 – Zhu’s listing as Marshal Tianpeng (Tianpeng yuanshuai, 天蓬元帥) from the Xiahai City God temple book. Full size versions here and here.

Zhu Bajie’s worship by working girls is not isolated to this temple, however. Keith Stevens (2000) writes:

Although he is usually regarded China-wide as the epitome of gluttony, in Taiwan he is also revered by prostitutes who call on his divine title Shoushou Ye 授受爺, offering him incense and chants morning and evening whilst calling on him to bring them rich guests, foolish and witless, to be fleeced. An image, one of a number on loan from devotees, depicts him sitting holding a virtually nude woman in his arms alone on one of the side altars in the City God Temple in Chia I [Southwestern Taiwan] (p. 195).

The cited image is similar to this piece (fig. 4).

Fig. 4 – The type of Zhu Bajie idol prayed to by sex workers (larger version). In the author’s private collection.

I find his divine title of Shoushou Ye (授受爺, “Lord Give and Receive”) to be quite humorous. Not only does it represent the exchange of money for flesh between a lady of pleasure and her customer, but it may also be a cheeky allusion to an ancient more from the time of Mencius (4th-cent. BCE):

It is prescribed by the rites that, in giving and receiving [an object], man and woman should not touch each other [男女授受不親, nannu shoushou buqin] (McMahon, 1995, p. 166).

Zhu Bajie thumbs his nose at such a rule!

I mentioned in a previous article that Zhu’s literary incarnation Marshal Tianpeng is a historical deity that was worshiped as a powerful exorcist starting around the 6th-century. During the early Song Dynasty (960-1279), the celestial general joined with other demonifugic deities to form the quaternity of the Sisheng (四聖, “Four Saints”). His position as a protector led to his worship by the military from this time onward. Marshal Tianpeng’s long history in the Daoist pantheon may then explain why Zhu was readily adopted as a deity in his own right. He no doubt has the novel to thank for this honor.


Update: 03-21-18

Across the Taiwan Strait lies the southern Chinese province of Fujian. The Putian plains of the central coast hosts a number of temples dedicated to Zhu Bajie, also known there as Puji Shenghou (普濟聖侯, “Marquis Sage of Universal Salvation”). Dean and Zheng (2009) note an interesting geographical correlation:

Using GIS mapping, one can unearth many suggestive correlations in distributions of different cultural features across the plain. For example, certain gods such as Qitian dasheng … and Puji shenghou …, the Monkey and the Pig of the classic Xiyouji 西遊記 (Journey to the West), appear more often in poorer villages in the northern plain [fig. 5], often in higher elevations than in the low-lying, densely irrigated, wealthier villages of the southern plains. This suggests that the unruly natures of these gods appealed to poorer communities rather than to villages with established scholar-literati lineages (pp. 38-39)

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Fig. 5 – Distribution of Zhu Bajie temples in the Putian plains of Fujian Province, China (larger version). Adapted from Dean and Zheng, 2009, p. 193.

Considering the close historical connection between Fujian and Taiwan, [3] it’s possible the demographics of Zhu’s cult on the mainland may have some bearing on the history of his worship on the island.


Updated: 01-05-19

A new paper on the subject has been published by Prof. Ben Brose of the University of Michigan. He was kind enough to give me permission to archive it here.

Archive #8 – The Pig and the Prostitute: The Cult of Zhu Bajie in Modern Taiwan


Update: 12-24-22

I know that Chinese-Thai will sometimes pair Zhu Bajie with idols of Sun Wukong. But I was recently surprised to see a post on Facebook in which a stand alone statue was labeled “Bajie Buddha Patriarch” (Bajie fozu, 八戒佛祖) (fig. 6 & 7). I consulted a believer who told me that “most people pray [to him] for money and charms.” So Zhu Bajie is more of a wealth god in Thailand.

Fig. 6 – The Bajie Buddha Patriarch shrine (larger version). Fig. 7 – Detail of the idol (larger version). Take note of the embellished curlicue-style headband.


Update: 02-20-23

Above, I noted that the Xiahai City God Temple calls our hero Zhuge Shen (猪哥神, “Brother God Zhu”). But it appears that my translation is wrong because the title has a slang meaning. An informant told me that, in Taiwan, zhuge (猪哥, “brother pig”) is slang for a perverted guy who likes to make lude jokes and touch girls. Therefore, a better translation for the title is “God of Pig Brothers.”

Notes:

1) I changed the romanization of particular Chinese terms to pinyin.

2) To me, this title speaks of familiarity and friendship. Zhu is the sort of god you want to go out drinking and chasing after girls with.

3) Taiwan was made a prefecture of Fujian province in 1684 by the foreign rulers of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It later achieved province status in 1887.

Sources:

Dean, K., & Zheng, Z. (2009). Ritual alliances of the Putian plain. Volume One: Historical introduction to the return of the gods. Leiden: Brill.

McMahon, K. (1995). Misers, shrews, and polygamists: Sexuality and male-female relations in eighteenth-century Chinese fiction. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan). (2006, Dec. 22). Temple visitors pray to Pigsy. Taiwan Today. Retrieved from https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=18,23,45,18&post=24059

Stevens, K. (2000). Patron Deity of Prostitutes: Zhu Bajie / 豬八戒. Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 40, 195-196. Retrieved March 20, 2018, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23895263

The Historical Origins of Zhu Bajie’s Previous Incarnation and his Battle Rake

Last updated: 08-08-2021

The novel depicts Zhu Bajie as a reincarnation of the Marshal of the Heavenly Reeds (Tianpeng Yuanshuai, 天蓬元帥) (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 212). But did you know that this general was actually venerated as a deity? His very name suggests the god can be traced to early shamanistic beliefs about magico-religious medicine, for a better translation of Heavenly Reeds is “Heaven’s Mugwort”. Van Glahn (2004) explains this “curious name…alludes to the plant’s demonifugic properties” (p. 121). This suggests the ancient belief that mugwort exorcised demons/illnesses was eventually anthropomorphized and deified as the general.

Sui Dynasty (581-618) sources describe him serving under the Northern Emperor (Beidi, 北帝), the Hades of Daoism, as a powerful exorcist. This is best exemplified by the “Northern Emperor’s Method of Killing Demons” (Beidi shagui zhi fa, 北帝殺鬼之法), a sixth-century rite which contains a prayer invoking Tianpeng by name (Davis, 2001, p. 75; Pregadio, 2008, p. 979). Another text identifies him as one of nine stellar gods associated with the Big Dipper constellation and “assign[s him] the function of security and protection” (Davis, 2001, p. 75; see also Andersen, 1989, pp. 35-36). Early Song Dynasty (960-1279) sources expand on Heavenly Reed’s position under the Northern Emperor and describe him as head of the thirty-six generals of the Department of Exorcism (Andersen, 2008, pp. 991-992). Most importantly, this is when he was associated with two other powerful exorcist deities, namely Black Killer (Heisha, 黑煞) and Dark Warrior (Xuanwu, 玄武), to form the trinity of the “Three Great Generals of Heaven” (Davis, 2001, p. 75). This was later expanded to a quaternity known as the “Four Saints” (Sisheng, 四聖), which included Heavenly Reed, Black Killer, the True Martial God (Zhenwu, 真武, a variant of the Dark Warrior), and Heavenly Scheme (Tianyou, 天猷) (Pregadio, 2008, p. 479; Little, Eichman, & Ebrey, 2000, p. 298).

Tianpeng‘s position as a protector and association with the military led to his worship by soldiers. Davis (2001) writes, “The cult of Tianpeng remained popular among military circles into the Southern Song, when [legend has it] he aided various generals in their battles with the Jin” (p. 75). The Song also happened to be when he was bestowed the military rank of Marshal (Yuanshuai, 元帥) (Pregadio, 2008, p. 979), the name by which he is called in Journey to the West. During the Ming, a martial arts style (Tianpeng’s Fork, 天蓬釵) and a weapon technique (Tianpeng’s Spade, 天蓬鏟) were named in his honor.

Tianpeng is described in one Song dynasty source as a multi-armed god “dressed in black clothes and a dark hat” (Davis, 2001, p. 75). The names of his trinity companions also reveal their connection with black (i.e, “Black Killer” and “Dark Warrior”). This is because the color is associated with the direction north and thereby the Northern Emperor, whom the three serve (Davis, 2001, p. 75; Welch, 2008, p. 223). A circa 1460 painting of the aforementioned Four Saints actually portrays the Marshal of Heavenly Reeds with black Skin (fig. 1). Why is this important? Because Journey to the West describes Pigsy as having a black face (Wu & Yu, 2012, p. 375, for example). I therefore suggest Zhu Bajie is described as such because of his previous incarnation’s association with the color.

Click the image to open in full size.

Fig. 1 – (Left) The circa 1460 painting depicting the Four Saints (Sisheng, 四聖) (larger version). Heavenly Reed is the black-skinned figure in the upper left. Fig. 2 – (Center Left) A modern Zhu Bajie action figure with an ornate silver-headed rake (larger version). Fig. 3 – (Center Right) A pair of Pa () military rakes from the San Cai Tu Hui (三才圖會, 1609) (larger version). Fig. 4 – (Right) A Yundang (耘盪hand harrow) from a Ming Dynasty agricultural treatise that borrows heavily from the Nongshu (農書) (larger version). 

JTTW describes Pigsy’s rake as being a polearm with nine teeth (fig. 2). But did you know that, despite serving as a general in heaven, his weapon is not the kind that was historically used by the Chinese military. Those of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the book was written, “were [two] meters in length and used to unseat enemy riders and hook and grab enemy weapons” (Swope, 2009, p. 78). The Pa (鈀, rake) (fig. 3), for example, was covered with hooks in place of teeth to aid in the aforementioned hooking action.[1] But noted Ming General Qi Jiguang (戚繼光, 1528-1588) considered it useless in his battle against Japanese pirates (Tang Pa (钂鈀), 2015).

Pigsy’s weapon more closely resembles agricultural tools that were traditionally used by peasant farmers as far back as the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The Book of Agriculture (Nongshu, 農書, 1313) by the Confucian scholar and inventor Wang Zhen (王禎, fl. 1290-1333) includes descriptions and woodblock prints of several manual and water-powered farming implements. The book itself was written in response to the devastation that the Mongols had wrought on China over decades of war. So the featured tools were meant to help make life easier for farmers toiling away in the fields (Bray & Needham, 2004, pp. 59-60). One such innovation to come from the book was the Yundang (耘盪, hand harrow) (fig. 4), a bamboo-handled rake with metal teeth designed to weed rice crops (Bray & Needham, 2004, pp. 61-62). I suggest this and other tools like it most likely influenced Zhu Bajie’s weapon.

I also posit the hog spirit was given such a weapon because it added to his image as a country bumpkin. Whereas Monkey wields a magic iron staff once used by Yu the Great to tame the world flood, Pigsy brandishes a gardening tool. The weapon itself is comical in that it is said to have been handcrafted by Laozi (老子) from “divine ice steel” and etched with arcane symbols (Wu & Yu, 2012, pp. 382-383). That’s one fancy rake!


Update: 05-15-2018

Feng Dajian of Nankai University was kind enough to direct me to this Ming-era woodblock print (fig. 5) by Shide tang (世德堂本), the original publisher of Journey to the West. Check out Pigsy’s war rake! Again, his weapon from the novel is the agricultural type, but this print is an interesting change of pace. Also, notice how Sandy’s staff doesn’t have any metal blades (as normally shown in pop culture).

Shide tang print (Sandy vs Pigsy) - Small

Fig. 5 – Ming-era Shide tang print of Pigsy vs Sandy (larger version).


Update: 12-21-2018

A beautiful rendering of Marshal Tianpeng (fig. 6) appears in the Ink treasures of [Wu] Daozi (Daozi mobao, 道子墨寶), a collection of ink drawings traditionally attributed to the noted 7th/8th-century artist Wu Daozi but likely hails from the 13th-century. Tianpeng is portrayed as an esoteric protector deity with multiple arms holding implements of both war and religion. The military arms include a halberd and a sword, while the religious items include a vajra bell, a mirror, and two orbs adorned with a rabbit and a rooster, respectively (fig. 7). These animals represent the moon and the sun, being zoomorphic symbols of yin and yang forces. Interestingly, the rabbit is seen mixing the elixir of immortality, a common motif in Chinese art (fig. 8).

Zhu Bajie Origin pics #2
Fig. 6 – Tianpeng from the 13th-century Ink Treasures of Wu Daozi (larger version). The original drawing can be seen here. Fig. 7 – Details of the Moon Rabbit and Sun Rooster (larger version). Fig. 8 – The Moon Rabbit motif from an 18th-century court robe (larger version).

What’s most interesting to me about the drawing is the obvious esoteric Buddhist influence. In this article I mention a 13th-century stone relief carving of Sun Wukong in which he is portrayed with a headband, arm ornaments, bangles, a bone rosary, a girdle, a tiger skin apron, and anklets. These items are listed among an 8th-century source as ritual adornments worn by Buddhist yogis, each one representing a different esoteric Buddha or philosophical aspect of the religion. Many of these same ritual items appear on Tianpeng, pointing to a borrowing of esoteric Buddhist motifs by Daoism.


Update: 01-28-2019

Brose (2018) suggests Zhu Bajie may ultimately be based on an esoteric Buddhist sun goddess worshiped in China known as Marici (Molizhi, 摩利支), or Doumu (斗母/斗姆, “Mother of the Dipper”) in Daoism, [2] who is often depicted as a fearsome, multi-armed guardian astride a boar or aloft a boar-driven chariot, and among whose multiple faces is a boar (fig. 9). This is because a stage play that predates the Ming novel represents Pigsy as the goddess’ mount come to earth (Brose, 2018, p. 174). This would mean Zhu Bajie’s connection to Marshal Tianpeng is a later addition to the story cycle. Both Tianpeng and Marici are associated with the stellar bodies of the Big Dipper constellation and share similar exorcistic duties (Brose, 2018, pp 175-176). This may explain why Pigsy was later associated with the general.

marci goddess, martial aspect, modern shenxiang

Fig. 9 – A modern altar statue showing Marici’s martial aspect riding a boar (larger version). Take note of the boar-like face on the right.

Regarding the origin of Marici’s boars, Getty (1988) explains Riksha, the Sanskrit word used to denote the bright stars of the Big Dipper, sounds just like the term for bear. Therefore, one hypothesis states this confusion may have resulted in the sun goddess’ mount being a bear, but due to the scarcity of the animal in South Asia—or just plain iconographic confusion, in my opinion, since both animals are dark-furred quadrupeds—the iconography was changed to a boar over time. If true, this means Zhu Bajie could have been a bear! Furthermore, the seven boars shown to be pulling her chariot in some religious art are most likely based on the seven steeds of the Hindu sun god, Surya (pp. 117-118).


Update: 09-01-2019

Huang (2010) describes the common Daoist practice of visualizing gods residing in an adept’s body (shenshen, 身神, lit: “body gods”). The presence of these deities was thought to bring health and aid in the quest for immortality. She notes that the Ming edition of the Perfect Scripture of the Great Cavern (Dadong  zhenjing, 大洞真經), originally collected by the Supreme Clarity patriarch Jiang Zongying (蔣宗瑛, d. 1281) during the Southern Song, includes fifty illustrations of groups of gods standing on clouds emanating from the top of a seated Daoist’s head. Most importantly, these deities include protective guardians (lishi, 力士), “[o]ne particular trinity [of which] consists of a general ‘who resembles the Great General of Heavenly Mugwort (Tianpeng dajiang 天蓬大將)'” (Huang, 2010, p. 65 n. 12). An example of this illustration appears in the first scroll of the work (fig. 10).

Marshal Tianpeng from the first scroll of the Dadeng zhengjing, or the Perfect Scripture of the Great Cavern, Southern Song - small

The illustration of the trinity of protective deities, including a general that looks like Marshal Tianpeng (larger version). Image found here.

Again, I would like to highlight the fact that the general’s name, Heavenly Mugwort (Tianpeng, 天蓬), recalls the historical use of the plant as a magic medicine to ward off the evil spirits of illness (see the top of the article). Therefore, Tianpeng’s use in this form of Daoist meditation likely served a medical purpose.


Update: 08-08-21

I’ve written an article on Zhu’s literary description.

What Does Zhu Bajie Look Like? A Resource for Artists and Cosplayers

See also:

Notes:

1) Other kinds of military rakes included the pitchfork-like Yi Pa (㑥耙), the trident-like Tang (钂) and Tangpa (钂鈀), and the more rare halberd-like Mao Lian Tang (茅鐮钂) (Tang Pa (钂鈀), 2015).

2) For information on Marici, see Getty (1988), pp. 117-119. For Doumu, see Esposito, 2008, pp. 282-283.

Sources:

Andersen, P. (1989). The Practice of Bugang. Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie, 5. Numéro spécial Etudes taoïstes II / Special Issue on Taoist Studies II en l’honneur de Maxime Kaltenmark. 15-53.

Andersen, P. (2008). Tianxin zhengfa In F. Pregadio (ed.), The encyclopedia of Taoism: Vol 1-2 (pp. 989-993). Longdon: Routledge.

Bray, F. & Needham, J. (2004). Science and civilisation in China: Volume 6, biology and biological technology; part 2 – agriculture. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P.

Brose, B. (2018). The pig and the prostitute: The cult of Zhu Bajie in modern TaiwanJournal of Chinese Religions, 46 (2), 167-196, DOI:
10.1080/0737769X.2018.1507091

Davis, E. L. (2001). Society and the supernatural in Song China. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaií Press.

Getty, A. (1988). The gods of northern Buddhism: Their history and iconography. New York: Dover Publications.

Huang, S. (2010). Daoist body and cosmos, Part I: Body gods and starry travel. Journal of Daoist Studies 3, 57-90.

Little, S., Eichman, S., & Ebrey, P. B. (2000). Taoism and the arts of China. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago.

Swope, K. (2009). A dragon’s head and a serpent’s tail: Ming China and the first great East Asian war, 1592-1598. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Tang Pa (钂鈀). (2015, March 24). Retrieved November 02, 2017, from https://greatmingmilitary.blogspot.com/2015/03/tang-ba.html

Von, G. R. (2004). The sinister way: The divine and the demonic in Chinese religious culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Welch, P. B. (2008). Chinese art: A guide to motifs and visual imagery. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Pub.

Wu, C., & Yu, A. C. (2012). The journey to the West: Volume 1. Chicago, Illinois : University of Chicago Press.