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City God (China)

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City God (China)

City God (China)
The City God temple in the Forbidden City.
Chinese 城隍

The City God(s) or Town God (Chinese: 城隍; pinyin: Chénghuáng, and transcribed Shing Wong, from Cantonese) is a deity or deities in Chinese mythology or Chinese religion thought to be mystically or supernaturally responsible for protecting the people and the affairs of the particular city or associated afterlife area for which each City God deity was held to be specifically concerned. Beginning over 2000 years ago, the cult of the City God(s) (Chenghuang) originally involved worship of a protective deity of a town's walls and moats. Later, the term Chenghuang came to be applied to the presumed title of office held by spirits who were thusly deities of the Chinese Underworld, or afterlife, who served in authority over the souls of the deceased from a certain locality, as well as being capable of intervening in the affairs of the living, in conjunction with other officials of the hierarchy of divine and supernatural beings.


Model reproducing a view of Nanjing in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), showing a city wall and moat combination, a model of city defense which had at this point evolved over many centuries, together with the worship of the City God.

In the name Cheng-huang (城隍), the first character cheng (城) means "city wall" (a "defensive rampart"; or, by extension, "walled city") and the second character, huang (隍), literally means "moat". Put together, Chenghuang was originally the name of a deity or type of deity believed to be able to provide divine protection to a city's physical defenses, particularly its surrounding wall and moat. Later the concept became more generalized, and the meaning extended to the office itself of such a deity, rather than the presumed office-holder (in later times, it was standard to officially appoint the spirit of the government official in charge of the city to a 3 year term as City God, upon his decease[1]).

Ch'eng-huang is the older Mandarin Chinese transcription for the City God. Shing Wong is the equivalent for Cantonese.


Chenghuang Temple of Puning at 2007

There are temples dedicated to local town gods in many cities of China. Much as the ancient Greeks, the Chinese traditionally believed that guardian gods watched over cities.[2] City gods are believed to be involved in communal concerns such as the need for rain, and may be involved in personal requests such as recovery from illness. Town residents may appeal to the city god for help in a natural disaster or other crisis. The city god may also be called upon to help those who are accused of crimes. The accused appear before the god and ask for a sign to help prove their innocence.[3]

Various towns have their own City God; usually, these patron gods are deified deceased officials. City gods are believed to hold an important position in the divine bureaucracy, and their role in the spiritual world is much like the role of an official in the human world. In Imperial times it was often debated whether local gods such as the city god held more power than the local officials. There could also be a relation between the city god and the official. The official or magistrate would often turn to the city god for advice and help in governing the city.[4]

Over time a large number of City God positions in the Underworld were created by official decrees, along with accompanying temples and images in the world of the living. Of these offices of City God, some might be a low ranking post in charge of a small village; others might be on the level of a whole province. In any case, by the nineteenth century the duties of the City God generally included accompanying 3 official processions per year and to perform certain administrative functions for the local spirits of the dead: on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month to let the ghost-spirits out of their winter quarters, on the 1st of the 7th month, to take census of the ghosts and ensure that they were fed, and on the biggest event of the three, the 1st of the 10th month, to gather together all the spirits, provide them all with winter clothing, and put them in their winter dwellings.[5]

Worship of the City God

Statue of Chenghuang in Tin Hau Temple of Stanley, Hong Kong, China, 2011

Chinese culture traditionally maintained a distinction between official religion and popular religion. In official religion, worship of the City God was according to the dictates of written legislation and was to be performed by officials and degree holders. The associated activities were designed to help legitimize the state in the eyes of the common people and preserve local social status distinctions.[6] The prescribed sacrifices for a city god are described in the "Auspicious Rites" section of the Da Qing Tongli, the Qing Dynasty manual for rituals.[7] The official worship of a city god was a solemn and dignified event, with various ceremonies held inside the temples.[6] The animals and food that were sacrificed to the city god were carefully inspected by the religious officials to make sure that they are good enough for the city god.[7]

On the other hand, the City God was liable for punishment if he failed to perform his duties as requested: for example failure on his part to bring rain when properly asked could result in his sacred image being exposed to the burning rays of the sun, or being bodily whipped by the governor or magistrate.[8]

The popular worship of a city god is much more flexible. People come from rural and urban areas to pray to him or her and ask for specific favours. The most common favour requested in these prayers is good health. On the city god's birthday the people of the town or city have a huge celebration to honour the city god. These ceremonies often draw huge crowds of people and involve theatrical performances, sales of refreshments, fireworks, firecrackers, noises of gongs and drums, and incense burning.[6]

Hong Kong City God

During the Qing dynasty, the emperor appointed a city god (Shing Wong) for all major cities in mainland China to govern and look after their land. Hong Kong had no appointed magistrate and therefore no protection of a Shing Wong.

Shing Wong (City God) Temple in Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong.

In 1877 Hong Kong built their first Shing Wong temple, which was originally named "Fook Tak Tsz". It remains there today, at the junction of Shau Kei Wan and Kam Wa Street, in Shau Kei Wan, on Hong Kong Island. It has undergone many updates and name changes. A new outer wall was built in 1974, giving the feeling of a temple within a temple.[9] The temple is now officially called the Shing Wong Temple.

The deities Tu Di Gong (土地), Shing Wong, and Ng Tung (五通神) are enshrined in the temple.[10] Tu Di is the "place god". This "place" could be anything – a jurisdiction, a block or an entire park. Tu Di was then under the command of the Shing Wong of that city. Ng Tung (Wu Dao) is in charge of wealth, time, good fortune, and has a festival named after him called "The Gods of Five Lucks Festival", on the fifth of the first month. The Tu Di festival is held on the second day of the new year in honor of the Earth deity. The Shing Wong festival is held bi-annually in Hong Kong on the eleventh day of the fifth lunar month, and the twenty-fourth day of the seventh lunar month (Shing Wong's personal anniversary) where people praise and give sacrifice to their city-guarding deity.

There is some evidence that, prior to the building of the Fook Tak Tsz temple in Shau Kei Wan, there was a Shing Wong temple built at the junction of Shing Wong Street and Hollywood Road, where Queen's College later stood. However, both buildings have been torn down.

There are other temples located in Hong Kong that house the deity Shing Wong, such as the Man Mo Temple.

Shanghai City God

Chenghuang miao (City God Temple), Shanghai, China.
One of the altars of the City God Temple in Shanghai.

The City God Temple in the city of Shanghai is known as the "Old City God Temple", but it was originally called the "Jinshan God Temple" and dedicated to the spirit of Jinshan. Jinshan, or "Gold Mountain", is an island off the coast of Shanghai and was converted into a City God temple in 1403, during the Ming Dynasty. The "Old City God Temple" is located by the Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai. It grew into a very popular site for citizens to come to pray and ask favors of the city god. In 1951 The Board of the Trustees of the City God temple fell apart and the Shanghai Taoist Association decided to put the focus of the temple onto Taoist tradition. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, (1937–1945) Shanghai was taken over by Japanese soldiers and due to them citizens were unable to get to the "Old City Temple" so the local people decided to build a "New City God Temple". After the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II the "New City God Temple" became less popular because people preferred to worship at "The Old City God Temple". The "New City God Temple" was destroyed in 1972.[11]

The "Old City God Temple" is dedicated to three different gods: Huo Guang, Qin Yubo, and Chen Huacheng.[11] Huo Guang (d. 68 BCE) was a famous general and chancellor of the Han Dynasty.[12] Little is known Huo Guang's life, but he is remembered for overthrowing a young emperor in favor of a new one. He was appointed as the original city god of Shanghai in the Yuan Dynasty. Qin Yubo (1295–1373) lived in Shanghai during the Yuan Dynasty and worked in the civil service. Qin Yubo had many roles in the government, including Chief Imperial Examiner. After he died the emperor bestowed upon him the honor of being a city god in Shanghai. Chen Huacheng (1776–1842) was a Qing Dynasty general who is remembered as being brave and courageous. He fought in the First Opium War and was adamant in his defense of the Yangtze. He was killed in 1842 in a battle against the British. The "Old City Temple" is one of Shanghai's most famous attractions and is the center of a retail and entertainment district.[11]

See also



  1. ^ Yang, 156
  2. ^, Shanghai City God. Retrieved June 14, 2011
  3. ^ Zito, A. R. (1987). City Gods, Filiality, and Hegemony in Late Imperial China. Symposium on Hegemony and Chinese Folk Ideologies Part II, 13, 333-371. Retrieved October 27, 2008, from JSTOR Database
  4. ^ Johnson, D. (1985). The City-God Cults of T'ang and Sung China. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 45, 363-457. Retrieved October 27, 2008, from JSTOR Database
  5. ^ Yang, 157
  6. ^ a b c Temples of the State Cult.(2007). Retrieved October 26, 2008.
  7. ^ a b Huters, Theodore.(1988). Modern China. 344-346. Retrieved October 26, 2008, from JSTOR system database.
  8. ^ Yang, 177, and elsewhere
  9. ^ Evolvement of a Fishing Village : Shau Kei Wan
  10. ^ Chinese Temples Committee : Shing Wong Temple, Shau Kei Wan
  11. ^ a b c City God Temple, 2005
  12. ^ (City God Temple in Shanghai reopens to Public, 2006); for a similar case, see Yang, 168-179


  • Ching,Frank. (1988). Ancestors: 900 Years in the Life of a Chinese Family. Pan Books: United Kingdom.
  • Chinese Temples Committee. (2008). Retrieved October 26, 2008
  • Government of Hong Kong's Antiquities and Monuments Office/Leisure and Cultural Services Department. (2004). Retrieved October 27, 2008.
  • Gray, J. H. (2003). China: A History of the Laws, Manners and Customs of the People. New York: Dover Publications.
  • Pui-tak, L. (2006). Colonial Hong Kong and Modern China. Washington, D.C.: University of Washington Press.
  • Yang, C. K. [Yang Ch'ing-k'un]. Religion in Chinese Society : A Study of Contemporary Social Functions of Religion and Some of Their Historical Factors (1967 [1961]). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

External links

  • Town God Temple
  • Asian Historical Architecture.(2007) Retrieved October 26, 2008.
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