Zhu Bajie: Patron Deity of Prostitutes

Last updated: 03/21/2018

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 prostitutes 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 Pigsy doesn’t provide any new information other than a title, Zhu Ge Shen (猪哥神, “Brother God Zhu”) (fig. 6 and 7). [2] It just mentions his previous incarnation as Marshal Tianpeng, his adventures in JTTW, and the demographics of his cult.

Fig. 5 and 6 – Pigsy’s listing as Marshal Tianpeng (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. 2).

zhuBaJieWithWoman

Fig. 2 – A Zhu Bajie / Marshal Tianpeng altar statue similar to those prayed to by prostitutes (larger version).

I find his divine title of Shoushou Ye (授受爺, “Grandpa Give and Accept”) 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 mores 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). Pigsy thumbs his nose at such a rule!

I mentioned in a previous article that Zhu Bajie’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 onwards. Marshal Tianpeng’s long history in the Daoist pantheon may then explain why Pigsy was readily adopted as a deity in his own right. He no doubt has the novel to thank for this honor.


Update: 03/21/2018

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 & 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 西游記 (Journey to the West), appear more often in poorer villages in the northern plain [fig. 3], 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. 3 – Distribution of Zhu Bajie temples in the Putian plains of Fujian Province, China (larger version). Adapted from Dean & Zheng, 2009, p. 193.

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

Notes:

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

2) To me, this title speaks of familiarity and friendship. Pigsy 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

 

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