The Goddess of Maritime China

Mazu Tomb
The Tomb of a Goddess in Nangan, on the Matsu Islands. Prince Roy [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
There is an intricately sculpted tomb in South-East Asia. Few outside of the Chinese community knew that a goddess was buried here.

This here is Lin Moniang’s tomb in Nangan in the Matsu Islands, where her body washed ashore after she died at the age of 28 (Lunar Year).

She was a Fujianese shamaness from Meizhou island in the 10th Century who was later deified as the sea goddess Mazu. Moniang was said to wear a bright red dress to act as a beacon for ships approaching land.

She was herself apparently a devout Buddhist Scholar. In her role as shamaness she was also a rainmaker and diviner. She could apparently exercise psychic powers at great distances; her principal legend concerns her use of this power to rescue her family from a storm via trance.

In one record, she drowned attempting to find her missing father. After her death, she apotheosized into a goddess. Her small cult grew dramatically after one of the Song Emperor’s envoys was rescued at sea by her apparition in the 11th Century. Overtime, Her cult absorbed the cults of other deified shamanesses and local gods in the region, and became a major religion.

She is a goddess of the sea, travel, childbirth, motherhood and even contraception. Mazuism is considered a distinct but related religion to that of Shenism and Taoism, but she can be found in Buddhist temples as well (and some traditions regard her as an avatar of Guanyin). She is always depicted with her two subordinates, Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er, two redeemed demons with the powers of Clairvoyance and Clairaudience, respectively.

A statue of Mazu, with her two guardian generals.
A statue of Mazu in the Kinmen Islands, Republic of China, with her two guardian generals, the redeemed demons Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er. The original uploader was Koika at Chinese Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As the patron deity of Taiwan and of other Hokkien and Fujianese diaspora groups around the world, Her worship can be found on nearly every island and coast where the Chinese peoples have travelled (and therefore also in countries where Chinese peoples are a minority).

As a patron of sea travel, her temples was almost always the first to be erected. Even Admiral Zhang He (15th Century) began actively patronizing her temples after he credited the safe journey of one of his voyages to her intervention— despite being a Muslim; it is suggested that his primary religion is actually Mazuism.

In 1683 she was conferred the title of Tianhou (Queen of Heaven) by the Qing Dynasty after she allegedly helped Marquis Jinghai of the Qing conquer Taiwan from the Ming Loyalists (oddly enough, she was also said to have helped the Ming Loyalists conquer Taiwan and drove out the Dutch).

The Qing government also credited her intervention with their victory over the French at the battle of Tamsui during the Sino-French War in 1884. 

bombardment_of_tamsui
French warships bombarding Tamsui District, Taiwan.

In this way, she is a war goddess also.

She also makes spiffy art on the walls of my house.

A Pop Art screenprint of Mazu.
A screen printed poster of what I have identified as Mazu (uncertain). It’s up on our wall.

© 2019 JUSTIN C. HSU