If you have ever visited China on a holiday trip, you might have observed various ancient buildings on historical sites with figures on both sides of the door or entrance.
They are often painted or pasted on both sides of the entrance or on a double leaf front door.
These are the door gods, or men shen (武門神), which are deeply rooted in ancient Chinese culture.
However the particular deities themselves can vary from place to place, and even from house to house. This indicates that this practice is more of a custom rather than religion.
Who are they?
It is believed that the original door god which was put up by the people for protection was Cheng Qing (成慶) who was an ancient general who accomplished various tough missions.
Two other warriors later joined the protector on people’s doors in the form of Shen Tu (神筡) and Yu Lei (郁垒). This fantastic duo made their name dealing with the supernatural. Because the idea of ghosts, spirits and the after life was heavily influential in Chinese culture, homeowners who wanted to shield their homes from evil forces preferred to paste paintings of this two characters on their main doors to deter evil from entering the premises.
Legend has it that these two partners were sentries on a mountain where ghosts return at dawn. And they are stationed there to ensure that the ghosts come back in an orderly manner without harming humans. A golden rooster was a helper at a nearby tree to announce arrivals. Anyone who falls afoul of the rules would be fed to the tigers by the team. Which is why there is an ancient belief that ghosts are afraid of 4 things. Namely Shen, Yu, rooster and tiger.
Sometimes even the rooster and tiger are pasted on the front doors as the door gods!
This was also the period where the practice of putting up door gods at the front gate slowly became a custom. The act of putting up protectors for the house was more significant than who was protecting it.
As the Han dynasty moved into the Tang dynasty, revered figures changed.
Shen and Yu were slowly replaced by another two generals by the name of Qin Qiong (秦瓊) and Yuchi Gong (尉迟恭).
The story of these two warriors that is most often told to children is the tale of how they diligently guarded the gates to the palace to keep the Dragon King at bay.
For those who are more superstitious, it is not uncommon to see dwellings paste the portraits of famous ghost catchers on their doors. The most famous character of which is Zhong Kui (鍾馗). It should be noted that when households decide to only erect a single god instead of two at the door, then this solitary god is most often Zhong Kui or Wei Zheng (魏徵).
There are so many stories and folklore about the adventures of Zhong Kui. You should visit the library if you want to learn more about the irrepressible ghostcatcher.
After which, the righteous warriors of Yue Fei (岳飛) and Zhao Yun (趙雲) joined the elite group of door gods.
Zhao is a man of few words and most famous as one of the leading characters in the novel of Romance of the 3 Kingdoms where his sword-yielding valor earned him quite a reputation as a warrior who acts more than he speaks.
Modern doors gods
As mentioned previously, the pasting of doors gods at the entrance of a property has become more of a custom these days instead of for protection. This has led to a huge variety of historical and legendary characters being put up.
And instead of doing it purely for protection against evil forces, they can be considered by many to be attractors of blessings and good fortune.
Some people love them so much that they even bring the gods indoors!