The god of wealth is affectionately known as Cai Shen Ye (财神爷) in Mandarin. 财神 literally translates to wealth god.
Even though there are several gods of wealth in Chinese culture, Cai Shen Ye, or Cai Shen in short, is generally recognized as the main wealth god. Sort of like Jon Bon Jovi is recognized as the main man in his rock band.
Thus, unless there is a specific reason otherwise, when there are festivities to celebrate such as Chinese New Year and the presence of the god of wealth is warranted, then Cai Shen will be the one making his presence felt.
This god is embodied in various historical figures. Therefore, it is impossible to pinpoint an exact name to call him.
Some of whom who embodied the god include:
- Zhao Gong Ming (趙公明), a warlord warrior
- Bi Gan (比干), a son of King Wen Ding
- Fan Li (范蠡), a government official
- Guan Yu (关羽), a main character in the era of the three kingdoms
- Liu Hai (刘海)
- Fu Lu Shou (福禄寿)
On top of this, Zhao as the god of wealth is associated with being the central figure among the 9 directional gods of wealth. He takes up the center while the remaining 9 each takes up a cardinal or ordinal direction.
Legend of Cai Shen
As previously mentioned, various characters are considered as the embodiment of Cai Shen. So when looking into the origins of the god, it is only right that the stories behind the various characters are taken into account.
Let’s look closer at the 4 most popular characters.
Zhao Gong Ming
Zhao was known as a fierce warrior in battle with extraordinary fighting skills. As such, he is often considered as a military god of wealth (武財神).
Paintings and depictions of him often show him riding on a black tiger with a metal rod as a weapon.
His story was that he lost his life in a battle with a group of gods after giving everyone run for their money. Deeply impressed with his courage and valor, Jiang ZiYa (姜子牙) deified him. 4 other deities with wealth granting prowess become his assistants. Thus, he became the supreme god of wealth.
There is a belief in some circles that Zhao was in fact a muslim even though most people knew him as a taoist. Due to this, offerings made to him should never include pork.
Bi Gan was a highly respected figure during the Shang dynasty.
An uncle of King Zhou who was the last king of the Shang dynasty, it was said that he was executed by order conspired by corrupt officials who feared his righteousness.
The form of execution was… extraction of his heart.
Legend has it that losing his heart was from his heroics in foiling the evil intentions of a fox spirit named Da Ji (妲己). The king was mesmerized by her beauty and her attempt to take over the palace was discovered when her friends got drunk in a party and revealed their furry tails. Bi Gan then enlisted the help of General Huang and exterminated all the fox spirits. Da Ji escaped the extermination as she was the king’s pet. She then devised a plan in pretending to be sick and needing to consume Bi Gan’s heart to heal. The king then asked Bi Gan for his heart and he dug out his own heart to present to the king.
Jiang ZiYa then deified him but not specifically as a wealth god. However, the people believed that Bi Gan would be a capable and impartial distributor of wealth since he has no heart and prayed to him for wealth luck.
Thus, he became associated with Cai Shen as well.
Fan LI who was also known as Tao ZhuGong (陶朱公) was a real historical figure.
He made his mark as a statesman, especially in areas of politics and commerce.
But he really made his name in business as his business acumen after retiring from statemanship brought him to three different places. Each time amassing great wealth and distributing his wealth to the people.
As such, it is understandable that he was highly revered as an extraordinary businessman, and also regarded as one of the founding fathers of commercial business in China.
His 12 rules of doing business and 12 rules of management is still studied by Chinese businessmen even to this day.
Upon his death, the people worshiped him as a god of wealth.
Together with Bi Gan, they are both often known with the title literary gods of wealth.
Guan Yu was a real historical figure and best known as one of the main characters in the classic novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”.
Uniquely identifiable with his long beard and facial hair, his emblem is his trademark weapon which is the crescent blade.
It must be said that while his reverence is undeniable, a lot of the events concerning him in the novel are dramatized.
Holding a title of Military God of wealth like Zhao Gong Ming, he also goes with the name Yun Chang (雲長) or more affectionately as Guan Gong (关公), and best known for his courage, loyalty and righteousness.
Together with Liu Bei (劉備) and Zhang Fei (張飛), who are also key characters in the Three Kingdoms era, they make up the infamous trio of sworn brothers that is a deep symbolism of brotherhood and loyalty in Chinese culture.
His character struck a chord with the masses and is also considered a god of wealth.
There are so many stories of Guan Yu that picking the most notable ones to mentioned here is a challenge by itself.
I suggest that if you want to learn more about him, read up the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. If you understand Mandarin, then I highly recommend that you watch one of the best drama series about the story produced by CCTV. The show is so engaging that you would be watching from episode to episode without wanting a break.
Placement of god of wealth
To summarize things, remember that when we are talking about the god of wealth, we are referring to Cai Shen. And any of the characters mentioned above can be considered as an embodiment of Cai Shen.
This means that paintings, figurines or sculptures of any of the mentioned characters can be considered as a Cai Shen and can be carefully placed to invite the god to call for wealth luck.
As powerful symbols of wealth, they are best placed in the most obvious and prominent wealth locations.
When using altars to invite Cai Shen, the figurine should be placed safely towards the back far from the front edge of the altar, an incense burner would be in front, with a red plate filled with offerings such as sweets and loose tea leaves in between. In front of the burner would be two rows of 3 tea cups. The front row would be filled with tea and the second row with rice wine. These rituals would vary from place to place.
One thing to note is that they are godly figures and should never be placed in positions where they are confronting you.
For example, putting them on the TV console where you will be directly facing when watching TV on the sofa should be avoid. It’s never good to be face-to-face with a god when having dinner at the dining table. The same can be said when they are placed on work desks directly facing you when you are working.
Ideally they should be behind you or at the side so that they are supporting you with wealth energy.
When accompanied by other celestial figures or creatures on display, it is also critical to note that their formation property reflects their status.
For example, if Zhao is on display riding his pet tiger and escorted by a couple of fu dogs for protection on both sides, then the dogs should not be positioned in an elevated level above him and should be slightly in front.
This signifies their lower status to the god. Otherwise, the god might feel threatened when other celestial creatures have a more dominant position.