Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mazu (goddess)

Mazu , also spelt Matsu, is the Taoist who protects fishermen and sailors, and is revered as the patron saint who protects East Asians who are associated with the ocean. Her mortal name is Lin Moniang .

She is widely worshipped in the south-eastern coastal areas of China and neighbouring areas, especially Zhejiang, Fujian, Taiwan, Guangdong, and Vietnam, all of which have strong sea-faring traditions, as well as migrant communities elsewhere with sizeable populations from these areas.


Popular names

* Mazu , or Mazu-po , pronounced as ''Matsu'' in Japanese
* Tian Hou or ''Thiên H?u'' in Vietnamese
* Tian Fei , pronounced as ''Tenpi'' in Japanese
* A-Ma or A-Po
* ''Tianshang Shengmu'' or ''Tianhou Shengmu'' or ''Thiên H?u Thánh M?u'' in Vietnamese

Official titles

* In Southern Song Danasty, she was given the first Title as "Princess of Supernatural Favour" in A.D. 1155 by Emperor Gaozong of Song.
* In the Yuan Dynasty, she was officially the "Protector of the Empire and the Brilliantly Outstanding Heavenly Princess" .
* In Ming Dynasty, she was given as "Holy Mother of Heaven Above" in 1417 by the Yongle Emperor.
* In the Qing Dynasty, she was made the "Heavenly Empress" . Her last imperial title was given as "Holy Mother in Heaven" in 1839 by the Daoguang Emperor.


According to legend, Lin Moniang was born in 960 as the seventh daughter of Lin Yuan on Meizhou Island, Fujian. She did not cry when she was born, and thus her given name means "Silent Girl."

There are many legends about her and the sea.

Although she started swimming relatively late at the age of 15, she soon became an excellent swimmer. She wore red garments while standing on the shore to guide fishing boats home, even in the most dangerous and harsh weather.

According to one legend, Lin Moniang's father and brothers were fishermen. One day, a terrible typhoon arose while they were out at sea, and the rest of her family feared that those at sea had perished. In the midst of this storm, depending on the version of the legend, she either fell into a while for the lives of her father and brothers or dreamed of her father and brothers while she was sleeping. In either the trance or the dream, her father and brothers were drowning, and she reached out to them, holding her brothers up with her hands and her father up with her mouth. However, Moniang's mother now discovered her and tried to wake her, but Moniang was in such a deep trance or dream that it seemed like she was dead. Moniang's mother, already believing the rest of their family dead, now broke down, crying, believing that Moniang had also just died. Hearing her mother's cries, in pity, Moniang gave a small cry to let her mother know she was alive, but in opening her mouth, she was forced to drop her father. Consequently, Moniang's brothers returned alive and told the other villagers that a miracle had happened and that they had somehow been held up in the water as a typhoon raged.

There are at least two versions of Lin Moniang's death. In one version, she died in 987 at the age of 28, when she climbed a mountain alone and flew to heaven and became a goddess. Another version of the legend says that she died at age 16 of exhaustion after swimming far into the ocean trying to find her lost father and that her corpse later washed ashore in Nankan Island of the Matsu Islands.

''Lin Moniang'' , a minor Fujianese TV series, is a dramatization of the life of Mazu as a mortal.


After her death, the families of many fishermen and sailors began to pray to her in honor of her acts of courage in trying to save those at sea. Her worship spread quickly. Much of her popularity in comparison to other sea deities resulted from her role as a compassionate motherly protector, in contrast to authoritarian father figures like the Dragon Kings. She is usually depicted wearing a red robe, and sitting on a throne. As often happens to revered folk heroes in Chinese culture, she became an empress figure during the Yuan Dynasty.


Starting from Fujian, worship of Mazu spread to the neighbouring coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Guangdong, and thence to all coastal areas of mainland China. With emigration and especially the Chinese diaspora of the 19th and 20th centuries, it further spread to Taiwan, Vietnam, Ryukyu, Japan, and South East Asia; the role of Mazu as patron of the seas ensured that newly arrived immigrants often erected temples to her first, to give thanks for arriving safely. Today, worship of Mazu is also found in other countries with sizeable populations from these regions. In total, there are around 1,500 Mazu temples in 26 countries of the world.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, around 60 temples are dedicated to Tin Hau, some giving reverence to other important deities. The temple in the Tin Hau area, east of , in , on Hong Kong Island, has given its name to the area and to serving it . The ''Tin Hau Temple'' is one of the declared monuments of Hong Kong. Because of their historic significance, many Tin Hau Temples in Hong Kong were graded historic buildings.

See Tin Hau temples in Hong Kong for a more detailed listing.


Macau has three Tin Hau temples . The name ''Macau'' is thought to be derived from the Templo de A-Má , a still-existing landmark built in 1448 dedicated to the goddess Mazu.

Mainland China

Aside from Fujian, there are more than 40 temples dedicated to Mazu in Guangdong and Hainan, and more than 30 in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. In northern China, there are large Mazu temples in Tianjin, Weihai, Yingkou, Qinhuangdao, Qingdao, Changdao Islands , and .

In Nanjing, the Tian Fei Palace was built by the Yongle Emperor in the Ming Dynasty, at the instigation of Admiral Zheng He after returning from his first expedition. Before and after each expedition, Zheng He would worship at the temple for Mazu's protection. Because it was a state temple built by the Emperor, this temple was the largest and enjoyed the highest status of all Mazu temples in the country. The temple was largely destroyed by Japanese bombings in 1937, but is currently being rebuilt.

In Shanghai, historically here were three principal Tian Hou Temples. During the Qing Dynasty, it was customary for diplomats departing by sea to worship at the Tian Hou Palace in the old city. All of these were progressively destroyed. The last, on the banks of the Suzhou Creek, was moved to Songjiang. This temple is now dedicated to the "Mazu of the Huangpu River". The City God Temple in the old city is also partially dedicated to Mazu.


In Putian, the legendary birthplace of Mazu, there are hundreds of temples dedicated to the goddess, including about 20 on Meizhou island alone.

Elsewhere in Fujian, there are about 70 temples dedicated to Mazu, mostly concentrated in the coastal areas.

Heavenly Empress Temple-Meizhou Ancestral Temple is on her native Meizhou Island.


Malaysia has a long history of Taoist religion ever since the Chinese from Southern China settled in South East Asia region. The famous Thean Hou Temple situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Capital of Malaysia is a famous tourist destination in Asia. Few tenths thousand of other temples and statues are found throughout the country.

Every year, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is celebrated heavily especially in Penang; and the Birthday of Mazu celebrated throughout the country.

A mega project to build the world tallest Mazu statue at Northernmost tip of Borneo, Kudat was officially launched by the leader and people of Sabah recently . The statue was to measure at 10-storey high and would draw millions of tourists to the country every year. This project has however been cancelled due to protests from a few Muslims in Sabah and some political interference.


The worship of Mazu was brought to Singapore from China by the influx of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century, a large proportion of whom came from Fujian. Two of the oldest and best known Chinese temples in Singapore, Thian Hock Keng and Yueh Hai Ching Temple, were both dedicated mainly to Mazu, and in the 19th century were frequented by immigrants who came to give thanks after a safe sea voyage from China.


There are about 800 to 1000 Taiwanese temples dedicated entirely or--more often--partly to Mazu. Here are some of the more famous:
* Chenlan Temple in Tachia, Taichung County, is the most famous Mazu temple in Taiwan, and an annual pilgrimage takes place there each spring.
* Chaotian Temple of Peikang Township in is was constructed in 1694 and is dedicated to Maxu. It is renowned for the extravagance of its decorative elements.
* Great Queen of Heaven Temple of Tainan City was founded in 1664.
* Tianhou Temple of Cijin in Kaohsiung dates back to 1691.
* Tianhou Temple of Lugang contains an image of Mazu brought to Taiwan from the mainland in 1684.
* Tianhou Temple of Magong on Penghu Island was built in 1593. It is Taiwan's oldest temple.


In Thailand, there are a lots of Mazu temples too, especially in cities near the sea such as Bangkok, Chonburi, Pattani, and Phuket, there are 3 shrines as Gew Leng Thong, Sam San Tian Hew Geng, Keng Jew Hui Guan .
Many Thai Chinese worship the goddess, and some visit Fujian, China to worship her at her place of origin.

United States

Mazu is also worshipped by southeast Asians in the West as well. Many temples are dedicated to Mazu in Chinatowns in the United States.
* The oldest Taoist temple in the United States, Tin How Temple in San Francisco, built in 1852, is dedicated to Mazu.
* Another Mazu temple that has gained popularity in the west is located in , wherein many South East Asians are known to reside. Known as ''Chùa Bà Thiên H?u'' and home to the Camau Association of America, a Chinese/Vietnamese/Teochew benevolent association, it has become an immensely popular tourist attraction in Chinatown after being completed on September 5, 2005 after two years of building and an investment of around $2m. It features such attrtactions as annual 24-hour lion dances and a legal firecracker display on Chinese New Year's Eve.


In Vietnam, Mazu is known as ''Thiên H?u''.
* In the 19th century, the Cantonese congregation of Cholon, now a part of Ho Chi Minh City, built a well-known temple to Thiên H?u.
* The well-known Quan Am Pagoda, also in Cholon, has an altar to Thien Hau.

Festival of Mazu

Her birthday-festival is on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It falls in late April or early May in the Gregorian calendar.

* 2001: April 16
* 2002: May 5
* 2003: April 24
* 2004: May 11
* 2005: May 1
* 2006: April 20
* 2007: May 9
* 2008: April 28
* 2009: April 18
* 2010: May 6


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