A fascinating aspect of Asian culture is the vast number of religious statues. Many of these are deities, although others are demons, generals, teachers, ancestors, and even animals. Some statues such as Guan Yin are peaceful and beautiful, but there is an amazing variety.
One of the more interesting ones I’ve come across is Zhu Bajie, a character from the Ming dynasty novel, Journey to the West, also known as Monkey. Zhu Bajie, represented as a human body with the head of a pig, was a heavenly commander who was cast down to earth because of his piggish appetites, and who then had many complicated adventures.
My first indication that this was an unusual object was when I bought it, and I was warned not to give the effigy to any female friend or relative, because this character was rather unsavory, and was the special “guardian saint” for prostitutes. Keith Stevens in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch had this to say about Zhu Bajie:
"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, offering him incense and chants morning and evening whilst calling on him to bring them rich guests, foolish and witless, to be fleeced."
Quite a reputation this Zhu Bajie has. Since I brought him into my apartment I have not noticed any material change in the quality of my guests and other visitors (although naturally I would be too polite to tell the truth on that score. Furthermore, maybe I didn't get the chant right.)
I have managed to find a couple of other images of Zhu Bajie. The above panel came from a piece of furniture, and is a mahogany-like wood, inlaid with boxwood and bone. Unlike the happy 3-D statue, this one looks disgruntled, and the bird next to him doesn’t look too happy, either. Also, he is holding a large flower, whereas Zu Bajie’s normal attribute is a rake which he holds as a weapon. He may look like he is waving, but actually he is about to wreak destruction.
|Zhu Bajie with Rake. (Source: http://tech2.npm.gov.tw/literature/beauty/beauty.asp?B=137.jpg)|
This rather trim and stylish example is very similar to the top one, though perhaps a bit more brightly colored. While both of these small statues have lost their rakes, their right hands are eternally raised to wield them.
Normally, statues like the above are placed on home altars or in temples, so I had assumed that Zhu Bajie dates back into Chinese mythology, but apparently he originated in the Journey to the West novel, many scenes from which have made their way into Chinese art. I find these little statues appealing and a little bizarre, but strangest of all is how a fictional character was deified by prostitutes.