Episode 24: Punk Boy

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We have talked about some gods or deity in Chinese mythology so far. They were either a goddess, a strong man or a wise old person. Today we are going to talk about the most popular boy in Chinese mythology and for me he is a punk like a lot of teenagers in real life. This boy’s name is NeZha 哪吒, which definitely doesn’t sound like a traditional Chinese name. Most researchers think the character of NeZha is originally from Hindu mythology, and is inspired by the character of Nalakubar , the third son of the yaksha king Kubera. Since both Nalakubar and NeZha are powerful child gods and both of them have brothers and both of their father are powerful gods as well. However, the stories about NeZha definitely are rooted in China and deeply affected by Taoist and Confucianism. His Taoist names are Marshal of the Central Altar 中坛元帅and Third Lotus Prince 莲花三太子. Stories of NeZha can be found in quite a few Chinese books and literature.

In the book TaiPingGuangJi太平广记 from around the year 978, it mentioned NeZha tried to help monks to protect Buddhism scripts. In the Taoist book SanJiaoSouShenDaQuan三教搜神大全大全 from Ming Dynasty between 1368 ~ 1644, it says NeZha was the deity working for 玉皇 the Jade Emperor, the highest power in Taoist theology. NeZha is 6 zhang tall, which is around 192 cm or 6 ft 3 inches. I guess it is normal for an American male adult nowadays, but it is too tall for a Chinese kid. Anyways, he wears a golden wheel on his head, and has 3 heads 9 eyes and 8 arms. He breaths out clouds and if he shouts, clouds would form and rain drops fall.

Because there were a lot of evil spirits in the world, the Jade Emperor commanded him to help by letting him been given birth in the family of LiJing李靖, a military commander and as known as Pagoda-wielding heavenly King 托塔李天王 in Taoist and Lady Yin 殷夫人. In the book 封神演义, Investiture of the Gods, a 16th century novel about gods and demons, it says Lady Yin, Nezha’s mom gave birth to a ball of flesh after being pregnant for 3 years and 6 months. LiJing is a person with a high position and pretty orthodox. He didn’t want to accept this demon is his child and attacked the flesh ball with sword where Nezha jumped out as a boy not an infant. Later he became the student of TaiYiZhenRen 太乙真人, a Taoist god.

One day Nezha was playing in the East Sea and started a fight with Aobing敖丙the 3rd son of East Sea Dragon King. There are four dragon kings in Chinese mythology who are in charge of four seas in China and we will talk about it in the future. During the fight, Nezha killed Aobing and since Nezha is a punk, he didn’t care about dragon king’s son or whoever he killed, he even used the dragon son’s rib to make a belt for his father. Of course when the Dragon King found out he could’ t believe his son’s death and confronted Nezha. What would he do? As a punk boy. Nezha kept fighting with the Dragon King. The Dragon King hurt pretty badly and had to report to the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝 to punish Nezha and his family. When Nezha’s father LiJing knew about all the bad things his son did, he got so raged and especially he was an orthodox parent and his kid was a punk. Think about the relationship between a teenage boy and his parents. In the ancient China even today sometimes, I feel like people value principles or “saving face” more than anything else. Especially LiJing always thought his son Nezha might be a demon since he was born, so he tried to kill Nezha in front of the Dragon King and asked for punishment himself as an apology. I feel Nezha always loved his family even his father might hate or be afraid him. Nezha said, “ I did all the crimes and I will get punishment myself without anyone getting hurt my family.” He committed suicide and carved his flesh and bones to return them to his parents for the debt of his death.

Even after the suicide, Nezha’s father was still shameful for his son and burned the temples Nezha’s mother built for him to rest his soul. Drama still went on in the afterlife. I can understand the reason why LiJing did this. Since LiJing burned the temples. Nezha couldn’t forgive his father even when he was dead. When he was later brought back to life by his teacher TaiYiZhenRen using lotus and lotus roots, Nezha started revenge his father. I always feel bad for Nezha. Now he could never keep the love for his dad and finally started to fight against him. With the new weapons hi teacher gave : Wind Fire Wheels 风火轮 and Fire-tipped spear 火尖枪, Nezha was more powerful than before. The reincarnation of Nezha had many battles with his father and LiJing realized he was no match for his son. With the help of the god RanDengDaoRen燃灯道人, LiJing got a new weapon too which was a pagoda and captured Nezha in the pagoda. The end of the story is the father and son forgave each other and helped the King Wu武王.


It’s actually a pretty tragic ending for me. Nezha tried his life to fight against the rules the Confucianism and be a punk. One thing in Confucianism is filial piety , a virtue of respect for one’s parents and ancestors. You probably wouldn’t find this concept in the west and as a son Nezha has to obey his father whether it is right or wrong. The elders can punish the younger if they want to. This is definitely not the healthiest relationship in any form. In the end, as a son, Nezha had to surrender to this father.

In the book Journey to the West 西游记, Nezha’s story was also mentioned however all the Taoist gods were replaced with Buddhism gods and he had some fights with the monkey king. Chinese like the Monkey King more than Nezha maybe because the monkey king doesn’t have families or any principles he need to follow. He is a more free spirit.

If you see figures with a kid riding on the Wind Fire wheels, having rings around his body and red Armillary Sash around his shoulders and a Fire-tipped Spear in his hand and sometimes having three heads and six arms you would know he is the punk boy.


哪吒 NeZha


托塔李天王 Pagoda-wielding heavenly King

玉皇大帝 Jade Emperor

太乙真人 TaiYiZhenRen

燃灯道人 RanDengDaoRen

太平广记 TaiPingGuangJi

西游记Journey to the West

封神演义Investiture of the Gods

三教搜神大全 SanJiaoSouShenDaQuan

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