Episode 64: Old Man Of The South Pole

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Santa Clause is the old man of the North Pole and today we are going to talk about the Old Man of the South Pole, NanJiXianWeng 南极仙翁 in Chinese Mythology. This Taoist god is a deification of Canopus, the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina. So the south pole in the name is not the south pole we talk about today. He is the god of longevity in Chinese mythology, so we also him ShouXing 寿星, the star of longevity.

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NanJiXianWeng or ShouXing is usually depicted as an old man with a long white beard with a deer or a red-crowned crane by side. The most special look about him is that he has a huge forehead with a bump on it. Some people say because it looks like the forehead of a red-crowned crane, a symbol of luck and longevity in Chinese mythology. He usually holds a peach on one hand and a peach wood cane on the other hand. We have talked about a few times that peaches represents longevity in Taoism and Chinese mythology. The reason he is holding a cane for one reason of course is that old people usually use canes.

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For another reason is that in the book HanShu 汉书, it says in Han Dynasty the Emperor HanMing held a huge banquet between the year 28 ~ 75. The guests were anyone who were older than 70 years, poor or rich all over the country. After the banquet, he gave each of them wine, meat, rice and a delicate cane as gift. There was a carved streptopelia, a bird in the dove family on top of the cane. In 1958,archaeologists discovered the streptopelia part of a cane in a tomb from the Han Dynasty. Since it was painted, it still looked new after 1800 years. The intention was to encourage everyone to respect the elders. Like we talked about in our podcast before, respecting the elders is a huge part in Confucianism and it also correlates being respect for your teachers and your emperor. So this banquet in a way had a political purpose. Anyways I don’t disagree respecting the elders , teachers or emperor. But I agree being respectful to everyone.

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Actually in history, there were some other banquets held by emperors for the elders including Emperor QianLong 乾隆 in the Qing Dynasty 清朝. He invited more than 6000 thousands people older than 60 years old to his 74 year birthday. Celebration of birthdays weren’t a tradition in ancient China since birthday is related to the pains and suffers of one’s mother especially in the ancient time, women had large chances ended up losing their lives when giving birth. Until the Ming Dynasty 明朝and Qing Dynasty 清朝, it was getting popular to celebrate birthdays for old people.

Today ShouXing does’t convey much political or religious meanings, he is popular in regular people’s households.

Mentioned:

南极仙翁 NanJiXianWeng / Old Man of the South Pole

寿星 ShouXing/ Star of Longevity

汉书 HanShu

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