Episode 68 : Lord Of The Soil And Ground

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Today we are going to talk about a cute old man, Lord of the Soil and Ground. We call him TuDiGong 土地公 in Chinese, a tutelary deity of a region and community in Chinese mythology. Other names in Chinese for him includes TuDiYe 土地爷 and SheShen 社神. In Taoism, he has the title of FuDeZhengShen 福德正神. He is probably the most down to the earth god in China. Down to the earth not because he is the lord of ground but because he has a close relationship with Chinese people.


In the agricultural society, land is the foundation of life where all the food comes from. It has been centuries since the Chinese people worshiped the land. In the book ShuoWenJieZi 说文解字, it says the Chinese character She 社 for the god of land meaning the owner of land. In the book ShiJi 史记, it mentions around 1600 BC, after ShangTang 商汤captured Jie 桀 , the last Emperor of the Xia dynasty 夏朝 and inaugurated the Shang dynasty 商朝,he went back and worshiped the god of land. However, in the early days, god of land was only an abstract concept. There wasn’t a figure or name for it.

The character She 社 also means society which was due to a political ideology during the later Zhou Dynasty 周朝, almost 3000 years ago called Fengjian 封建 and it lasted for thousands years in China. The social structure forming a decentralized system of government where each state was independent and had its own tax and legal system kind of like the U.S today. In the book HanShu 汉书, it says 25 families means one She 社. In he book XiaoJingWei 孝经纬, it says land is such a broad object and people aren’t able to worship every part of it. So people would worshiped a smaller region called She 社.


In this case, god becomes the lord. Lord of soil and ground , TuDiGong, in only in charge of a local region. In Taoism, the status of him is pretty low. In folklore, different regions have their own lord of soil and ground and they are limited years on the position and can be changed. There are temples of lord of soil and ground everywhere in China. That’s why he has a close relationship with common people.

In literature the image of the TuDiGong is kind of like a county counselor or governor. In the book Journey to the West 西游记, when the four traveled to a new place, the monkey king would bother the local lord of soil and ground and ask about the geography and culture like checking the Lonely Planet.


I forgot to mention what TuDiGong looks like. Nothing special just a smiling nice old man in traditional Chinese clothing carrying a cane. Sometimes you can see an old lady next to him. That’s his wife and we call her GongDiPo 土地婆. Maybe in the countryside, people think an old man should have a wife. It is said she was ordered by the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝 to look after how many blessings TuDiGong distributes and if they are unnecessary. So TuDiGong is playing the good guy and TuDiPo is playing the bad guy here.








西游记 Journey to the West


玉皇大帝 Jade Emperor

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