Episode 99: Mazu the sea goddess

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In Chinese mythology, unlike in Greek mythology, Poseidon is the god of the sea and other waters, there are different gods in charge of different waters since China has a huge territory. Today we will talk about Mazu 妈祖, the most well-known sea goddess.


The story of Mazu started from the province FuJian 福建 on the southeastern coast of China. In the book TongSuBian 通俗编 from the Qing dynasty 清朝, it says the goddess Mazu was the sixth daughter of the military general LinYuan 林愿 in FuJian from the Five Dynasties period 五代时 期around the 10th century. She could sail in the sea and travel led around the islands. People called her the dragon girl. During the Song dynasty 宋朝,the emperor worshiped her as Madame LinHui 灵惠夫人. So she is a deified goddess based on a historical person.


In the folklore, it says, her name was LinMo 林默. Lin was her last name. Mo means silence because she didn’t cry during birth. It is believed that she saved her families when they were caught offshore during a typhoon. She died at the age of 27. Some people say she died in meditation though some believed she climbed a mountain and ascended into Heaven as a goddess.


In the book YuanShi 元史 from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says Madame LinHui is the goddess of the South Sea. She protects people on the sea including fishermen and sailors. The emperor from the Yuan dynasty 元朝 gave her the title TianFei 天妃, which means Empress of the Heaven. The emperor from the Qing dynasty 清朝 gave her the title TianHou 天后, which means Queen of the Heaven.

The Mazu literally means mother ancestor, which is the title of the local FuJian people calling female ancestors. Mazu is remembered as a young lady wearing a red dress as she roamed over the seas. In statuary, she is clothed in the attire of an empress and wearing a flat-topped imperial cap with rows of beads hanging from the front and back like an empress.


Mazu is believed in Taoism as well and she has two guardian generals QianLianYan 千里眼, which means Thousand-Mile Eye and ShunFengEr 顺风耳, meaning Wind-Following Ear. In statuary, they appear as demons next to Mazu.


Most people know about Silk Road that connected the East and West. There is actually a Maritime silk road as well since the Yuan dynasty 元朝. During Ming dynasty 明朝 and Qing dynasty 清朝, sailors often carried statues of Mazu to ensure safe crossings. The government of the Ming dynasty 明朝 sponsored seven naval expeditions. The most important one is when ZhengHe 郑和, a legendary mariner and explorer who made the voyage “the largest scale manhunt on water in the history of China” from the year 1405 to the year 1433. On ZhengHe’s boats they worshiped Mazu every day and they believed they were protected by Mazu.


The belief Mazuism has spread to other part of Asia especially those coastal regions where fishery and businesses through the sea are frequent and crucial, including some parts of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and so on. There are around 1500 temples of Mazu in 26 countries around the world today. Most of them are considered as Taoist but some are considered as Buddhist. The name Macau of the region in China was thought to be deprived from the name of the A-Ma Temple 妈阁庙 when the Portuguese colonists landed at the coast just outside of the temple and asked the name of the place.


Some people believe this theory that people’s personality is related to the geography and climate of the place they live. I feel the people from coastal province FuJian where Mazu is from are more adventurous than most part especially the inland places of China . The earliest immigrants to all over the world from China are from FuJian. They traveled overseas doing businesses and finding opportunities and even settled down. Maybe they are so brave because they believe they are protected by Mazu.




通俗编 TongSuBian

元史 YuanShi

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