Menshen or threshold guardians are divine guardians of doors and gates in Chinese folk religions, used to protect against evil influences or to encourage the entrance of positive ones. They began as the divine pair Shenshu (Chinese: 神荼) and Yulü (Chinese: 鬱壘) under the Han, but the deified generals Qin Shubao (Chinese: 秦叔寶) and Yuchi Gong (Chinese: 尉迟恭) have been more popular since the Tang. In cases where a door god is affixed to a single door, Wei Zheng or Zhong Kui is commonly used.
|Literal meaning||gate god(s)|
|Martial Door Gods|
|Literal meaning||military gate god(s)|
|Civil Door Gods|
|Literal meaning||literary gate god(s)|
The gates and doors of Chinese houses have long received special ritual attention. Sacrifices to a door spirit are recorded as early as the Book of Rites. By the Han, this spirit had become the two gods Shenshu and Yulü, whose names or images were painted into peachwood and attached to doors. The Great Ancestor of the Tang ("Emperor Taizong") ordered portraits of his generals Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong to be affixed to gates. They eventually came to be considered divine protectors, replacing Shentu and Yulü and remaining the most common door gods to the present day. Qin and Yuchi, along with various other deified military leaders, make up a class of martial door gods intended to ward off evil spirits and bad influences. A separate group of scholars make up a class of civil door gods intended to attract blessings and good fortune. Some deities are also thought to have guardians who serve a similar role at their temples, such as Mazu's companions Qianliyan and Shunfeng'er.
The 10th chapter of the Chinese novel Journey to the West includes an account of the origin of door gods. In it, the Dragon King of the Jing River disguised himself as a human to outsmart the fortune teller Yuan Shoucheng. Since he was able to control the weather, he made a bet with Yuan about Chang'an's forecast for the next day. He was nonplussed, however, when he received an order from the Jade Emperor telling him to give the city precisely the weather Yuan had predicted. The Dragon King preferred to win the bet and disregarded the order, going to Yuan to gloat the next day. Yuan remained calm and revealed that he had known the Dragon King's identity all along. Moreover, since the dragon had been so arrogant as to disregard an order from the Jade Emperor, his doom would be short in coming. The dragon was shocked to see his disobedience known and immediately pleaded with Yuan to save him. Yuan let him know that the Jade Emperor would send Wei Zheng—a senior minister from the court of the Great Ancestor of the Tang ("Emperor Taizong")—to execute him at noon the following day. He told him his best course of action was to ask Taizong for help and, taking pity on the Dragon King, the emperor agreed to save him. In order to do so, the emperor summoned Wei Zheng to play go with him in the morning. He endeavored to keep Wei from leaving until after noon, preventing him from carrying out the Jade Emperor's order, and was delighted when Wei grew so tired with the long game that he fell asleep. A little while later, however, the Great Ancestor was told that a dragon's head had fallen from the sky. Wei awoke and told him that his spirit had left his body during his nap and gone to Heaven to carry out the Jade Emperor's order. The annoyed spirit of the Dragon King then haunted the Great Ancestor each night until his generals Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong volunteered to stand guard at his door. The emperor enjoyed his peaceful sleep but did not want to continue bothering his two generals. In their place, he had artists paint their portraits and paste them to the doors. This was then copied by his subjects.
In modern use, door gods are usually printed images which are pasted to paired doors. They are usually replaced every Chinese New Year. Occasionally, they are sculpted in relief or placed as statues to either side of a door. The figures should face each other; it is considered bad luck to place them back to back.
In ancient China, there was a ritual for a sacrifice to the door spirit of a wealthy home recorded in the Book of Rites. In modern China, door gods do not make up a formal element of Taoism and are included as traditional decorations or as nods to popular superstition. There are, however, some deities worshipped for other reasons—including the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, and Mazu's companions Qianliyan and Shunfeng'er—who also serve as door gods at Taoist temples.
The following persons, some of whom are mythological figures, are known to have been worshipped as door gods.
|Shenshu||神荼||The earliest-attested door gods, appearing in the Mountain and Sea Classic. Ordered by the Jade Emperor to guard the trees of the Peaches of Immortality, which were being gnawed upon by demons.|
|Wangtianjun||王天君||Attendants of the North God, seen at Taoist temples|
|Azure Dragon||Seen at Taoist temples|
|Qianliyan||"All-seeing" and "All-hearing" demons sometimes considered the deified forms of the brothers Gao Ming and Gao Jue, rapacious generals or bandits of the era of King Zhou of the Shang, who were subdued and befriended by the Fujianese shamaness and sea goddess Mazu. They typically serve as the door gods of her temples, although they also appear as the "eyes" and "ears" of the Jade Emperor in The Journey to the West.|
|Fangbi||方弼||Two figures from The Creation of the Gods|
|Tianguan Dadi||天官大帝||A form of the most-high God and the founder of Quanzhen Taoism. Seen in Taoist temples.|
|Miji Jingang||密迹金剛||Also known as the Hēnghā Èrjiàng (哼哈二将), derived from the Buddhist Vajrapani, derived from Greco-Buddhist forms of Heracles. Seen in Buddhist and Taoist temples.|
|He||和||Collectively, the "2 Immortals He and He", with names meaning "Harmony" and "Union".|
|Qin Shubao||秦叔寶||Tang generals whose image was ordered placed upon gates by the Great Ancestor of the Tang ("Emperor Taizong")|
|Sun Bin||Warring-States generals, worshipped in parts of Shaanxi.|
|Bai Qi||Warring-States generals|
|Fusu||A Qin crown prince and general who defended its northern border against the Xiongnu.|
|Chen Sheng||Rebels who led the Dazexiang Uprising against the Qin Empire|
|Ziying||The last emperor of the Qin dynasty and his successor, who nominally oversaw the Eighteen Kingdoms that preceded the establishment of the Han dynasty|
|Ying Bu||Han generals under Liu Bang, founder of Han|
|Yao Qi||姚期||Fictionalized leaders under Emperor Guangwu in the Romance of the Eastern Han (東漢演義)|
|Guan Yu||Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were Shu generals during the Three Kingdoms, depicted as Liu Bei's sworn brothers in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and numbered among the Five Tiger Generals. Guan Ping was his son. Zhou Cang was a fictional subordinate in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Guan Sheng was a fictional descendant who appears in the novel Outlaws of the Marsh.|
|Zhao Yun||Shu generals during the Three Kingdoms, numbered among the Five Tiger Generals. Seen in parts of Henan.|
|Ma Chao||Shu generals during the Three Kingdoms. Seen in parts of Hebei.|
|Zhuge Liang||Chief ministers of the states of Shu and Wei during the Three Kingdoms, depicted as nemeses in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms|
|Pei Yuanqing||裴元慶||A fictional rebel general and a fictionalized historical son of Li Yuan, founder of the Tang, who appear in the Shuo Tang|
|Wei Zheng||Early Tang officials|
|Xue Rengui||Generals from both sides of the Tang-Goguryeo War. Seen in parts of northern Hebei.|
|Zhang Xun||Tang officials who died defending Suiyang against the An Lushan Rebellion.|
|Zhao Kuangyin||The Great Ancestor ("Emperor Taizu") of the Song dynasty and the ancestor of the Song's dynasty of Yang generals|
|Meng Liang||孟良||Fictionalized subordinates of the Yang generals|
|Yue Fei||A Song general and a Taoist deity|
|Yue Yun||岳雲||Yue Fei's son and subordinate|
|Fan Lihua||樊梨花||Fictional wives of Xue Dingshan depicted in the Xiaobei Taishuai Gong in Tainan on Taiwan.|
|Mu Guiying||穆桂英||Qin was a female general from Sichuan under the Ming.|
- Media related to Menshen at Wikimedia Commons