May 15, 2014

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Fu, Lu and Shou, Three Stars of Longevity Luck and Wealth

Fu, Lu, and Shou are three gods that are sometimes called the Three Stars. Separately, they may be called Fu Xing, Lu Xing, and Shou Xing, with Xing meaning star. The three gods -- Longevity Luck and Wealth -- have been popular among people for centuries, which show the traditional culture of the Chinese people who long for Longevity Luck and Wealth.

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Star of Blessings, Fu Xing

Fu Xing is a star that the ancient Chinese thought was in charge of agriculture in China. Today, Fu Xing is generally shown as a court official with a characteristically winged hat, and often with a scepter in his hand. But he looked enormously different in an age-old drawing depicting 28 gods in early Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), where, with a tiger face and leopard eyes, sitting on a huge wild boar, he ranked as the head of the gods.
 
In the Tang Dynasty, Fu Xing (also called Yang Cheng) became a governor of Dazhou in Hunan of Central China. The emperor of his day found midgets amusing, and often conscripted them from Dazhou. When governor Yang learned that the midgets were unhappy to be taken away from their families, he stood up to the emperor and abolished the practice. Thus Yang became immortalized as one who brings blessings and happiness.

The Character Fu

The character fu is good fortune, blessings, happiness. It denotes being happy as the result of being lucky. The character is prominently displayed on doors, often upside-down, as turn upside-down and a word meaning arrive are homophones; in other words, to say luck upside-down sounds like luck is coming.

The Fu Culture

Fu means happiness, or good fortune. Through the ages, the understanding of the word has varied. In Li Ji (literally, Records of Rites), fu stands for success and also has the hidden meaning of business being smooth and everything going well. In the episode of Hong Fan, Book of Historical Records (Shang Shu), fu was interpreted in five ways ranging from longevity, wealth, and peace to virtue, and death without illnesses. In order to get the ultimate fu , a perfect life had to be pursued via following the five principles.

Master Han Fei in his writings of Han Feizi in the late third century BC regarded fu as both longevity and wealth. Ouyang Xiu, a well-known poet in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), expressed his understanding of fu in a poem: Serve my country wholehearted till the end, retire home to enjoy health and longevity. The core of the five fu in his mind was longevity and health.

People of various classes and social statuses also held different view of fu. For peasants, fu meant land, pleasant weather, good harvests, ample food, and enough clothing for one's family. People in ancient cities would think they had fu if they could survive cruel rulers, wars, and famines. To merchants and businessmen, gold and swelling wealth were fu . For elder people, nothing would bring about more happiness than health, longevity, and grandchildren playing around them.

Over time, fu has gained newer and richer meanings. As the main ingredient of a propitious culture, fu represents the common people's greatest expectations from life and reflects their dreams and desires from different angles and levels. Praying for fu (or desires to reach fu) has slowly and subtly influenced the folk culture and become a kind of worship.

Ancient people had a realistic and dialectical view of fu . Lao Tzu said: Good fortune lies within bad; bad fortune lurks within good. In other words, one element co-exists with another element, while calamity and luck can replace or exchange with each other.

In Treatise on Response and Retribution, Lao Tzu furthermore explained the relationship of these two elements: Calamity and luck have no door; you have to find your own way in or out of it. In his view, calamity and luck are hard to predict, but human beings can make an effort to adjust and change themselves in order to reach the ultimate fu .

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Star of Prosperity, Lu Xing

Lu Xing was said to be the first star of the Big Dipper, an auspicious star blessing ancient intellectuals with a position in the civil service. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Lu Xing became another name for Scholar Star.

The popularity of Lu Xing among common people and especially intellectuals might well be due to the establishment of the Imperial Examinations, a Chinese civil service recruitment method and educational system.

Before the Sui Dynasty (581-618) when the system was first employed, common people hardly had access to becoming court officials. For most intellectuals across China, the path to high positions in the central bureaucracy appeared to be too crowded. It’s not hard to imagine how severe the examinations could be in ancient China. Therefore, Lu Xing naturally became a god whom most examinees would turn to for blessing.

Lu Xing is often seen holding a baby boy -- another route to prosperity and especially a source of comfort in old age. From the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Lu Xing became a god that helped couples overcome childlessness.

The Character Lu

Lu is official's salary in feudal China-- that is, a position in the civil service, one of the most desired jobs in old China. The Confucian system of study followed by examination and placement holds sway in all Chinese-based cultures to this day, including Japan. It was certainly a key to prosperity.

The Lu Culture

Deriving from the word fu, lu has the connotation of pursuing fame and social status. According to Shuo Wen Jie Zi (Notes on Language and Characters), lu is the equivalent of fu.

During the Shang (16-11th century BC) and Zhou (11th-256 BC) periods, receiving royal titles was considered to be fu, and getting kings' favors was considered to be lu .

In feudal society, people with the highest royal positions earned higher salary, hence leading to the saying High office and high lu (pay). So the two main themes of the lu culture was to gain high position in the royal rank and pass the Imperial Examinations to climb the royal ladder.

It was most intellectuals' dream to obtain an inheritable position in ancient China. Many paintings, such as Five Sons Pass Imperial Examinations, illustrate the desire of people long ago to reach lu.

In feudal society, a position in the royal palace would directly affect one's income and social status, so promotion, high position, and power became what royal officers yearned for badly. Intellectuals always associated hard study with being an official. Confucius said: Study hard, lu will be seen. The idea enlightened intellectuals for generations. Plus, passing the Imperial Examination would earn the benefits of royal income and rations, high social status, honor to ancestors, and a luxurious lifestyle. Small wonder that a saying plainly related the advantage of studying with money and career: Books ensure pretty women and golden dwelling.

In many lu paintings and designs, deer skin became a typical symbol of the lu culture and was used to decorate study halls in thousands of households. Designs like Three Promotions in a Roll, and Five Sons Pass Imperial Examinations are also some examples of the lu Culture.

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Star of Longevity, Shou Xing

Shou Xing is perhaps the most popular of the three stars, and is often portrayed alone. Legend says that Shou Xing spent nine years in the womb, and born with an extraordinarily large forehead. His mother saw the star of the South Pole the night he was conceived; this star is said to determine the time of a person's death, so Shou Xing is often called The Old Deity of the South Pole.

Shou Xing is usually seen holding the Peach of Immortality, and carrying a peach wood staff. Legendary says that the celestial peach was the Queen of Heaven’s favorite fruit, which blossomed once ever 3,000 years with it taking another 3,000 year for the peach tree to bear fruit. Thus a bite of the celestial peach could gain longevity.

In typical illustrations of Shou Xing, a crane, a bat, a deer, or some combination of these may be near him, though they are sometimes associated with the other two stars (deer is a homophone of the character for Lu's name).

The Character Shou

Shou is unambiguously longevity.

The Shou Culture

Shou stands for longevity. Shou and fu co-exist; to live long is to have fu. Some popular designs in folk culture are fu and shou side by side, or shou circled by the five fu. This shows that shou and fu were of equal importance. In the Shang and Zhou dynasties, an old saying suggested longevity was the foremost of the five fu. On some age-old bronze inscriptions, characters like qi (elderly people), xiao (filial), and kao (one's deceased father) were discovered, which showed they had similar meanings with shou .

Taoism has a strong influence on Chinese culture. In Taoism, life is everything, without which, nothing is left. So the current life (as opposed to the afterlife) is overwhelmingly valued. Thus the desire to live longer, as a goal of life, has been mixed into the everyday life of every Chinese.

In folklore, immortals never die, so immortals are the main characters in the shou culture. It was believed the Old Man in the North Pole was in charge of the longevity of a country, and Shou Xing of common people. In the Zhou Dynasty, people began to make sacrificial offerings for Shou Xing. Later on, it became so popular that people started to follow Taoist teachings, hoping to turn into long-living gods. Under the influence of Taoism, people longed to find a panacea to stop death.

The wise emperor Qin Shi Huang, the establisher of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), even dispatched an official he knew well to the East Sea, together with five hundred virgins, to look for mountains where magic medicine could be found to help one live long. East Sea and southern mountains, from then on, were closely connected to fu and shou, as illustrated in a saying: May your happiness be as immense as the eastern sea. May your life be as lofty as the southern mountain ranges.

Today, begging for longevity is a must for people in celebrating their birthdays. The wording of birthday congratulations varies, such as 10,000 shou, Shou above the five fu , and Endless fu, endless shou, with the core meaning of longevity being unchanged.

The character shou can be presented in a lot of shapes and designs. When written in a long shape, it is called long shou (stress of longevity). Shou in a round shape is round shou, which suggests complete and perfect life and health. When 100 shou characters are written in different shapes on a piece of paper, the drawing expresses an utmost wish to live long.

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