The Goddess Mazu, Guardians, and a Drawing of Wang Ji, Chief-envoy of the Investiture Mission of 1683

This short article shows how the Chinese guardian deity and patron goddess of seafarers Mazu 媽祖 is related to chief-envoy Wang Ji of 1683, and presents his portray.

As had been pointed out, there was a whole “Mazu Culture” which spread from Fujian Province and the southeastern coast of mainland China to Southeast Asian and East Asian coastal cultures, including Ryūkyū and Japan.

Depiction of the arrangment of figures in a Mazu shrine. From: Oshima Hikki, Ryukyu Daigaku - Iha Fuyu Collection.

Depiction of the arrangment of figures in a Mazu shrine. From: Oshima Hikki, Ryukyu Daigaku – Iha Fuyu Collection.

Two shrines were dedicated to Mazu in Ryūkyū, built during the years 1403–24, and on Ryūkyūan ships statues and images of Mazu were also enshrined. From the illustration found in the Ōshima Hikki (1762) shown on the right, we get a glimpse of the arrangement of such a Mazu shrine on a Ryūkyūan ship during the middle of the 18th century.

I want you to pay attention to the two fierce-looking, muscular and armed figures numbered 3 and 4. These two guardians seemingly invariably flank Mazu in a large number of depictions. They are often shown with fangs and horn-like protrusions of the skull.

Number 3 is hawk-eyed Qianli yan 千里眼 (Thousand-Miles Eye), usually portrayed in red and with two horns; he shields his eyes with one hand, and with the other carries a halberd.

Number 4 is quick-eared Shunfeng er 順風耳 (With-the-Wind Ear), usually portrayed with green skin and one horn, with one hand pointing to his ear, while carrying an axe in the other.

Both were once evil spirits, who, after having been defeated by Mazu, became her servants. Nothing is known about their origin, but it had been noted that they were “simply nautical symbols, for which it is unnecessary to try to find historical prototypes.” (De Groot, cited in Ruitenbeek 1999: 319).


Wanshu, in: Nagamine 1977: 256-57.

Wanshu, in: Nagamine 1977: 256-57.

In 1683, chief-envoy Wang Ji 汪楫 and vice-envoy Lin Linchang reached Ryūkyū as the 17th investiture mission, for the enthornment of King Shō Tei. The mission had 453 members and stayed on Okinawa for 146 days. In karate circles Wang Ji is considered to be the origin of the kata called Wanshū.

He was a highly educated man who held the rank of an “Examiner of the Imperial Hanlin Academy” 翰林院檢討臣. In his official investiture report (Shi Liuqiu Zalu 使琉球雑録) he also gives us a rare insight into his beliefs in the sea goddess Mazu, who appeared in his dreams.

In the third month of 1682 Wang Ji and Lin Linchang were entrusted with the mission of investiture to the Ryūkyū kingdom. Wang Ji requested an imperial order to make an offering to Mazu, which was granted. Before starting their journey to Ryūkyū, both envoys held a large offering ceremony at the Mazu temple of Yishan, west of Fuzhou. At that time, the wind had been from the east, but immediately after the offering a strong southern wind began to blow. Within a few days the port of Naha was reached, and the locals reported that never before had a ship made the journey so quickly. On the way back, however, the envoys’ ship ran into a storm, but they were saved by Mazu.

While Wang Ji’s investiture report survived, apparently he had ordered an artist to make a painting of his journey. Unfortunately neither the name of the painter nor the whereabouts are known. However, a lengthy description on the painting of “Wang Ji’s Voyage Over Stormy Seas” has been preserved (written by Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊; 1629-1700). At the end of the description the author writes:

“When I unfolded the painting, the foam-tipped breakers were still a terrifying sight. They made my eyes dazzle and my heart pound, while my ears seemed to hear the roaring of the billows. The colors were so delicate, the ink so splendid, who designed this? I judge him to be a man who has seen a great deal during many sea voyages…”

Anyway, I further studied about Mazu and Wang Ji. While doing so, I stumbled upon a painting which in fact shows the arrival of Wang Ji and Lin Linchang at Naha harbor, in 1683. On the deck of the ship, three Chinese officials are shown. Wang Ji, as the chief-envoy, is the person depicted in the center.

18th century painting showing Wang Ji, Lin Linchang, and another official, as they reach Naha harbor in Okinawa, in 1683.

18th century painting showing Wang Ji, Lin Linchang, and another official, as they reach Naha harbor in Okinawa, in 1683.

The above painting is part of a series about the miracles ascribed to Mazu during sea voyages. A good start on studying Mazu in English is found in: Ruitenbeek, Klaas: “Mazu, the Patroness of Sailors in Chinese Pictorial Art.” In: Artibus Asiae, Vol. 58, No. 3/4 (1999), pp. 281-329. It is available through JSTOR.

© 2016, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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