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Taoism and Popular Religion

  Marshal Wen (Detail)
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Traditionally attributed to Jiang Zicheng
Marshal Wen (detail)
Ming dynasty, late 14th/early 15th century
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk
124 x 66.1 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Fenollosa-Weld Collection
cat. no. 87


Marshal Wen

Marshal Wen began as a popular deity worshiped in the southern coastal areas of Zhejiang province. As Zhejiang is a hot, humid region in southern China known for its frequent plagues and epidemics, it is no surprise that Marshal Wen was primarily known as a god who fought against plague demons. Legend has it that his terrifying appearanceóblue face and bright red lips and hairóresulted from a selfless act. He once drank enough poison to kill a whole community so that it would not be poured into the communal well.

Although the cult around Marshal Wen began as a small-scale, regional movement, it eventually spread along the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and also to Sichuan. He gained status as a national deity of the orthodox Taoist pantheon, but his following never really expanded beyond these areas. He is still worshiped in southern coastal regions today, especially in Taiwan. Several factors aided the spread of Marshal Wen's cult, the most important being that the merchants from coastal Zhejiang looked to him as a protector spirit, thereby spreading his worship along trade routes. He was also worshiped by scholars and Taoist priests, both of whom had an impact on the development of his cult.




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