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Zhenwu, the Perfected Warrior





Zhenwu, the "Perfected Warrior," began as an entwined tortoise and snake, the animal symbol of the north in the Five Phase system. This emblem was called the "Dark Warrior" (xuanwu) until the 11th century, when the name was changed to "Perfected Warrior" (zhenwu). From this time onward, Zhenwu assumed human form and rapidly became one of the most important deities in the Taoist pantheon. This was in no small part due to both his identity as a warrior god and his association with the north, the direction from which China was constantly threatened by neighboring people from central Asia. As a result, the Perfected Warrior eventually became known as a protector of the state and imperial family. Sponsorship of Zhenwu by the emperor reached its peak during the Ming dynasty—especially during the reign of the third Ming emperor, who credited the god with helping him seize the throne. A temple to Zhenwu still stands in the northern quadrant of the Ming imperial palace, later used by the rulers of the Qing dynasty.

Due to the popularity of the Perfected Warrior, his worship spread beyond the confines of Taoism. He became an important member of the Buddhist pantheon as well. Zhenwu is still actively worshiped, and his central temple on Mount Wudang in Hubei province remains one of Taoism's most important sacred sites.




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