Imperial Sovereign Wen Chang
( 文 昌 帝 君, Wen Chang Di Jun )
The popular Chinese Taoist god of literature and writing, invoked by scholars to assists them in their works. He is especially venerated by people who require help with their entrance examinations for an official career.
In reality, Wen-chang is a constellation of six stars in the vicinity of the Great Bear. It is said that when these stars are bright, literature flourishes. He visits the Earth frequently in human shape. Taoists texts mention seventeen separate existences of the stellar deity on Earth
In addition to the ancestors of whose worship it really consists, Taoism has in its pantheon the specialized gods worshipped by the scholars. The chief of these is Wen Chang, the God of Literature. The account of him (which varies in several particulars in different Chinese works) relates that he was a man by the name of Chang Ya, who was born during the T’ang dynasty in the kingdom of Yeh (now known as ZheJiang Province), and went to live at Tzŭ T’ung in Szechuan, where his intelligence raised him to the position of President of the Board of Ceremonies.
Another account refers to him as Chang Ya Tzŭ, the Soul or Spirit of Tzŭ T’ung, and states that he held office in the Chin dynasty (A.D. 265–316), and was killed in a fight. Another again states that under the Sung dynasty (A.D. Page 105960–1280), in the third year (A.D. 1000) of the reign-period Hsien P’ing of the Emperor Chun Tsung, he repressed the revolt of Wang Chun at Ch’ing Tu in Szechuan. General Lei Yu-chung caused to be shot into the besieged town arrows to which notices were attached inviting the inhabitants to surrender.
Suddenly a man mounted a ladder, and pointing to the rebels cried in a loud voice: “The Spirit of Tzŭ T’ung has sent me to inform you that the town will fall into the hands of the enemy on the twentieth day of the ninth moon, and not a single person will escape death.” Attempts to strike down this prophet of evil were in vain, for he had already disappeared. The town was captured on the day indicated. The general, as a reward, caused the temple of Tzŭ T’ung’s Spirit to be repaired, and sacrifices offered to it.
The object of worship nowadays in the temples dedicated to Wen Chang is Tzŭ T’ung Ti Chun, the God of Tzŭ T’ung. Various emperors at various times bestowed upon Wen Chang honorific titles, until ultimately, in the Yuan, or Mongol, dynasty, in the reign Yen Yu, in A.D. 1314, the title was conferred on him of Supporter of the Yuan Dynasty, Diffuser of Renovating Influences, Ssŭ-lu of Wen Chang, God and Lord. He was thus apotheosized, and took his place among the gods of China.
Thus the God of Literature, Wen Chang Di Jun, duly installed in the Chinese pantheon, and sacrifices were offered to him in the temples dedicated to him. But scholars, especially those about to enter for the public competitive examinations, worshipped as the God of Literature, or as his palace or abode (Wen Chang), the star K’uei in the Great Bear, or Dipper, or Bushel—the latter name derived from its resemblance in shape to the measure used by the Chinese and called tou. The term K’uei was more generally applied to the four stars forming the body or square part of the Dipper, the three forming the tail or handle being called Shao or Piao. How all this came about is the next story.
A scholar, as famous for his literary skill as his facial deformities, had been admitted as first academician at the metropolitan examinations. It was the custom that the Emperor should give with his own hand a rose of gold to the fortunate candidate. This scholar, whose name was Chung K’uei, presented himself according to custom to receive the reward which was rightfully due to him. At the sight of his repulsive face the Emperor refused the golden rose.
In despair the miserable rejected one went and threw himself into the sea. At the moment when he was being choked by the waters a mysterious fish or monster called ao raised him on its back and brought him to the surface. K’uei ascended to Heaven and became arbiter of the destinies of men of letters. His abode was said to be the star K’uei, a name given by the Chinese to the sixteen stars of the constellation or ‘mansion’ of Andromeda and Pisces. The scholars quite soon began to worship K’uei as the God of Literature, and to represent it on a column in the temples. Then sacrifices were offered to it.
This star or constellation was regarded as the palace of the god. The legend gave rise to an expression frequently used in Chinese of one who comes out first in an examination, namely, tu chan ao, “to stand alone on the sea-monster’s head.” It is especially to be noted that though the two K’ue’s have the same sound they are represented by different characters, and that the two constellations are not the same, but are situated in widely different parts of the heavens.
Images of Wen Chang portray him as an official or as a scholar. He is always seen holding an auspicious scepter “Ru Yi” or a register book. Usually accompanied by his two faithful attendants, namely Tien Lung (Deaf Celestial) and Di Ya (Mute Terrestial). His birthday is celebrated on the third day of second lunar month.