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Sunday February 14, 2010
YUM CHA By LEE YUK PENG
For the Chinese, it is time again to lay out the welcome mat for the God of Prosperity this Chinese New Year.
IT matters not whether you say Gong Xi Fa Cai, the new year greeting in Mandarin, or Kong Hee Fatt Choy. the Cantonese version. Either way, you will be wishing whoever you are greeting a year of prosperity.
And, of course, to the elder folks, you will also be wishing them good health and longevity.
To the Chinese, happiness is a prosperous new year with better profits for those in business and a promotion for those who are employed.
Thus, the tradition of ushering in the God of Prosperity (Cai Sheng) who will be making his rounds at the dawn of the new year lives on, with the hope that the family will be blessed with better finances.
Representations of the God of Prosperity in his dazzling costume and long beard is normally seen handing out ang pow and other New Year goodies in shopping malls, corporate celebrations and similar events at this time of the year. So just who is this deity who is much sought after and welcomed?
There’s more than one version about his origins, according to Chinese folklore.
One of the more popular versions is that the God of Prosperity was a political strategist called Fan Li during the warring period between 475BC and 221BC. Fan Li left his master Gou Jian, King of the Yue kingdom, after helping him to topple Fu Chai of the Wu kingdom.
He left with his former lover, a legendary beauty called Xi Shi, and lived in a remote place to avoid being killed by Gou Jian. He even changed his identity, calling himself Tao Zhu Gong, to avoid being detected.
He became a very successful businessman but he was also generous enough to share his fortune with the poor. Thus people later worshipped him as the God of Prosperity not only for his success but also for his generosity.
In the old days, the principles laid down by Fan Li were duly observed by Chinese businessmen who aspired to be successful. They incorporated such virtues as honouring one’s promise, credibility and trustworthiness.
Even today, one can still see his principles printed in scrolls hanging on the wall of some shops.
Another legend has it that the God of Prosperity was Zhao Gong Ming who had been tasked by the Jade Emperor to look after the wealth of the common folks.
Zhao is said to have a dark face with a moustache, wore a robe and carried a whip. He was good in solving cases of injustice and people prayed to him as he was capable of helping families gain wealth in a fair manner.
However, some Chinese also worship Guan Yu, a general during the Three Kingdoms period, who was admired for his loyalty, credibility and integrity. It is common for businessmen to pray to Guan Yu (who was later elevated to Guan Di or Lord Guan) at home to seek his blessings for peace, security and fairness.
The Chinese Buddhists also regard the baggy monk, also known as Milefo, as God of Prosperity. His distinctive features are a huge bag, a big smile across his face and an equally huge stomach.
However, says sinologist Lai Kuan Fook, while every family may pray to the God of Prosperity, it does not mean that he will enter their house and bless the residents.
Nonetheless, the Chinese will without fail consult the lunar calendar for the best time and direction to welcome him, usually with a table laden with delicacies.
This year, the best time to receive the God of Prosperity is said to be between 11.30pm and 1.30am or 5.30am and 7.30am on the first day of Chinese New Year. And since he is said to be coming from the south-east, it is appropriate to pray towards that direction in order to attain prosperity.
This year, the famous Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur will usher in the God of Prosperity on New Year’s eve and thousands of people are expected to turn up for the event. It is the only temple doing this to celebrate the New Year.
Tan Mong Meng, vice president of the Selangor and Federal Territory Hainan Association, says people are not only praying for better prospects but also seeking blessings for peace, security and good health.
Tan, who is also the chairman of the temple’s working committee for the New Year programme, says a Thai monk has been invited to bless the crowds this year.
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