Saturday, October 8, 2011

Zhu Bajie: The Pig God (Nice ladies please DO NOT read this)

A fascinating aspect of Asian culture is the vast number of religious statues. Many of these are deities, although others are demons, generals, teachers, ancestors, and even animals. Some statues such as Guan Yin are peaceful and beautiful, but there is an amazing variety.

One of the more interesting ones I’ve come across is Zhu Bajie, a character from the Ming dynasty novel, Journey to the West, also known as Monkey. Zhu Bajie, represented as a human body with the head of a pig, was a heavenly commander who was cast down to earth because of his piggish appetites, and who then had many complicated adventures.

My first indication that this was an unusual object was when I bought it, and I was warned not to give the effigy to any female friend or relative, because this character was rather unsavory, and was the special “guardian saint” for prostitutes. Keith Stevens in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch had this to say about Zhu Bajie:

"Although he is usually regarded China-wide as the epitome of gluttony, in Taiwan he is also revered by prostitutes who call on his divine title Shoushou Ye, offering him incense and chants morning and evening whilst calling on him to bring them rich guests, foolish and witless, to be fleeced." 

Quite a reputation this Zhu Bajie has. Since I brought him into my apartment I have not noticed any material change in the quality of my guests and other visitors (although naturally I would be too polite to tell the truth on that score. Furthermore, maybe I didn't get the chant right.)

I have managed to find a couple of other images of Zhu Bajie. The above panel came from a piece of furniture, and is a mahogany-like wood, inlaid with boxwood and bone. Unlike the happy 3-D statue, this one looks disgruntled, and the bird next to him doesn’t look too happy, either. Also, he is holding a large flower, whereas Zu Bajie’s normal attribute is a rake which he holds as a weapon. He may look like he is waving, but actually he is about to wreak destruction.

Zhu Bajie with Rake. (Source:

This rather trim and stylish example is very similar to the top one, though perhaps a bit more brightly colored. While both of these small statues have lost their rakes, their right hands are eternally raised to wield them.

Normally, statues like the above are placed on home altars or in temples, so I had assumed that Zhu Bajie dates back into Chinese mythology, but apparently he originated in the Journey to the West novel, many scenes from which have made their way into Chinese art. I find these little statues appealing and a little bizarre, but strangest of all is how a fictional character was deified by prostitutes.


  1. I like the stance of your statue, which certainly looks heroic. I'd be curious to know if you ever get remarks about it from Asian aquaintances, or would the polite response be to assume that you don't know its meaning?

  2. Hi Mark, Zhu Bajie is really popular here, and the response of most local people would be to laugh, and to make sure that I know the story. I do have one of them out (the first one), but it is rather small, about 5", so most people don't notice it.

  3. It is good to know that prostitutes have a saint too;)
    Very interesting read!


  4. Hello Joan, There is often a very casual attitude about such things in Taiwan--for example, at night markets it is not unusual to see a stand which is half children's dvd's and half x-rated ones.

  5. When I was young, my brother and I used to watch Journey to the West on TV. Although Zhu Bajie was portrayed as an underachiever, he was righteous and heroic when it comes to defending his friends 孫悟空 and 沙悟淨. Zhu Bajie was also irresistible to women, which created many amusing moments in the story.

  6. Hello Anonymous, You are right, Zhu Bajie is not evil; the companion and protector to Xuanzang, he is overall a good character, who unfortunately cannot achieve enlightenment because he cannot relinquish his carnal appetites.

  7. Just found your article. I only just learned of Zhu Bajie's worship by prostitutes here in Taiwan. I recently visited the Xiahai City God Temple, which houses a Pigsy effigy to which said ladies pay reverence. I unfortunately didn't see the statue at the time since it was tucked behind those of more prominent gods. The temple, however, did have a book with descriptive listings for each god housed therein. The listing for Zhu Bajie doesn't really have any new information. It just mentions his former incarnation as Marshal Tianpeng, his appearance in Xiyouji, and his cult of the hospitality industry. Here are pictures I took.

    His former incarnation was actually worshiped as a god in ancient China. Marshal Tianpeng was considered a powerful Daoist exorcist (the name Tianpeng refers to mugwort, which the Chinese believed had demofugic properties). The deity is mentioned in records going back to the 6th-century. See my article here:

    To me, it's even stranger how this once mighty demon slayer could go from being a high god of Daoism to being worshiped as a pig by prostitutes.

    By the way, I'd love to read Stevens' article. Could you please provide me with a citation? Thanks.

    1. Hello Jim, Thank you for the pictures and the reference to your article(s), which add a great deal to the complicated Zhu Bajie story. I did not know about the statue in the Xiahai Temple. I live rather close to there, so I'll have to check it out.

      For some reason, I cannot find a link to the Stevens article, which incidentally is not very in-depth, but I do have a PDF file of it, and which contains the appropriate citation info. If you send an email to me at, I would be happy to send it to you. --Jim

  8. Dearest Jim,
    That was quite an interesting post and I'm glad you linked back to it!
    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Hello Mariette, Certainly there are many fascinating stories in Chinese literature and mythology. But is is bizarre how the story of Zhu Bajie caught on with such vigor and popularity. As we mentioned before, the Chinese, while serious about their religion, are not always so solemn about it, and like to add an fun element as well. --Jim


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