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3. The deity of Longevity November 26, 2007

Posted by kentneo in Art.

I remember writing an article that was later published called “Bai Miao Ming Yao” (or the Village songs of the Bai Miao people, in Yunan) in relation to two paintings I painted, which were inspired by these village songs, which were later sold. Today, I received in the mail from a Mr. Ju Ji Chuin, two photographs, one was titled, “the village song, a tree with little lemons….” Which suddenly brought up memories of motherly love and the painting style of “po mo dian dian” (or the flicking of brush to create ink dots) but I will leave the topic of dots for another day.


This time I wanted to talk about a theme in Chinese painting known as “hua hao yue yuen ren shou” (flowers in bloom, full moon and longevity) and concentrate on the “shou xing”  (deity of longevity). In the picture that Mr. Ju sent to me, I see that he has placed an additional seal on my painting, from “the collection of Zi Yang Studio”. I gather from that seal that he has named his studio, “Zi Yang” (purple sun), and he must be Mr. Purple Sun.


In his letter, he writes, “this painting is hung to the left of my chair and it brings me great joy to have on of my favorite paintings to keep me company, such a delight and luxury”. This is one of the joys that collectors of art can get (apart from the appreciation of the art’s monetary value), collecting becomes a habit and it doesn’t matter whether you collect old or modern, Asian or western art, the richer your culture and interest, the more things there are for one to admire. Art is like food for the spirit and is a luxury that everyone can enjoy and a habit that can be slowly cultivated.


Once you have been bitten by the art bug, it is almost like a spiritual experience. You tend to forget the “self”, which indirectly leads to a longer life. In this world, there are no real deities or fairies and no longevity drug available. After seeing “Zi Yang Shu She” (the seal, Zi Yang’s studio), I realize that he has attained that core happiness of owning a piece of art, that increases his pleasure, this emotion cannot be faked. Mr. Ju can be thought of as the modern day “Zi Yang Xian Shen”, In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 CE) there was another “Zi Yang Xian Shen”, though he is considered a mythical figure today, lets talk about him a bit more….


Around 1069 C.E., the emperor of the Song Dynasty, Song Shenzhong (1068 –1085 CE) in his second year of reign, was a man named Zhang Borui (Daoist scholar), from Tian Tai who was practicing “Huen Yuen Dao” (the way of Huen Yuen, I haven’t researched this much so cannot elaborate). Zhang went to Sze Chuan to visit a person called “Hai Danzi” and received teachings called “Zing Ye Hai Dan” and since that point in time, Zhang changed his name to “Zi Yang Xian Shen” and never used his original name again.


He later followed a monk who is also from Tian Tai and learnt meditation and the five precepts and was able to achieve the skills in calming meditation that leads to a state of calmness (enlightenment?), such that he can leave his physical body and travel to far away places. Did this make him a deity? (fairy?)


One day, Zi Yang and his good friend, the monk went to visit “Yang Zhou” (in the Song dynasty, this was the most prosperous, modern, cultured city, comparable to today’s New York, Tokyo, Shanghai…). They enjoyed the blooming flower of the season. After sometime, they went to a meditation center/room, facing each other with closed eyes and silence they entered a meditative state and left their physical bodies for a non-physical tour of Yang Zhou. His friend, the monk shouted to him, “lets go around the flower garden 3 times” and Zi Yang shouted back, “We should each pluck a flower”. They both did and returned to their physical bodies. When they awoke, Zi Yang asked his friend, where is your flower? His friend placed his hand into his sleeve and did not find a flower. But Zi Yang managed to pull a flower from his sleeve, to which his friend acknowledged that his skills are much better than his own. They then put the flower into a vase and broke out into hearty laughter, the kind of joy that is pure among friends and where you don’t feel fatigued. This story was then also recorded in “shen xian lia juan” (or the mythical story book of gods, fairies and deities).


This painting I have included “Shou Xing Ge” (pavilion) is from the “Hua Hao Yue Yuan Ren Shou”, I drew a “Shou Xing Gong” that does not have the old and heavy feel. At around his knee level, I put in two young children, one is holding up the longevity peach and the other is holding the Shou Xing Gong’s knotty staff, with a peony tied to the back of the stick. At the back of the Shou Xing, there is a full moon rising.


The Shou Xing Gong has a large head or you can say a big frontal lobe, full of creative ideas and definitely not stupid but without a care in the world, he is dancing (like a lunatic?) with his hands and feet swaying, but we can’t really tell whether he is doing the tango or disco. In any case, I wanted to write about the joy of this topic of “hua hao yue yuan ren shou”. When I paint humans as a topic, I go for depicting joy and happiness in a painting, not so much following the rigours of realism and I like emphasizing innocence and purity. I hope my readers and supporters will get this same sense of ease, lightheartedness and happiness.


I think no matter what the arts one chooses to enjoy be it visual arts or music, in this cold hearted, cruel and harsh world, where life is a constant struggle with loneliness, sadness and meaninglessness, we should try to impart more happiness and joy. Instead of being disengaged with life, as life is hard enough, what else is life for but to also enjoy?



A stellar deity, one of the San-xing. His name means “Star of Longevity”, and he has an enormously high bald head. He supports himself on a knotty staff. In his hand he holds the peach of immortality. Symbolically he is represented as a mushroom or a turtle. According to one legend there was once a boy called Zhao Yen who, as a child, was told the had only nineteen more years to live. He was advised to go to a certain field on a certain day and bring with him a jar of wine and dried meat. In that particular field he would notice two men playing draughts under a mulberry tree. He should offer them wine and meat, but under no account answer any of their questions. Zhao Yen followed that advise. When the men had partaken of the wine and meat, they discussed how they might best thank the boy for his hospitality. In the end they decided to reverse the digits of the number of years the boy could be expected to live, thus changing 19 into 91. He was later told that one of the players had been the God of the North Pole, who determines the day on which people are born, and the God of the South Pole, who fixes the dates of death. Shou-xing came to be known as Shou-lao in later popular belief. He is also called Nan-ji-Xian-weng (“the Old Man of the South Pole”). By Micha Lindemans



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