Sunday, 22 June 2014

God Kuan Ti – left or right hand?

God Kwan Ti (and various other variants of the name: Kuan Ti, Guan Dei etc) is one of HK's more prolific deities from in the Chinese pantheon, recognisable by his glaring red face, black beard and long Guan Dao (his halberd). Coupled with his ubiquitous appearance (in statue form, of course) inside small shrines of almost any business or home in HK and overseas Chinese communities. He’s usually, mistakenly, referred to in English texts as the God of War but actually his role in Chinese worship is more related to his reputation for integrity and righteousness.

Many years ago I heard a rumour about these Kwan Ti statues regarding whether the statues' halberd was held in its left or right hand. The story goes that if the statue has the halberd in his left hand, then there is a high possibility that the owner of the statue is in fact a Triad (in case the snarl, tattoos, large Mercedes Benz, sharp chopper and ownership of an entertainment label wasn't obvious enough...). I had forgotten all about this little nugget of information until recently when I ventured into a Tsim Sha Tsui eatery and noticed the restaurants door altar had a Kwan Ti statue holding its his left hand!

Now, I can't confirm one way or the other, but I had been told (it's also mentioned on this rather extensive wiki page on the god himself - go here if you are too lazy to read through it all) is that Kwan Ti is worshiped by police and Triads alike. The Police, worshiping his integrity and righteousness (HA!), position the halberd in the right hand, but Triads, being the cheeky rebellious scallywags that they are, position the halberd in his left hand.

Now, I don't go around frequenting too many Triad hangouts (at least, I'm not aware of doing so, unless you include Cafe De Coral...) so have never really been able to confirm one way or the other. On the other hand I have been inside several Police stations since moving to HK, just not the bits where they keep their altars. So I can't confirm one way or the other if any of this is actually true. Anyway, at the aforementioned resto, I surreptitiously snapped a picture of the altar in question so you can see for yourself.

Left-handed Halberd
Scary huh? It's interesting to note that these ceramic statues are manufactured with holes in both hands - for the purpose of pushing the little plastic halberd pole into the hand. So I guess whoever makes them is fully aware that people have preferences, but can anyone confirm if this is all true or just another one of those urban myths?

On a side note, you see so many of these statues dumped all over the territory. This goes for all deity statues - people are too superstitious to just chuck them in the bin and so they often leave them at areas where other people have already done so. There are some famous collection points such as the one at Wah Fu, but you can find ones of varying sizes all over the place. The pictures I snapped below were taken on the street in Tai Po and Yau Ma Tei.

Anyway, when I originally posted this blog entry (a couple of years ago now), the very kind David Leffman, author of the most recent Rough Guide to Hong Kong and Macau (sadly only the Pocket version of this guide is now being produced), left me some informative comments that I have reproduced below.

I'd heard about this halberd business too, can’t remember where, but in connection with Hong Kong rather than mainland China. This type of weapon is called the Guan Dao and is named after him (lit: Guan's Knife) . There’s a massive cast-iron one which must weigh 250kg at the Guanlin Miao on the outskirts of Luoyang, Henan, where Guan Yu – or his head, at any rate – is buried.
The fairly grand Lin Fong temple in Macao, up near the Canidrome and the Chinese border, is also dedicated to Guan Ti; there’s also a museum to Lin Zexu in an adjacent hall.
and later
Some new info from a friend who specialises in Chinese deities. If I have it right, Guan Gong can appear in two forms: wearing a green robe as god of learning/healing, or a red robe for the martial/military aspect. Obviously the triads go for the red-robed martial version, but it’s apparently not the position of the halberd but whether he is also holding a scroll which gives the game away.
Hmm, interesting stuff from David. So in future I shall also be keeping an eye open for the different coloured robes and the addition of a scroll. In the meantime, because the restaurant picture above also shows him with a red robe, I will try and remember to never complain about the food.

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