The God of Literature
Wen Ch'ang


Wen Chang the God Literature

Because of its long emphasis on scholasticism, and the high status placed on the literati it is perhaps natural that the Chinese should have had a god of literature or a god of scholars. There are several versions as to who Wen Chang may have been: he is variously said to have been an actual scholar in the Tang Dynasty, the Chin Dynasty (265-316 CE) and the Sung Dynasty (1000 CE).

The mythological version, however, centers around the story of a scholar named Chung K'uei whose face was badly deformed. As was customary, the unfortunate man was supposed to have received the golden rose from the emperor after passing his exam. At the "graduation" ceremony, however, the emperor was so horrified by Chung K'uei's appearance that he refused to give him the golden rose. In despair, Ching K'uei drowned himself. His spirit drifted to the heavens where he became the arbiter of the fate of scholars with the honorific name of Wen Chang.

In pictures of Wen Chang he is usually surrounded by a demon-like character wielding a pen named K'uei Hsing and a man known as "Red Coat." K'uei Hsing is the conferer of degrees and diplomas, hence scholars prayed to him for success in the Imperial Exams. Red Coat or the God of Good luck was regarded as the deity responsible for finding jobs for scholars. He was regarded particularly as the protector of those who were not very good students. In one story, an examiner, disgusted by a weak essay, was ready to fail the candidate when a strange man in red appeared from nowhere. Silently the man in red nodded to the examiner to signal that he should pass the candidate. Completely taken aback by the celestial visitor, the examiner passed the candidate!

In Chinese mythology there is also another god who is regarded as the god of literature. Strangely enough this god of literature, Kuan Yu, is also the god of war. Kuan Yu is one of the most venerated gods of the Chinese pantheon and his heroic exploits are detailed in the classic work The Three Kingdoms.