The Belief in Mazu
Source：www.chinaculture.org Author：Feng Hui
Mazu is a Goddess of the sea predominantly worshipped by Chinese people who live in the southeastern coastal areas of China like Fujian, Taiwan, Guangdong and Zhejiang, as well as neighboring areas in southeast Asia. The Mazu belief and custom takes virtue, benevolence and love as its core and has been passed down generation by generation through sacrificial ceremonies, folk stories, dance and music.
With over 5,000 Mazu temples dotted around the world and 200 million believers, the Mazu belief has spread to more than 20 countries and regions across the globe, making Mazu a symbol of cultural identity for all Chinese worldwide.
The Mazu Legend
The legend of Mazu is about a girl named Lin Mo who was born into an official family from Meizhou Island, a small piece of land in the Taiwan Straits off the coast of southeast China. When Lin was very young, her extremely good memory and learning comprehension talent was revealed. She was meek and warm-hearted and was always willing to help people in need. Thanks to her vast knowledge of Chinese medicine, she was able to cure the sick and teach people how to prevent illness and injury.
Growing up in a coastal area, Lin became familiar with astronomic and meteorological knowledge and was able to predict the weather, helping fishermen avoid sea disasters and salvage shipwrecks.
After her death at the age of 28 on a mountaintop, she became a goddess. Legend has it that as a colored cloud rose from the mountain and wonderful music was heard in the sky, Lin was carried into heaven in a golden pillar of light.
From then on, Mazu's figure was enshrined in boats to pray for safe voyages.
Owing to her benevolence, Mazu has been given 36 titles such as “Madam”, “the Queen of Heaven” and “Holy Mother” from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
There are a lot of folktales about Mazu, including the following interesting stories:
It is said that one day Mazu wanted to sail across the sea by ship without paddles or sails. The captain dared not sail the ship; Mazu told him to suspend a straw mat onto the mast as a sail. The ship then rode over the waves and carried on swiftly across the sea.
Once, a commercial vessel struck a rock, causing seawater to flood the cabin. When the ship started to sink, Mazu got some grass and threw it into the sea, which miraculously transformed into a raft, attaching itself to the vessel to stop it from sinking.
Another tale tells of Mazu making an iron horse come to life and carry her across the sea. After she landed on solid ground, the horse vanished in an instant. People who witnessed this were all astonished at her magic powers.
Mazu's birthday falls on the 23rd day of the third month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar and the anniversary of her death is the 9th day of the ninth lunar month. People hold a series of activities annually on those two days to commemorate the legend.
Folk customs relating to Mazu include sacrificial rituals in Mazu temples, drama performances, memorial ceremonies for ancestors and thanksgiving rituals for Heaven.
Flour, mushrooms, edible tree fungi and other edible materials are used to make marine animal-shaped sacrificial offerings. People burn incense, set off firecrackers and play traditional Chinese musical instruments during the sacrificial ceremony.
During festival evenings, fishermen, farmers and citizens hold lanterns to walk around the places they have lived and pray for peace.
To show their respect to Mazu, the women in Meizhou usually comb their hair into boat-shaped styles and wear blue coats and red-and-black trousers. When they encounter puzzling scenarios, they pray to Mazu for a solution.
Mothers usually pray for perfume satchels for their children in Mazu temple, hoping that Mazu will bless their children with good health and a promising future.\
Fishermen do not fish during Mazu's birthday, embodying the harmony between humanity and nature.
Mazu belief was introduced into Japan in the reign of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (1368-1398) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). With many Chinese nationals living abroad, Mazu belief has also spread to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as America, Australia and Europe.
Today, achievements in research on the Mazu culture have become valuable materials for the study of the history of navigation, science, overseas Chinese, the development of off-shore islands and economic and cultural exchanges with foreign countries. It has also benefited the history of folklore and ancient Chinese religion.