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L to R: Shou, Lu, Fu
(Cover of a book by Asiapac)

The Gods of "Blessings, Prosperity, and Longevity" 
 
Name: Fu Lu Shou (plus sometimes a fourth, "Xi"); more fully Fu Xing (Fu Hsing, Yang Cheng), Lu Xing (Lu Hsing, Lok Xing, Zhang Xian, Shi Fen, also Guan Xing), and Shou Xing (Shou Hsing, Sau Xing, Sou Xing, Zhao Yen).
Attributes: Fu, Lu, and Shou are three "gods" sometimes called the "Three Stars." Separately, they may be called Fu Xing, Lu Xing, and Shou Xing, "Xing" meaning "star." Some have identified them with the three stars of Orion's belt.

Translations of the names vary.  Perhaps "Blessings, Prosperity, and Longevity" are close.

The character fu is "good fortune, blessings, happiness."  It denotes being happy as the result of being lucky.  The character is prominently displayed on doors (including the Temple Guy's), often upside-down, as "turn upside-down" and a word meaning "arrive" are homophones, so to say "luck upside-down" sounds like saying "luck is coming."

Lu is "official's salary in feudal China"--that is, a position in the civil service, one of the most desired jobs in old China.  The Confucian system of study followed by examination and placement holds sway in all Chinese-based cultures to this day, including Japan.  It was certainly a key to "prosperity."

Shou is unambiguously "longevity."

Many images add the character xi, meaning "happiness."  This balances the image if written in characters; it also completes the list of wishes that anyone might have: in Chinese thinking, what could we possibly want that is not covered by blessings, prosperity, longevity, and happiness?  (How about love?)

Description and "History": Fu Xing is generally shown as a court official with a characteristically "winged" hat, and often holding a scepter.  He had been Yang Cheng, governor of Dazhou in Hunan.  The emperor of his day found midgets amusing, and often conscripted them from Dazhou.  When Yang Cheng learned that the midgets were unhappy to be taken away from their families, he stood up to the emperor, who abolished the practice.  Thus Yang became immortalized as one who brings blessings and happiness.

Lu Xing was a poor man born named Shi Fen.  Given a minor position at court, he worked hard, constantly learning, so that ultimately he gained a high position.  As few Chinese have a chance to become court officials, Lu Xing is often seen holding a baby boy--another route to prosperity, especially comfort in old age.  There are many stories of him as Zhang Xian helping overcome childlessness.

Shou Xing is perhaps most popular of the three, often portrayed alone.  He was nine years in the womb, and born with an extraordinarily large head.  His mother had seen the star of the South Pole the night he was conceived; this star is said to determine the time of a person's death, so Shou Xing is often called "The Old Deity of the South Pole."  He is usually seen holding the Peach of Immortality, and carrying a peach wood staff.  A crane, a bat, a deer, or some combination of these may be near him, though they are sometimes associated with the other two stars ("deer" is a homophone of the character for Lu's name).

Another story has him as a lad named Zhao Yen who encountered the stars of the North Pole (in charge of birth times) and the South Pole (death times, as mentioned).  Because he kindly shared his food with them, they gave him immortality.  In this version, he was not the star of the South Pole, but associated with it.

I have found no legend associated with the inclusion of "Xi" with the triad of Stars.

Found at Almost every folk (non-Buddhist and not specifically Taoist) temple that I have been in has a representation of the Fu Lu Shou somewhere, often on overhead banners before the offering table, or on decorations on the outside of the building--places often decorated with images of the Ba Xian (Eight Immortals).  Less often, there are statues of the three among the crowds on side tables (I have not yet seen them on a main altar).  And occasionally, as seen below, they are on frescoes inside the hall.  Look for three men, one with an enormous forehead, and another holding a child; occasionally there will be a woman in the group.  Be careful that you are not looking at a half-set of the Eight Immortals--check for four more in balance with these!
 

Reference (in China)

This pewter box (for sale here) shows the four characters for the names:

Some very traditional statues of the three:

 

Here we see all four of the gods (Fu in the center, Lu with the child; the woman is Xi), with the bat, stag, and crane included.

The above image was found in this hall in Ping Shan in Hong Kong's New Territories; the hall itself has no altar, but the fresco was in the position of a main image:


Original bag

Finally, my friend Lila arrived one day from Hong Kong with a shopping bag from a Giordano clothing shop.  Each of the three gods includes at least one rooster symbol--it was near Chinese New Year's of 2005, the Year of the Rooster.  The old boys never looked so good, proving that the traditions are alive and well.

FU LU SHOU

Photos of hall in Ping Shan are copyright 2005 by James Baquet

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