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On a side altar at
Chen Yang Hao Miao,
Xia Sha, Shenzhen

The "Earth God" 
 
Name: Tu Di Gong, T'u-ti Kung, Fu De, Fu-te, Fuk Tak, Zhang Mingde, Hou-te
Attributes: Often called "The Earth God," he is in fact the tutelary god of a defined location; there is a Tu Di for any given town or village, temple, and even secular building. (In some systems, he is subservient to the City God, however.)  His popularity is so great that there are many tales and beliefs about him--thus, he is very confusing.  There are said to be few temples dedicated to him; rather, he is present near the doorways of temples, on earthen platforms outside, in the form of stones "at the point where footpaths cross, under trees, by wells, on mountainsides and in the center of villages," says Keith Stevens in Chinese Gods.  Yet in the as-yet limited touring that I have down, I have seen several "Fuk Tak Temples."

He is commonly seen in buildings in Hong Kong, often in the form of a niche with incense down at sidewalk level.  Furthermore, his role at crossings makes me think of the Japanese custom of placing Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, whose name means "Earth Store"), at crossroads.

The Tu Di for any given place provides protection for the residents, and is thus often associated with police and other protective services.  He is approached for any matters, public or private, that require supernatural intervention.  (Stevens points out that if the matter is private, it will only be discussed with the ancestors in one's ancestral hall.)  He is also addressed regarding boundaries, and the erection or destruction of buildings.  Furthermore, when one moves, one bids farewell to the Tu Di of the old place, and begins presenting offerings to the Tu Di of the new place.

Finally, like so many other Chinese gods, he plays a role in bringing prosperity, so he is sometimes seen holding a golkd ingot, as in the image below.

In 100 Chinese Gods, Lu Yanguang notes Tu Di's great humility (not surprising, as he is close to the earth).  He tells a story from the Ming Dynasty (by one Yang Ling) that, "traveling incognito," Emperor Taizu and a companion entered a crowded restaurant.  Finding no table, the emperor respectfully removed the Fu De tablet from the altar and used it horizontally as a dining table.  After the emperor left, his companion, a scholar, re-placed the tablet.  That night, the scholar had a dream in which Fu De said, "The emperor has ordered me not to sit on the altar table."  Thereafter, he has (usually) been found at floor- or graound-level.

"History": Born Zhang Mingde, lowly servant to a "senior official, he once was escorting the official's daughter from one town to another.  Overtaken by a snowstorm, he sheltered the child with his own clothing, but he himself froze to death.  In the sky appeared the words, "The Great Immortal Fude of the South Heavenly Gate."  The girl's father built a temple in his honor, and the cult had begun.

His holidays include his birthday on the second day of the second lunar month, and the Mid-Autumn Festival, when he inspects the fields.

Description: He may appear as anything from a charming, fat old man, to a simple tablet or stone, sometimes unmarked.
Found at EVERYWHERE!  Having learned to read the characters for his name, I have seen him in a niche inside the doors of temples or outside the doors of secular buildings (where a cornerstone might be expected), on earthen or stone platforms at the edge of villages, on proper altar tables both in- and outdoors, and in the botom level of cabinet shrines, both in temples and in homes.
About the photos: All photos on this page are copyright 2005 by James Baquet

Gallery

click photo to enlarge

Just a few of the many images I've seen

IMG_0889.JPG (92714 bytes) Nantou OT Main Gate Int 1.jpg (118145 bytes) Folk Altar Close V.jpg (338691 bytes)
Corner of a building,
Central, Hong Kong
Interior of South Gate,
Xinan Old Town 
Altar under a tree,
Tian Hou Miao, Chiwan
(The characters for
"Tu Di" are clearly visible
 behind the figures.)

Earthen (Stone, Concrete) Platforms

IMG_2820.JPG (136393 bytes) IMG_3669.JPG (161479 bytes) IMG_3751.JPG (156279 bytes)
Next to a grave near
San Shang Miao,
Meilin Park, Shenzhen
Along the historic trail in
Ping Shan, New
Territories, Hong Kong
Note two stones at back
In the center of the village
on Cheung Chau Island
Hong Kong
Note stones at back

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