China has a well-known tradition of hanging likenesses of important people and symbols around their homes and buildings, especially near the doors. One such important image is that of the door gods. These ancient religious figures are said to guard the entrances to buildings and homes, keeping evil spirits out and welcoming good fortune in.
The tradition of hanging door god images began in the Tang Dynasty (ca. 600 B.C.) when the Tang emperor himself was inflicted with a bout of insomnia. Believing that he was being harassed by a ghost at night, the emperor asked two of his most loyal generals to guard the door and keep the ghost away. The emperor was so satisfied with his good night’s sleep the next day that he ordered the images of the two generals be painted on the door permanently.
Unsurprisingly, the two most often portrayed door gods are the two Tang generals, Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde. Qin Shubao, who is most often seen carrying swords, has very pale skin, while Yuchi Jingde has much darker skin and wields one or several batons. Other door gods include Shen shu, who carries a battle axe and Yu lei with a mace. These two gods are mythological figures famous for chasing away the demons that were destroying the Jade emperor’s peach trees.
According to tradition, images of door gods must be placed on either side of an entranceway in pairs. The two figures must face one another rather than standing back-to-back, which is believed to be bad luck. Original forms of the door god images were made from woodblock prints. Today though, posters and pictures of door gods are available in small shops and stores around China. Despite the waning tradition of door god imagery, some families still believe strongly in the presence of door gods to protect their homes from evil.