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Mazu Belief and Customs
Though a generally agrarian civilization, China has its own sea gods in its pantheon, the most influential of whom is Mazu.
The Chinese goddess of the sea has come from the folk. Originally named Lin Mo-niang, Mazu was a native of Meizhou Island off the southeastern province of Fujian in the tenth century. She is recorded to have been a helpful, kindhearted, and brave girl; she could forecast the weather and offered medical services to fellow islanders, and was deeply esteemed by the locals for her benevolent deeds. She died at 28 when rescuing shipwreck victims in 987 CE.
Mazu Statue placed on Meizhou Island, Putian, Mazu's hometown. Symbol of Meizhou.
Mazu statue worshiped in a Mazu temple, typically with two guardian gods who, though originally wicked according to legends, came under her service after being defeated by Mazu.
To remember her deeds, people dedicated a temple to her, and gradually deified her. Emperors of successive Chinese dynasties after her death conferred various honorary titles on her such as “Madam”, “Queen of Heaven” and “Holy Mother”. In the end, her full title amounted to 64 Chinese characters, and her popularity with the coastal Chinese folk outdid other gods, making her the exclusive Chinese sea god.
The Mazu belief has been spread all over the world by the seafaring Chinese. Believers now amount to 200 million people (some 90% of overseas Chinese population) in over 20 countries and regions (particularly in Southeast Asia), making Mazu belief and commemoration an important cultural identity for Chinese population worldwide. A Mazu Temple usually serves as the local chamber of commerce or association for Chinese expatriates.
After centuries of development, Mazu now stands at the centre of a whole system of beliefs and customs. She is celebrated twice a year in numerous Mazu Temples in numerous Chinese communities. In Mazu’s hometown Meizhou, local residents, farmers, and fisherfolk suspend their work to offer sacrifices to the statues of Mazu, and hold dance and performance festivals. Floral tributes to Mazu statues, incense and firecracker, Mazu food (buns and noodles), and evening processions of residents bearing Mazu lanterns make the worship ceremony a very Chinese religious experience. People implore Mazu for whatever good wishes they have: safety, pregnancy, fortune, welling-being, health, success, etc.
As patron saint for sailors, Mazu is worshiped on the boat.
A procession parading Mazu's statue through the local streets.