Etymology: “God of Wealth”
Also Known As: Ts’ai-shen, Tsai Shen Yeh, Zhao Gongming, Bi Gan
Alternative Spellings: T’shai-Shen, 財神 (Traditional Chinese,) 财神 (Simplified Chinese)
In the Taosist and folk religions of China, Caishen is the god of wealth, specifically prosperity who is rather popular that even atheists will worship him from time to time, at least during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
In some depictions, Caishen is shown dressed in exquisite flowing red robes and riding a black tiger. He is said to have a black face with a thick mustache and wears an iron helmet along with holding an iron weapon. Unless this misunderstanding is on my part, Caishen may also be shown with a Ri Yu staff or scepter that he holds. A golden yuanbao (gold ingot, bar of gold) is also shown near to Caishen or he may be holding one. Other imagery of Caishen will show him with several attendants with various gold bars, scrolls and fruit to pass to people that Caishen has blessed.
A temple to Caishen was built in the 2000s in Zhouzhi, Xi’an, Shaanxi. That is fairly recent in the grand scheme of things.
Caishen aids in ensuring that a person will receive profits from any commercial transactions.
Gold – This is rather obvious as a symbol of Caishen. He is often shown with a gold yuanbao or ingot as this holds value. The iron weapon that Caishen is shown holding also sometimes transforms into gold, showing Caishen’s power over wealth and prosperity.
Alchemy – There is sometimes another tool, a golden cudgel that Caishen holds that he can use to turn stone or iron into gold.
Tiger – In Chinese symbolism, the tiger represents persistence and represents that a person must do more than wish for wealth, they must do more and act on it.
Close on the heels of being a god of prosperity, Caishen presides over a bureaucracy with numerous minor deities under him.
Aside from promoting prosperity and wealth, Caishen is known to protect or ward against thunder and lightning.
Lunar New Year
During the Chinese Lunar New Year, Caishen descends from the heavens to come down to the earth and check on his followers.
With the Lunar New Year, this is a good time in the days leading up to it to do some spring cleaning of your home and remove unwanted clutter. Do any repairs that need it and check the lightbulbs, especially for the front door.
Families worship Caishen in the early morning by setting three candles on the dining table and burning three incense sticks of choice as the main entrance and windows are open to invite Caishen into the home. After bowing and inviting Caishen in, it is traditional for the family to set a place for him at the table and to eat dumplings on this day as they look like the gold yuanbao or ingot associated with Caishen. Images of Caishen are also displayed, in more modern times, posters are acceptable.
On the second day of the Lunar New Year, Caishen ascends back up to the heavens, and the pictures used to welcome him on the first day are now burned to see him off. Burning the pictures is part of wishing for a more prosperous and luckier year.
The fifth day of the Lunar New Year is Caishen’s birthday, so its natural to want to celebrate that and wish him a happy birthday too! Cake, dumplings, and fireworks!
It is popular among friends and family to say the traditional New Year greeting of “Gongxi Facai” or “May you become rich!” Admittedly, many Westerners confuse the saying as being equivalent to the English “Happy New Year” when it’s a prayer wishing someone wealth and prosperity.
For those who practice feng shui, an image of Caishen can be displayed in one’s home or office to attract money, good luck or fortune, wealth, and prosperity. Some believe that this can come in the form of a sudden windfall of financial luck. The higher that you are able to place this image of Caishen, the better as that is believed to show more respect for him with the best places being the foyer, entryway, or living room for him.
Among the “Pure Land Buddhists,” they venerate Caishen as a buddha. In esoteric Buddhism, Caishen is identified with Jambhala, the God of Wealth.
In various Chinese and Taosist temples, a statue of Caishen may sometimes stand near a door, usually in conjunction with Randeng Daoren, the Burning-Lamp Taoist.
Under Mao and Communism, the veneration of Caishen in mainland China hasn’t faired too well as the state believes in making it’s own way and luck with money. Several of the temples and statues of Caishen were destroyed during this time.
As luck would have it, 1979 saw a renaissance from the “Four Asian Tigers” of overseas Chinese communities in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea where the veneration of Caishen had been kept alive, finding themselves wealthy and prosperous, even well developed. This wouldn’t be hard for people back in mainland China to see a correlation and have a swift return to using Caishen’s symbols from abroad and to place statues of Caishen in several prominent places, there are shrines, incense burned and statuettes tucked away on a shelf in a restaurant.
Possible Reality Behind The Myth
Many of China’s mythical figures are often said and thought to have once been a living person in life before ascending a deified or higher state. In this case, there are several legends of whom Caishen has been linked to, making it a bit dubious to determine if these were real, living historical people once.
With Caishen, we see him linked to the historical figure of Zhao Xuan-tan or Chao Hsüan-t’an, “General Zhao of the Dark Terrace,” during the Qin Dynasty. As Zhao Xuan-tan, he gained enlightenment on the top of a mountain. While still mortal, Zhao Xuan-tan is said to have assisted Zhang Dao-ling during his search for the Life-Prolonging Elixir.
Bi Gan – The historical figure of Bi Gan is the most ancient person to link Caishan with and the first incarnation. Bi Gan had been married to a woman with the surname of Chen. Their son’s name was Quan. After Bi Gan was sentenced to death by his nephew, King Zhou of Shang, Bi Gan’s wife and son fled to the forest. Bi Gan’s death is noted to mark the collapse of the Shang dynasty. Later, Quan would be revered as the ancestor to the Lins by King Wu of Zhou.
Zhao Gongming – There is a novel written during the Ming dynasty era called Fengshen Yanyi that tells the story of a hermit by the name Zhao Gongming who used magic to support a failing Shang dynasty. Jiang Ziya, who supported the following Zhou dynasty, made a straw effigy of Zhao and after twenty days of spells, prayers and incantations, fired an arrow made of peach tree wood through the heart of this effigy. At the moment the arrow struck, Zhao became ill and died. Later, when Jiang visited the temple of Yuan Shi, he was chastised for causing the death of a virtuous man. Jiang Ziya, having remorse, carried Zhao’s corpse to the Yuan Shi temple to make atonement. As Jiang expounded on Zhao’s virtues, Zhao would become canonized as Caishen, the god of Wealth, and become the president of the Ministry of Wealth. There are some sources that reverse the loyalties of Zhao and Jiang for this story.
The historical figure of Bi Gan is the most ancient person to link Caishan with. Bi Gan had been married to a woman with the surname of Chen. Their son’s name was Quan. After Bi Gan was sentenced to death by his nephew, King Zhou of Shang, Bi Gan’s wife and son fled to the forest. Bi Gan’s death is noted to mark the collapse of the Shang dynasty. Later, Quan would be revered as the ancestor to the Lins by King Wu of Zhou.
Fan Li – During Confucius’ time, Caishen came to be associated with Fan Li, a military strategist, businessman, and advisor to Goujian who ruled over the kingdom of Yue. Both Fan Li and Goujian were taken hostage by the state of Wu and held for three years. After they were freed, Fan Li continued to serve Goujian, carrying his government appointments and reforms that improved the kingdom of Yue. Fan Li’s reforms aided Goujian to be able to conquer the Wu state. After this victory, Fan Li resigned from his position and took on the name Tao Zhu Gong.
Fan Li and his wife, Xi Shi went to live on a boat out on Lake Tai. Fan Li’s success with business and his reforms led to his being defied and regarded as a reincarnation of Caishen.
Caibo Xingjun – This is another name linked to Caishen as a possible historical figure. Originally born Li Guizu, he was born in the Zichuan district in the Shandong Province where he held a position as a magistrate. Due to his service and contributions, Li Guizu was given the title of Caibo Xingjun by the Wude Emperor of the Tang dynasty and the people built a temple to worship him.
These are just some of the stories I was able to find of those historical people who have been linked with Caishen.
The Caishen Of All Directions
With all of these various historical figures linked to Caishen and seeing them as various incarnations; they all lead to the fact that there are multiple Caishen who are associated with the various directions. Additionally, a person wanting Caishen’s aid should pick one of these nine different Caishen to call on.
Center – Zhao Gong Ming, the Military God of Wealth
East – Xiao Sheng, the God of Collecting Treasures
West – Cao Bao, the God of Collecting Valuables
North – Yao Shao Si, the God of Profitability
South – Chen Jiu Gong, the God of Attracting Wealth
South-East – Han Xin Ye, the God of Gambling
South-West – Liu Hai, the God of Luck
North-East – Shen Wanshan, the God of Gold
North-West – Tao Zhugong, the Civil God of Wealth
Credit Knife Man
Also called: “Buying Man,” “Credit Men,” “Credit Swordsman,” “Divine Sale,” “Divination Sellers,” “Knife Man,” “Seller,” and “The Person who took the Knife”
This is an interesting piece of Chinese folklore and divination. When the Credit Knife Man appears, it isn’t just to sell knives, it is to sell these knives on credit with a vague or cryptic prophecy about the following year. When the prediction comes true, the Credit Knife Man returns later to collect the money. The Credit Knife Man is said to appear every time there is a disaster, giving out hints of what is to come.
While the current name is fairly new, the tradition itself is very old. Back in ancient China, the Credit Knife Man, Divine Seller or Buying Man as they were known then would show up, walking through villages as they passed out kitchen knives or other household items on credit while giving prophecies for the following year. No charges, just that they would return when the prediction was fulfilled to collect on the wares, often times knives.
Prophet Or Charlatan?
While there are many folktales regarding the Credit Knife Man, there are some who think the whole idea is made up of charlatans and liars going to villages to deceive and scam people out of their money.
Then you have others who believe that these Knife Men are legit as every year before a disaster happens, they show up, and make a prophecy that turns true.
Seeming to add credibility to all of this is that Credit Knife Men are said to have shown up in 2020 around the Central Plains area of China with a prediction for 2021
Professional Knife Man?
Going back about thirty years ago to the 1980’s and 1990’s groups of people could be found going around the streets and alleyways in China’s rural areas. They would be carrying an array of kitchen knives, scissors, iron pots and other household items. These people didn’t just sell the knives outright, they would sell the knife on credit, giving them to people in need in exchange for a seemingly bizarre or cryptic prophesy.
The “Divine Seller” would keep a registry of names for those whom they had made a prediction to when selling a knife or other household item. As people tended to stay or live in the same village, it would be easy for the “Divine Seller” to return later and collect any money owed on a prediction that is fulfilled.
Where the Credit Knife Man is potentially related to cons and scammers, these people show up in rural, remote villages where people are likely to be less educated, living simpler lives. Such predictions will be given relating to personal, ordinary things and events. The scammer may show up in one village claiming the price of wheat will rise while in another they say it will fall and depending on the outcome, the seller returns to the village in question to collect. As these Sellers travel, they’re more likely to be connected to the world, regional events of what’s happening in the area and how it will affect the local economies before any price drops or rises reach a particular village.
Nor is it hard if you’re paying attention to the trends and events around a person to make some fairly accurate guesses and seeming predictions of what’s coming or could come.
It certainly seems like Confirmation Bias and enough people seeing the “predictions” coming true would certainly double down and pay, ignoring any predictions that didn’t come true and getting a free knife out of the deal.
It appears that the Credit Knife Man or Men belong to the Daoist School of thought and may be a disciple of Guiguzi. As a form of divination, the Credit Knife Man makes predictions involving life and death. They notably appear every time there is a disaster to give hints and warnings.
Just who is or was Guiguzi?
The Guiguzi is a collection of ancient texts written and compiled during China’s Waring States era and towards the end of the Han Dynasty. The author credited with writing these tests and treatises of diplomacy is Guigu Xiansheng.
By folk traditions, Guiguzi has become the name of a legendary and mysterious figure, known as the “eternal stranger.” They are well versed in strategies and diplomacy and influenced people like Sun Bin, Pang Juan, Su Qin, Zhang Yi, and Shang Yang with promoting justice and saving the world from the Chinese world view.
“The Knife of the Tao” – Giving such divinations and predictions of connecting them with a commodity such as the knife may have been the way that Fortune Tellers and Diviners kept their trade going. Give the prediction while also selling something tangible and needed.
Plus, a business savvy person paying attention to the market trends and events happening around them can seem to easily make predictions. Especially for earlier eras with the slowness of news to reach rural areas.
Adding more mystique and interest to the stories of the Credit Knife Man is a story set in the remote village near the base of the Daxingan Mountains in the northeast. The story tells how there is a person who appears in the village, selling their knives on credit. When asking the older people of the village, when they were young, this person selling knives was middle-aged. Now that they are old, this person has remained the same age and still giving his prophesies. No one knows this person’s name, their real age, only that his knives are sharp and that he doesn’t need money. Every time they show up, they leave a knife and a prophecy and when that prophesy is fulfilled, the person returns to collect the knife. There was one time the village faced a severe drought and the person who received the knife showed up in time to help solve the dilemma.
Another story of the Credit Knife Man is in July 1878 during the Guangxu era. A person buying the knife on credit received a prediction of the price of wheat would drop from 80 cents to 18 cents. The price of wheat did drop all the way down to 18 cents, but there is no record if the Credit Knife Man returned to collect the money.
Presumably he did or there wouldn’t be the story.
Another element of the seeming supernatural nature of the Credit Knife Man is that they seem to appear anytime there is going to be major changes that affect the region or country.
One of the alternative names of “Divine Sale” refers to the divination aspect of the Credit Knife Men. The predictions that the Knife Men often make are bizarre and seemingly cryptic. Anything from the ordinary to the future of the world. Some examples given are how the price of rice and wheat will rise to one yuan, pork rising to ten yuan a catty and how the fields won’t be planted. More examples include how no one is living in a house, people taking off their clothes, beasts walking in clothing, and even more strange ones such as pigs will have a thousand oxen and the bridal price or costs to marry a daughter-in-law being 180.
It’s enough to make one think they’re getting a fortune told from a Fortune Cookie or looking at the Daily Horoscope at first glance. Much like a party game. But after the fact, you see how it applies to not worrying about the price of rice and other food stocks, the societal changes of young people moving away from their hometown in rural areas as they seek work, the way people treat their pets with dressing them and dying their fur, the price of cattle and the steep price of marriages. All stuff that in a way seems very common sense after the fact and seeing the social and societal changes.
Credit Knife Currency
During the Song Dynasty, these Credit Knife Men were known as “Credit Swordsman” and could be found wandering various towns and remote mountain villages. The knives that they sold were not for sale but being sold on credit as a means or excuse to make predictions and prophesies to each other for free. If such a prophesy comes true later, the Credit Swordsman would return to collect on the prediction.
Looking at the Warring States era of China’s history, it makes sense knives would be used for currency and given out on credit during a time when money was hard to come by. So, a good, sharp knife would have a high value and be useful to trade or sell on credit for later. It would also be an act of integrity and honor to pay or repay when the Credit Knife Man managed to return and collect or have a free knife in the event of a failed prediction.
Actual Knife Coins and currency were used during the Zhou dynasty between 600 and 200 B.C.E. These were large, bronze-cast knife-shaped coins or currency used throughout various governments and kingdoms that are now modern China. One story holds that a prince running low on money allowed his soldiers to use their knives in place of currency, for barter and trade with villagers. Another story has the same prince accepting knives as payments for small fines in place of the current, legal ring coins. It is also possible that the knife money is something that came from the Indian Ocean by way of trade routes with barter and trade.
Similar are the Qi Knives found in the Shandong region in the State of Qi that were use in that area. Archaeology places them having been in use during the Waring States era. These knives were also known as Three Character Knives, Four Character Knives and so on based on the number inscribed on them. Depending on the number of the Qi Knife would be how much of a copper and tin alloy they were made of. With higher number Qi Knives having a higher percentage of copper.
In 1932, a veritable treasure hoard of Needle Tip Knives were found at Chengde in the Hebei province. These are similar to the Pointed Tip Knife currency that have been discovered and unearthed in the thousands all with various inscriptions of numbers, cyclical characters and others that haven’t been decoded or translated on them.
There has also been spade money and Ming Knives which are smaller than the Pointed Tip Knifes found. A Mint for Ming Knives was found at Xiadu, southwest of Beijing. This place had once been the capital city Yi during the Yan dynasty around 360 B.C.E. Coinage for the Ming Knives have been found as far away as Korea and Japan.
If you ever have a chance to visit the Qi Heritage Museum in Linzi, Shandong, many examples of these Qi Knives on display.
During World War II and Japan’s occupation of China, the legends of the Credit Knife or Sword Man rose up with them saying they would return to collect the money when the Japanese were driven out. This angered the Japanese soldiers who went and killed the Credit Knife Man. Before he died, the man said his descendants would come to collect. When the Japanese left China, the Credit Knife Man’s prediction does appear to have become true.
October 2020 – A Credit Knife Man in the Central Plains. After selling his knife on credit, they left the prediction “No money will be collected this year.) Referring to 2020 and that he would return next year in 2021, saying: “Give money if you are alive next year, if you don’t have it, you’ll be gone.” As every knows, 2020 is a year we’d like to have a do over with due to the Covid-19 pandemic that swept the globe along with other natural disasters.
July 7th, 2021 – After a flood happened, there is a father living near the edge of the Dabie Mountains of northern Hubei who reports on WeChat having met a person who’s not seen a kitchen knife or scissors for decades. A prediction was made that the Credit Knife Man would come to collect when it snows. “No snow, no money!” And of course, the mountain regions got snow in August, a full month ahead of schedule.
It’s noted that for two consecutive years in a row that Credit Knife Men and their predictions have made appearances in Henan and Hubei.
With a faster speed of technology and communication, such predictions that Credit Knife Men would make seem harder to do if all one was doing is paying attention to the market trends and world events happening around them. For the superstitious or spiritually minded, it does seem that the heavens are angry. Those more science-minded see the effects of climate change and global warming with some of these natural disasters.
There is also a prediction set for August 2022 where the red boat will sink.