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a statue of Guanyin sitting with one knee up and her arm on her knee

The god Guanyin, from the Liao Dynasty (about 1000 AD)

Guanyin and the underworld

Guanyin was a Chinese Buddhist god based on a real woman, the way Guanti was based on a real man. According to the story, her father murdered her. Guanyin went down to the underworld.

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But when she got there, she recited the holy books, and that prevented the god of the underworld from torturing the dead souls. He didn’t like that, so he sent Guanyin back to be alive again. (You might compare this to the Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice.) When Guanyin came back to life, she spent all her time studying Buddhist ideas. So the Buddha made her immortal: she would never die.

What was Guanyin the god of?

Fireworks and a Chinese dragon


Guanyin became the god of mercy and compassion. She was very popular. People who wanted her to help them shook rattles and set off firecrackers to get her attention. Artists usually showed her as a lady holding a baby, dressed in white, sitting on a lotus.

Guanyin changes gender

Stories about Guanyin seem to have actually gotten started from stories about a male Indian boddhisatva called Avalokitesvara. Somehow, along the way, she changed both her name and her gender!

What’s a boddhisatva?

More about the Chinese gods
Learn by doing: Buddhism project

Bibliography and further reading about the Chinese gods:

Kuan-yin, by Chun-Fang Yu (2000). Not , but a detailed account of the historical development of this Chinese goddess.

The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient China, by Leonard Everett Fisher (2003). . One page for each god, with lots of pictures and some historical context.

Five Heavenly Emperors: Chinese Myths of Creation, by Song Nan Zhang (1994). Stories .

Chinese Mythology A to Z, by Jeremy Roberts (2004).

Dragons and Demons : Myths of China, by Stewart Ross (1998). A few Chinese stories, retold .

Dragons, Gods and Spirits from Chinese Mythology, by Tao Sanders (1983). More of a child’s encyclopedia.

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