Tan-ki : Chinese spirit-medium worship (among the Hokkien = southern Min, in Fu-kien / Fu-jian)

p. 11 [Hokkien] /Tan-ki/ = [Mandarin] /Ji-ton/

pp. 34-36 rites in the Z^ou-li (‘Zhou’s Rites’) section of the Li-ji (‘Rites Book’)




"The shi has been ... named the Personator of the Dead ... . ... He was the grandson or substitute grandson of the ancestor, who appeared ... preceded by heralds so that all who came upon him, including the emperor himself, had to kneel. ... In this role, the personator ate and drank of the victuals offered to the ancestor. After the shi had eaten, the emperor ate" the leftovers.


"The Zhouli notes that ... the shi did not symbolize the deceased spirit while he remained standing; ‘he is spirit [only] when he takes the assigned seat’. ... It is de rigeur for the tang-ki to sit on a dragon throne to quietly await possession by the gods." [p. 160a, n. 1:22 The tan-ki custom in Hain-nan is an exception to this rule.]


"The Zhouli describes the fang xiang shi as wearing over his head a bearskin that had four golden eyes sewn on it. He wore black and red garments".

p. 37 "In Han times, 120 young boys holding twirl-drums and dancers wearing animal costumes attended the fang xiang shi. By Sui ... times, the youthful troupe of boys had been doubled to 240".

pp. 28-29, 32 magicians during S^an & Z^ou times




"wu, ... among the ancients, referred principally to shamanesses or witches. ...


Male magicians ... were ... given different names including xi (... wizard), zhu (... invoker) or shi (... personator), which distinguished them from their woman counterparts."


"The women wu who dominated Shang religion were relegated to the position of witches" in Z^ou religious society.

pp. 88, 136 prohibitions to women in reproductive conditions


prohibition of women


"menstruating women are not supposed to go near tang-kis, especially during moments of self-mortification.

Pregnant women are dissuaded from turning up at tang-ki ceremonies".


"pregnant women should not watch marionette theatre. This is because the spirit of the string puppet in powerful enough to cross the boundary of flesh and can possess the foetus".

p. 88 "At funerals of their mothers, sons drink red wine, which symbolizes the ... maternal blood."

pp. 30, 57-60, 86-89, 98-99 modes of spirit-possession




"There are also male tang-kis possessed by female deities (such as the Goddess of Mercy), who then behave in a feminine manner".


"a tang-ki is considered acceptably dressed ... as long as he is without shirt or footwear. A spectator who goes into a spontaneous trance at a temple ceremony is likely to have his shirt and shoes removed by helpful fellow spectators."


"Whatever he medium’s age, even if he is a grandfather, as tang-ki he is a ‘child’. The tang-ki’s youth is ... a ‘real’ spiritual condition. {because the possessing-deity cannot superannuate (grow old)?} ...


This life span will be increased if they are selected by the gods, and agree to be mediums."

160, n. 3:1

According to the Huan Di Nei Jin (‘Yellow Emperor’s Medicine Book’), "the liver contains the hun"; and "the lungs contain the po".


"While the po is in the flesh, the repository of the hun is in the bones. {cf. South American Indian "bone-soul"} For this reason, the potential condition for a person to become a medium is described as having ki gu ([Mandarin] jigu, divining bones). ... When a woman conceives, a seed is planted simultaneously ... into the Heavenly Flower Gardens. In the celestial nursery, the child’s plant grows in tandem ..., for the unborn child is connected to the Heavenly Flower Gardens by a ‘thread’ of 36 ethereal bones. ... In the case of potential mediums, ... the thread of bones is not severed ..., and because of this, the ling hun of mediums still retains an attachment to the heavenly realm. Such people are destined to be spiritually youthful ... so that marriage may result in death. The remaining links by spirit bones to Heaven make such people suitable mediums and shamans. When the spirits of gods possess their bodies, the temporarily displaced spirit of the


human medium can easily journey across the ‘thread’ of bones to wait in the heavenly realm until the possession is over."

"those ... who are connected to the heavenly realm by spirit bones are spiritual children who may live full mortal lives if they agree to be mediums."


"Some trances appear to be so deep that the eyeballs of the medium roll up to reveal only the whites. ... The tang-ki’s assistants help him achieve different trance states with music. During critical moments, ... musicians bang hard and fast on their drums and gongs. The loud percussive music ... simulates thunder and exorcises demons. ... Trance appears ... so that most tang-kis do not even flinch when tick skewers are driven into their cheeks or the skin of their backs. The loss of blood also appears to be paranormally low".


"a medium for the Thunder God and Elder Grandpa ... believes that his tang-ki possessions were real. He said the spirits entered his body through his feet {this is likewise true of vodun}, when he would feel cold. During trance, ... he could not act out of his own volition, ... for all the while another consciousness controlled what he did. ... when possessed he spoke in Mandarin, a language he insists he does not know. As Thunder, he could feel Thunder’s iconic iron hammer in his right palm although he held nothing in his hand."


"the tang-ki’s glossolalia was largely identified as an archaic Hokkien dialect known as Tang Min ... which preserves the final consonants of an ancient Chinese language. ... Other speak in Chinese dialects (even English or Malay in Malaysia), which they swear they know nothing of as ordinary men."

pp. 92-96 onset of mediumship




"no one can choose to be a tang-ki, rather the gods liak (... pinyin zhua) or ‘catch’ their mediums. ...


Spontaneous possessions often occur at temple festivals. A spectator in the crowd watching tang-kis suddenly falls to the ground seized by a convulsive fit. Because of the sudddenness of the onset of the calling ... of novice mediums ... to receive the spirits of the gods, ... they need to be chanted over and commended to the gods."


"The quiet with which a veteran medium waits for the possessing god to take control over his physical body is a learned passivity ..., a condition where a degree of mastery over the possessions is demonstrable {cf. Siberian shamans’ mastering their helping-spirits}, when the medium can choose to invite gods into his body ... . In order to prepare his body, the novice medium has to be chanted over during several, usually 49 (a symbolic number) koan ki (... pinyin juan ji – appeal to receive spirit possession or guan ji ..., petitioning for spirit possession) sessions."


"koan ki denotes the ritual chanting by which a god is invited to descend into the body of a medium. ... Early koan ki sessions are usually marked by short periods of trance; a god will possess the body of the medium but will quickly leave ... . After several koan ki sessions, the medium as vessel is more ready for use, and the trance can be sustained for a longer period. An important marker ... is the ability of the medium to rise and stand from a seated position without coming out of trance. ... Then the medium’s body must be ready to be used by the god to perform ... the spirit-writing of charms. Next, the medium’s body must be ... for the god to use ... perform the Yu Step and other ritual movements. Finally, the mouth of the medium must be opened as a channel for the god’s voice."

"the first medium ... rose from his tang-ki throne and began to


hesitantly dance. Soon he was able to speak in the god’s voice to his people, and write charms. ... this new tang-ki ... was consecrated in a dance on an eight trigram ritual area (an octagonal stage carpeted in red)".


"koay hoay lor (pinyin guo huo lu – cross the fiery road)" by a woman-initiate : "The blast of the Taoist priest’s trumpet marked the start of the initiation rite. ... The blast ... is said to emulate the bellow of a dragon. ... The priest ... then rang his handbell to summon the celestial hosts to come to witness the ceremony that was about to take place.


... the initiate, a woman tang-ki dressed in ... bright yellow ... had to brave ... bonfire. This pyre consisted of a pile of spirit money topped by a paper image of the White Tiger (Bai Hu ...), one of the 108 baleful stars. ... The safe crossing of the fire of the White Tiger signified that the medium’s mouth had been ‘opened’."


"After a novice tang-ki has successfully undergone the trial by ordeal initiation, he is commended to the Emperor of Heaven. In the ritual called ngia ling (pinyin na ling), the tang-ki receives his orders from Tian Gong, the Heavenly Emperor. ... The tang-ki is then presented with his insignias of office comprising the double-edged ritual sword, complete with scabbard, his flag standard and seal."

pp. 96-99 standard spirit-possession performance in tan-ki worship




"Loh means ‘descend’ in Hokkien, and so loh tang (... pinyin luo tong) translates as the descent of the possessing god into the tang-ki’s body."


1. "The ritual master (the tang-ki’s lieutenant) cracks the exorcising snake whip several times at the four corners ... of the ritual space."

2. "The folds gold spirit money to make flattened cones (three-sided shapes). ... This rite creates a divine aura that will be attractive to the descending spirit. The burning paper also opens the medium’s sacred third eye ... . The ... helpers may wave burning spirit money about and under the medium’s throne ... . ... The ... senior members of the medium’s entourage begin to koan ki, that is, sing the invocation hymn."

3. "The medium may ... yawn vigorously. ... a little saliva ... will fall upon several pieces of spirit money laid out on the floor. ... The medium’s leg’s may begin to shake rhythmically. The movement ... is convulsive. ... The head begins shaking vigorously from side to side or may be thrown in a circular movement from the shoulders. The eyeballs may roll up, showing the whites."


4. "performance is called ‘dancing’, since the tang-ki does not walk but progresses in the zigzag Yu Step to the three-beat ‘lotus’ music".

5. "The tang-ki will also dance the hop ... . Some are contented with ... hops on one leg while holding the other leg bent in front of the body. Other tang-kis hold the raised leg behind them and hop fast".

6. "After the tang-ki has performed all necessary rituals ... he will tui tang ..., that is, perform a ... departure of the god. ... When the god leaves the tang-ki, he may thrash about wildly, ... or ... faint. One helper may perform a mudra to close the tang-ki’s mystical third eye ... . ... The helpers may have to ease the tension out of the tang-ki’s limbs if these are gripped by muscular spasms."

pp. 100-105 typical calendar of events for a 3-day tan-ki festival

pp. 100-101

pp. 101-105








"At the dawn of the first day (or the night before), the Heavenly Emperor is invited to descend to Earth to witness the proceedings. ... a marionette show will be staged for the entertainment of the gods. In the afternoon, the Heavenly Emperor departs. ... Thus the Heavenly Emperor will grace the opening of a function but will not stay for the festivities. ... The first day’s festivities usually end with a charity dinner, ... for residents of an old age home".


"The Heavenly Emperor will be invoked to enter into a spirit tablet placed on a red lacquered tray set with two red candles, a censer fill with smouldering sandalwood ... and three plates of fruit. ... The spirit tablet imbued with the heavenly emperor’s divine essence is then carried to his ... three-tier paper palace".



"Towards the evening, the tang-ki presides at koay oon (... pinyin guo yun, overcoming misfortune) or


"a tray of offerings -- ... hardboiled eggs coloured an auspicious red ... blessed ... were returned to the family to take home to eat later."



koay kio (... pinyin guo qiao, crossing the bridge of fate) ceremonies".


"crowds ... at night ... cross the bridge led by the tang-ki".



"This day ... is ... the grand spectacle of yiu keng, the tang-ki’s exorcising tour of his spiritual precinct".


"behind ... the sacred black flag, 36 ... celestial generals, ... backed by all the heavenly armies"

pp. 136, 142-143 marionette theatre




"Marionette theatre ... is not performed for a human audience. In fact, ... devotees dare not watch string puppet shows. ... While humans regard string puppet theatre with fearful awe, the Heavenly Emperor only wants to see marionette theatre."


"for the Chinese the very emblem of the magical power of theatre is Xianggong (... God of theatre), a marionette deity. In fact, all Chinese gods of theatre are puppet figures. The puppet image of Xianggong is regarded as the deity himself ... . As the God of Theatre, ... before a temple can be opened to the public for worship, Xianggong, in his transmogrified image of marionette, must dance all around the premises."


"The spirit power of Hai Ji, the deity of opera actors, is concentrated ... in a sacred image placed on altars ... . ... This sacred image, which is featured only in rituals and is enshrined on altars, is a puppet with articulated limbs."


"The prototypical puppets were mortuary figures, artefacts shaped upon the human image, which were buried in tombs in the belief that the figures could animate to serve the deceased in the afterlife."

p. 45 "Taoists ... hold that god images ... are ... in fact true images of the gods given to man through direct divine inspiration. For, example, before starting on a new statue, an image carver will burn a talisman to invoke the god to appear in dreams. In this way the gods tell the image carver how to sculpt the real features of the god."

pp. 146-148 legends of Xian-gon (as Tian) and of Hai Ji




"The biography of Xianggong describes him as a youth from Fujian. Legend tells that the god’s mother was a woman surnamed Su who miraculously conceived when she plucked and ate a grain of rice. ...


Crabs crawled up to feed the foundling, which is why the image of this god depicts him with a crab carved or painted on his face. For this reason, ... actors refuse to eat crabs. ... the child was simply named ‘Tian’ ..., meaning ‘field’. Tian grew up to be a flutist [flautist] gifted with music. ... The boy won the emperor’s favour by deciphering an esoteric book of music that the emperor had brought back from a dream visit to the moon. ... While he slept, the empress wrote a curative charm in the numbers eight and ten, wishing the youth life up to 80 years of age, ... the empress writing the number 80 on the brow of the sleeping Tian. When the boy awoke and looked at his image in a mirror, it was transposed as 18.

... a verse ... appears on the feng bang (... certificate of office) of Xianggong in the Xianggong shrine in the city of Quanzhou ... :

At eighteen he started to laugh,

... and fell down the golden step,

A jade girl descended to support him in her arms."

{cf. "'He shall give his angels charge concerning thee,'

and, 'In their hands they shall bear thee up,

Lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.'"

(Gospel according to Matthew 4:6)" –

"For he will give his angels charge over thee ... .

They shall bear thee upon their hands,

lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." (TLHLYM 91:11-12)}


"Hai Ji (pinyin Hai Er), which translates simply as ‘child’ ... fell asleep in an actor’s clothes trunk, got suffocated and died. ... the child-god came to an actor in a dream to teach him the art of acting."

p. 105 the 3 spirits guarding threshholds (marked by pink-colored buns) of the bridge crossed by Ji-gon the Mad Monk


its spirit-guard


"ferocious White Tiger of the West"


"Tai Sui (... the star Jupiter), the awesome spirit of the 60-year cycle"


"spirit of the Seven Stars"

p. 90 music for tan-ki performance

"the main mode of Chinese worship is dance ... . ...

The standard tang-ki music is a drumming to a rhythm of three beats, with a frenzied beating of drums as the alternate music. ... During the invocation of the god to descend, the beat is regular and hypnotic, with the third beat played on a gong ... .

As the spirit possesses a medium so that he convulses, the drums are beaten hard and fast with no attention to melodic construction ... .

When the god has taken full possession of the tang-ki, the three-beat rhythm is resumed ... . ... The basic set of rhythmic patterns features what might be described as a 3-3-and-3-3 combination ... .

The use of alternative music provided by processional troupes ... may feature a 3-5-7 combination that invokes the power of the magic square."

pp. 60-61 costume worn by tan-ki


portion of costume


"The dragon’s skirt is an apron tied around the waist and comprises three panels that hang down the front and sides."


"a travelling cloak ... takes the form of a richly ornamented cape that is tied around the neck (sometimes over one shoulder) with ribbons."


"The Hainanese (Qiong-Wen subdialect of Min dialect) tang-ki can be recognised by a distinctive red headband."


color of costume worn by tan-ki impersonating specific deity :-






Guan Gon












An hai Ji; baby Ne-z^a



adult Ne-z^a

pp. 64-74, 129-130 other paraphernalia used by tan-ki




"__ Grandpa"

is __

clad in __



tall, thin




short, stout



S^en bei "divining block (literally ‘sacred cups’) are tossed to solicit ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers from gods ... . ... The divining blocks are crescent shapes traditionally carved out of bamboo root ... .

One side of each block is convex while the other side is flat.


If the thrown blocks land flat sides down,

this ... means ‘no’.


If the blocks land with both flat sides facing up,

the answer is ... equivocal, for the gods are laughing.


If the blocks are ... one flat side up and one flat side down --

the answer is ‘yes’."


Lustral water : hu c^ui ([Mandarin] fu s^ui) – "To make this water, talismans are burnt and the ashes are allowed to fall into a bucket of water. ...

Tang-kis ... suck in mouthfuls, which they blow in a spray over devotees or weapons as blessed qi breath. ...


Some assistants awaken a tang-ki from a trance by writing sacred characters upon the forehead and body of the tang-ki using fingers dipped in lustral water."


"Flags are used to mark trails that lead to a tang-ki ceremony. ...

Flags that are powerfully charged with spirit-force include

the five coloured flags of the armies of the five directions,

the black eight trigrams flag and

the tang-ki’s personal standard. ...

The tang-ki will wave flags to summon heavenly soldiers to battle evil demons lurking about the place. ...

The spirit power of the celestial army at the command of the tang-ki is contained in a large black flag (orh leng ..., [Mandarin] hei ling) emblazoned with the symbol of the eight trigrams. ... The black flag represents the celestial army attached to the particular deity of the temple. The tang-ki


of the temple is the general of this army. ... the flag itself is worshipped with offerings of incense, spirit money and food. The tang-ki’s black flag is carried by a vanguard at the head of tang-ki processions.

... every tang-ki also has his personal standard, a small triangular flag embroidered with the name of the possessing god and the ideograph ling ... ‘command’. This is the flag of command (ling qi ...) ... . Another term is dragon flag (leng ki ..., [mandarin] long qi) because the tang-ki’s personal flag has a decorative border resembling a dragon’s fins."


"The Han Door Gods are the mythological brothers Shen Tu ... and Yu Lei ..., who live under a giant peach tree in the mountains of the eastern seas. The pair are demon exorcists who would bind up spectres in cords of reeds and feed them to a tiger. {Guideways through Mountains and Seas, cited in WS, p. 90, n. 9:8} ...

The rope whip flicked in all the directions – north, south, east, west and centre – send demons scurrying out of the ritual area. The wooden handle of the whip is carved to resemble a snake, hence the alternative name, she bian (... snake whip) ... . ...


The dragon-head whip is sometimes used ... . ... the dragon whip is used to exorcise the heavenly realm while the snake whip takes care of terrestrial spectres."


"Peculiar to tang-ki worship is the belief that lit joss-stick thrust upon the flesh ... a true tang-ki will emerge unscathed. For this reason, tang-kis often brush great bunches of burning


joss-sticks against their body, or they will extinguish joss-sticks in their mouth or pick off the burning ends with their fingers."


"To the important spirits just below the Heavenly Emperor are offered ...

fish ...-shaped puddings,

candy pagodas, and

peanut brittle mounded to look like pig heads. ...

Peach-shaped buns rehearse the legends of the peach gardens of Xi Wangmu ..., ‘Queen Mother of the West’. ...

Gods lower in the divine hierarchy, especially if they are warrior spirits, are offered cooked meats ... . ... Ritually correct offerings of fowl or fish will be complete with head and tail ... .

Lastly there are the celestial soldiers, who ... are fe^ted with food cut to bite-sized portions and cooked ... . ...


The Baby God will be given sweets and bottles of milk, while

Elder and Second Grandpas will have ... black opium ... smeared directly onto the mouths of their statues. ... while

at ceremonies to the Heavenly Emperor, libations of ... tea are poured."


"Many of the sedan chair carriers swear that the chairs are moved by the spirit power of the god images (perhaps akin to psychokiuesis)."


"When descendants burn spirit money to their ancestors, the essence of the offerings rise up in the smoke and help to pay ..., because this will be used to bribe sentries at the various gates of Hell. Another reason offered for burning spirit money is to provide funds for a soul in Hell. The money is used to obtain rebirth through the purchase of a body and a fate ... .

Spirit money for the dead comprises rectangles of coarse paper ..., on which are imprinted silver squares ... . ... these rectangles of money had to be folded into ingot shapes before burning. ... Ghosts are offered silver spirit money (yin zhi ...), too, plus smaller bits of paper money which represent coinage. They also get Bank of Hell notes. The latter are printed to look like regular currency, but with stupendous amounts, going up to eight-digit figures.

Gods are also offered spirit money made of rectangles of coarse paper, but these are imprinted with large squares of gold that bear god images, usually of the trio of the Gods of Fortune, Success and Longevity. ...


Burning spirit money waved about a medium’s head creates a pleasing aura about his body, attracting gods to possess it. ...

Worshippers build pyres of spirit money stacked in the shape of battlements which they set fire to, together with offerings of paper garments for the spirits to wear and paper palaces for the spirits to live in."


"Hokkien worship of the Heavenly Emperor is marked by the distinctive offering of a pair of sugarcane stalks, which no other Chinese use. ...


Hokkiens hid in sugarcane fields from the mythical Chinese New Year monster named Nian."


"It is de rigeur for tang-kis to enter and leave trance seated on a chair. ... The tang-ki’s chair is usually made of wood, painted bright red and carved with dragon heads at the top corners on the high back of the chair, and at the end of either arm. Green thrones featuring demonic heads are used by Elder and Second Grandpa tang-kis."


"knife blades are fixed into tang-ki thrones, swords of ladders and beds of knives. A tang-ki’s throne can be made bristling with spikes.

Weapons are believed to have exorcistic powers, and for this reason may be hung above the main entrances of homes."


"The calligraphy of the gods can be seen in markings on stone, ... stones that have recognizable pictures naturally ‘drawn’ on them. ...

The written charms produced by tang-kis are usually indecipherable scrawls made in crimson ink on yellow paper strips. ... Taoist charms represent commands and are usually addressed to celestial warriors to do battle with evil spirits. These orders are properly drawn and sealed with the god’s stamp".


"The abacus, Elder Grandpa’s symbolic prop identifying him as the reckoner of the span of mortal life, has been put to inventive use. ... An Elder Grandpa tang-ki in Singapore has been taken travelling ‘in state’, carried in a coffin."

"One of Singapore’s ... tang-kis is that of ... Bao Bei Ye ... or Cloth Bag Grandpa,


... who will bring with him a bag full of good things to give to the needy." {cf. Santa Claus (St. Nicholas)}

WS = Richard E. Strassburg (transl.) : Wandering Spirits. U of CA Pr, Berkeley, 2008.

p. 106 difference between wen & wu tan-ki-s

wen (scholars)

"in spirit-writing (fu ji ...) cults. The god possesses the medium, and through him moves a plachette in the form of a tri-forked peach branch. A pen attached to the branch ... writes the god messages".

wu (warriors)

"exorcise by doing battle with the sprits. There are 108 confrontations between good and evil."

p. 107 godly generals opposing baleful influences




baleful forces



godly generals



pp. 54-55 Wan Ye (Gods of Pestilence)


Wan Ye


"The title Wang Ye translates as ‘Their Excellencies’ ".


"The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Singapore and Malaysia is marked by ... firewalking ... . Some groups tie yellow scarves about their heads, recalling the Yellow Turban Revolt of the Han dynasty. ... The Wang Ye spirit may possess a wooden palanquin bearing the image of the deity to perform spirit-writing".

animal-deities (totems, mascots) & partly-animal deities




"The Zhou totem animal is ... the bear".


"Hoi Fan, the Yao exorcist deity, is always pictured with a snake." {"As Mos^eh lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of Man be lifted up." (Euangelion according to Ioannes 3:14)} The present-day Hokkiens in Singapore still practice snake cults, and shrines to large pythons can be found in many locations on the island. Tang-kis have been known to practice with live snakes." {"They shall take up serpents" (Euangelion according to Markos 16:18).}


"part-human deities such as the Thunder God have their animal features (for example, Thunder’s monkey head and falcon’s beak and wings) superimposed on essentially human figures."


Fa-z^u-gon "is usually represented with snakes either crawling upon his throne or wound around one arm."


"The snake is the totem animal of the ancient Yao, and Yu the Great married a Yao woman."


"every tang-ki is bound to have a small altar, often made into the shape of a grotto, where the Tiger deity is set up and worshipped with ... pineapples."


"lion dancers ... imbued with the spirits of the heroes of the legend of The Three Kingdoms."


__-maned lion

is __



Guan Yu



Liu Bei



Z^an Fei


"Marshal Tiandu of the Court of Wind and Fire in the Nine Heavens (... --- note : the character huo ..., fire, is written upside down in Marshal Tiandu’s title)" : "Marshal Tian came to battle with his lieutenants, a golden rooster and a jade hound."

p. 88 "Tang-kis have been known ... to use the blood from a small wound made in the comb of a rooster in their exorcistic rituals. ... its blood if smeared on a demon in disguise (say a pretty maiden) is said to force the demon to reveal its true form."

pp. 82-83 the 2 maps on backs of animals which emerged from rivers


of __ Heavens

on __

from __ river

discovered by __








"dragon-like horse"


Fu Xi

pp. 85-86 ritual dance by Yu the Great

p. 85

"The Yu step of the tang-ki comprises a side-to-side stagger and a hop on one leg. ... It is said that Yu the Great danced the Luo Shu for 13 years, and was left with a permanent limp."

p. 86

The hop is "representing the leap of a snake as it strikes. The snake is the totem animal of the ancient Yao, and Yu the Great married a Yao woman."

pp. 46-54 various deities impersonated by (possessing) tan-ki


myth about deity

tan-ki performer


"Ang Hai Ji ([Mandarin] Mong Hai Er – Little Red Boy) ... possesses tang-kis ... . Ang Hai Ji ... is the warrior baby-son of the ox-head demon king (Niu Mo Wang ...) and the Iron Fan Princess (Tie Shan Gong Zhu ...). ...

Tang-kis in Singapore always perform Ang Hai Ji as mischievous baby personality wearing a necklace of baby soothers, which they suck on."


"Bao Gong stories ... feature him as judge of the Underworld, for he was said to be gifted with a third eye that allowed him to see beyond the mortal realm. ...

Singaporean tang-kis always perform Justice Bao ... wearing ... winged hat. ... The judicial power of Bao is emphasised in tang-ki performances by ... three fearsome guillotines. The guillotines ... look like animals. The dog instrument was for commoners, whereas government officials were executed with the tiger guillotine. The dragon was reserved for royalty."


Fa-z^u-gon – "His name is translated as Lord Master of the Powers. ... During a plague of snakes, Fazhugong was given a celestial sword imprinted with the pattern of the Seven Stars (Big Dipper) constellation, with which he rid the country of the reptiles. ...

As a divine being, Fazhugong manifests as a trinity. Every member has a different coloured face -–green, red or black – otherwise the individuals are indistinguishable, since they all have ... a long black beard".


"Guan Gong ... started in life as a humble beancurd hawker. ...

Theatrical ... iconography of Guan Gong portrays the god ndressed in green, with a scarlet face. He is often seen with his fearsome halberd, the Green Dragon, and sometimes on his favourite horse, Red Hare. ... It is the scholarly Guan Gong who is invoked by spirit-writing cults. The god possesses a tang-ki who writes divine messages by moving a brush set into a triple-forked peach branch."


Miao-s^an "defied her father’s wish that she should marry and he had her executed, but she was reincarnated and lived to cut off her hands and dig out her eyes, which she used to make medicine ... . ...

In tang-ki worship, women perform Guanyin dressed in flowing white robes complete with a veil. Guanyin ... dances gracefully, often with a flywhisk in hand."


"Jigong’s habit of somersaulting in a manner that revealed his male member to gaping spectators. ...

Singaporean tang-kis portray Jigong as ... chewing on chicken or duck meat. ... Jigong tang-kis are characteristically dressed in ... fold-over robes ... symbolically patched with squares of brightly coloured fabric." {cf. S.ufi patched garments}


"In atonement for killing the Dragon King’s son, Ne Zha committed suicide by cutting off his flesh from his bones. ... Nezha achieved divine status as a body-spirit wielding a flame-tipped lance and riding on wind-fire wheels. The immortal Taiyi created a body using lotus plants in which Nezha’s spirit could reincarnate. {cf. god Brahma}

... tang-kis of the Lotus Nezha wear lotus costumes, while tang-kis who portray the Divine Nezha carry a flame-tipped lance. All Nezha tang-kis can be identified by the Universal Ring prop, a brass ring that they hold in their hand or wear upon one shoulder and under the other arm."


"Lao Zi ... burnt Monkey in the crucible of eight trigrams, but Monkey merely kicked open the crucible and escaped. ... Monkey had pissed on Buddha’s palm. ... His weapon is the iron cudgel that Yu the Great used to fix the depths of river and seas, and

this weapon is represented in ... tang-ki worship as a brass fighting staff which Monkey tang-kis spin impressively ... . ... Monkey’s role ... is acrobatic, and able tang-kis often take the opportunity to impresse the crowds by turning somersaults."


"Elder Grandpa was put in charge of reckoning the span of mortal lives on earth, which is why

Elder Grandpa’s tang-ki prop is an abacus.


When a person’s time is up Elder Grandpa despatches second Grandpa to fetch the soul to Hell, which is why

Second Grandpa is always depicted with his cangue (... consisting of a wooden block to restrain the neck and arms) and chains, holding aloft his ‘tiger board’ tablet of office."

pp. 129, 158 tour of Hell




"Elder and Second Grandpas are of the Underworld, so they can be expected to hate sunlight. Some tang-kis ... will insist on an umbrella [parasol] to shield them from the sun."

"Worshipful devotees ... often set up darkened grottos ..., air-conditioned and lit with ultra-violet lamps as altars for Toa Ji Ye Peh. These Toa Yi Ye Peh altars are sometimes so elaborate, devotees can walk through them on a fantasy tour of Hell not unlike ghost train rides. The scenes are melodramatic, featuring garish statues and images ... . They are painted in vivid luminous colours for effect, while taped sounds ... add to the theatrical atmosphere."


"At one tang-ki site, an air-conditioned ultra-violet-lit grotto ... has been set up for Elder and Second Grandpa. The setting ... provides devotees with a tour of Hell in best ghost train tradition."

journey to afterworld by souls of the dead




"The Big Dipper is as such the gate to Heaven through which dead souls must pass to be reborn as bright spirits."


"a person’s life span is set between

the Southern Bushel star, as ruler of birth, and

the Northern Bushel star, as ruler of death. ...

This takes the form of a wooden pail of rice (five bushels) in which symbolic items including

an abacus,

a pair of scissors,

a ruler and

a lamp are placed. The lamp represents yang light, while

the abacus and ruler {cf. measuring-rod of Lakhesis} measure the length of life that is cut by the scissors." {"The scissors of Atropos were made like sheep-shears, the bowspring at the junction of the bladed handles." (AMD, s.v. "Scissors" – p. 2053b)}


"offerings of five coloured beans to represent

the Way of the Five Bushels of Rice or Wu Dou Mi Dao,

where the word dou ..., meaning bushel, is represented by

the homonym for bean ... ." {beans were offered to ghosts of the dead}

AMD = Edward Henry Knight : American Mechanical Dictionary. 1881.

p. 89 visit to the netherworld by tan-ki

"A former tang-ki described to me what he saw on a visit to the Underworld. He said that before the gates of Hell lies a vast open plain crossed by along straight road ... . On either side of the road are houses, which all look similar since these are in fact the realizations, in solid form, of the essence of mass-produced paper houses burnt in offerings to the dead. ...

Tang-kis are not supposed to reveal anything about their spiritual experiences ... . The informant said he had gone down to hell in order to plead for the life of his mother. Because he wanted to assure her that all would be well, he told her what he saw and what happened on his trip. Having broken the taboo, he lost his tang-ki powers".

pp. 33-34, 108-110 torture (including self-torture)




"Wang ... were ... persons who were crippled, deformed ... . ... In Shang rain-making ceremonies, wang were exposed to the blazing sun, ... in order to move Heaven to send down rain out of compassion. ... The victims were stripped of their clothes so that their bare bodies were exposed to the blazing sun. Sometimes a circle of fire was lit, and the victims sat surrounded by flames so that they suffered doubly from the heat of fire and sun." {"Austerities with the traditional "five fires" (four of cow-dung and one the sun)" (A).} {This "five fires" austerity was practiced by pratyeka-buddha-s (according to the Mula-sarva-asti-vada Vinaya, in L&CU, p. 45[5]})


"By mid-Zhou the place of wang-supplicants exposed to the sun were taken by members of the court and ... the emperor himself ... .

The graphical etymology of the word wang ..., meaning infirm, shows that it was derived from the character for king ..., but with a dragging leg – the limping limb that the staggering-hopping Yu Step of the tang-kis imitate." [p. 160a, n. 1:20 This etymology is taken from Schafer, 1951.]


"In important exorcistic routines, such as the yiu keng, the tang-ki will embed into his flesh 1, 3, 5, 18, 36 or 72 needles."

A = http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1800_1899/hinduism/ascetics/ascetics.html

L&CU = John S. Strong : The Legend and Cult of Upagupta. Motilal Banarsidass Publ, 1994. http://books.google.com/books?id=bKq7k2DegjcC&pg=PA45&lpg=PA45&dq="five+fires"+ascetic+india&source=bl&ots=62aHhBdZON&sig=-irNdWTDAfG6AKPMKFbqgRne6zo&hl=en&ei=-LwSSuLTD5yltgfszvCWBA&sa=X&oi=b

Schafer, 1951 = Edward H. Schafer : "Ritual Exposure in Ancient China". In :- HARVARD JOURNAL OF ASIATIC STUDIES, vol 14. (1951), pp. 130-184.

Margaret Chan : Ritual is Theatre, Theatre is Ritual. SNP Reference (imprint of SNP International Publishing), Singapore, 2006. [authoress is wife to John]