Mazu (goddess)

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A statue of Mazu in Kinmen Matsu Park, Quemoy
File:Mazu statue.JPG
The tallest Mazu statue in the world, Xinwu, Taoyuan City, Taiwan

Mazu (traditional Chinese: 媽祖; simplified Chinese: 妈祖), also spelt Matsu and Ma-tsu, is the Chinese patron goddess who is said to protect seafarers, such as fishermen and sailors. The worship of Mazu began in the Song dynasty. Mazu is widely worshiped in the coastal regions of China, especially in Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Tianjin and Hainan. She is also worshiped in Taiwan and other places in East/Southeast Asia.

Her birthplace was Meizhou (湄州) in Putian County (莆田縣), Fujian Province.[1] She was born in the year 960.[1] Her family had the surname Lin (林).[1][2] She had the name Lin Moniang (Chinese: 林默娘). She died on 4 October 987.[1] After her death, she was remembered as a young lady in a red dress, who would forever roam over the seas.[1]


A temple dedicated to the goddess Mazu, Nangan

Popular names

  • Mazu (媽祖).[2][3] It literally means "Mother-Ancestor".
  • Mazupo (媽祖婆).[1][2] She is popularly known with this name in Fujian.[1][2] It means "Grandmother",[2] but it is not known why she was called this despite her death at age 28.[2]
  • Tianhou (天后).[3] It literally means "Empress of Heaven".[3]
  • Tianfei (天妃).[2] It literally means "Heavenly Princess"[4] or "Celestial Consort"[2]
  • Tianshang Shengmu (天上聖母) or Tianhou Shengmu (天后聖母), both meaning "Heavenly Holy Mother".

Official titles

  • Linghui Furen (靈惠夫人).[1] It was conferred in 1156.[1]
  • Linghui Fei (靈惠妃).[1] It was conferred in 1192.[1]
  • Huguo Mingzhu Tianfei (護國明著天妃).[1] It was conferred in 1281.[1]
  • Zhaoxiao Chunzheng Fuji Ganying Shengfei (昭孝純正孚濟感應聖妃).[1] It was conferred during the Hongwu reign.[1]


According to legend, Lin Moniang was born on March 23, 960 (during the Song Dynasty) as the seventh daughter of Lin Yuan (林愿) on Meizhou Island, Fujian. She did not cry when she was born, thus she was given the name with the meaning "Silent Girl." Although she started swimming relatively late at the age of 15, she soon became an excellent swimmer. She wore red garments while standing on the shore to guide fishing boats home, even in the most dangerous and harsh weather.

Lin Moniang's father and brothers were fishermen. One day, a terrible typhoon arose while they were out at sea, and the rest of her family feared that those at sea had perished. In the midst of this storm, depending on the version of the legend, she fell into a trance while praying for the lives of her father and brothers or dreamed of her father and brothers while she was sleeping or sitting at a loom weaving. In both versions of the story, her father and brother were drowning but Moniang's mother discovered her sleeping and tried to wake her. This diverted Moniang's attention and caused her to drop her brother who drowned as a result. Consequently, Moniang's father returned alive and told the other villagers that a miracle had happened.[5] Other versions of the story relate to four drowning brothers, with three returning and the fourth lost to her being revived (with no mention of a father).[6]

There are at least two versions of Lin Moniang's death. In one version, she died in 987 at the age of 28, when she climbed a mountain alone and flew to heaven and became a goddess. Another version of the legend says that she died at age 16 of exhaustion after swimming far into the ocean trying to find her lost father and that her corpse later washed ashore on Nankan Island of the Matsu Islands.

Mazu is usually depicted together with two guardian generals known as "Thousand Miles Eye" (千里眼, Qianli Yan) and "With-the-Wind Ear" (順風耳 Shunfeng Er). Though their iconography can vary, both are usually represented as demons; "Thousand Miles Eye" was red with two horns and two yellow sapphire eyes, while "With-the-Wind Ear" is green with one horn and two ruby eyes. They are said to have been two demons whom Mazu conquered. Both of them were in love with her, but she said she would marry the one who defeated her. Using her martial arts skills, Mazu defeated them both and they became her friends.[7]

Mazu herself is usually depicted wearing a red robe in paintings or murals, but in sculpture is always clothed in the jewel-festooned robes of an empress holding either a ceremonial tablet or a jeweled staff whilst wearing the easily recognized flat-topped imperial cap with hanging beads at the front and back.[8]

The tomb of Mazu in Matsu Village

Over time, the religions of Buddhism and Taoism borrowed popular deities from each other in attempts to attract devotees to their temples. In order to justify Mazu's presence in Buddhist temples, legends were circulated claiming that Mazu's parents prayed to Guan Yin for a son, but Guanyin answered their prayers with the birth of yet another daughter. It was then believed that Mazu was a reincarnation of Guanyin on earth, and it is Guanyin she is said to have been especially devoted to as a child.[9] As a result, Mazu is recognized and respected in both the Taoist and Buddhist pantheons of deities, while some Buddhists believe Mazu to be one of Guanyin's many manifestations.

Lin Moniang (2000), a minor Fujianese TV series, is a dramatization of the life of Mazu as a mortal.

A golden statue of Mazu in Su'ao, Yilan County, Taiwan


Between 1119 and 1126, Lu Yundi (路允迪) was caught in a dangerous storm while on a voyage to Korea.[1] It was said that her spirit descended in the mast and saved him.[1] Thereafter, the emperor conferred the name "shunqimiao" (順濟廟) to her temple after Lu Yundi's request.[1]


A Mazu temple (Tin Hau temple) in Nansha, Guangzhou, China

Starting from Fujian, worship of Mazu spread to the neighboring coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Guangdong, and thence to all coastal areas of mainland China. With emigration and especially the Chinese diaspora of the 19th and 20th centuries, it further spread to Taiwan, Vietnam, Ryukyu, Japan, and South East Asia; the role of Mazu as patron of the seas ensured that newly arrived immigrants often erected temples to her first, to give thanks for arriving safely. Today, worship of Mazu is also found in other countries with sizeable populations from these regions. In total, there are around 1,500 Mazu temples in 26 countries of the world.

Mainland China

Tian Fei Gong, Nanjing

Aside from Fujian, there are more than 40 temples dedicated to Mazu in Guangdong and Hainan, and more than 30 in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. In northern China, there are large Mazu temples in Tianjin, Weihai, Yingkou, Qinhuangdao, Qingdao, Changdao Islands (also named "Temple Islands" after the Mazu temple there), and Penglai.


Built in 1326 CE (Yuan Dynasty), the Mazu Temple in Tianjin is the northernmost temple of Mazuism in Mainland China. Locally known as the "Palace of the Niangniang (Queen)", it is located in today's Nankai District, part of the "Tianjin Ancient Cultural Street" (Guwenhua Jie) neighborhood, Tianjin's major tourist site and one of China's tourist sites. The Temple and other subsidiary buildings are built over an area of 5280 square meters. The Tianjin Mazu Temple used to be one of the city's main Taoist centers by the 1950s.


Fujianese men in the 12th century built a temple in honor of Mazu in the city of Ningbo, around the exterior of the walls near the shore. As of 1848, the last time it was rebuilt was in 1680.[10]


In Nanjing, the Tian Fei Palace (南京天妃宫, Nanjing Tian Fei Gong) was built by the Yongle Emperor during the Ming Dynasty at the instigation of Admiral Zheng He after his return from his first expedition. Before and after each expedition, Zheng He would worship at the temple and ask for Mazu's protection. Because it was a state temple built by the Emperor, this temple was the largest and enjoyed the highest status of all Mazu temples in the country. The temple contains a large tortoise-borne stele with the Yongle Emperor's inscription. The temple was largely destroyed by Japanese bombings in 1937, but was being rebuilt in the early 21st century in connection with the 600th anniversary of Zheng He expeditions.

A smaller Mazu temple exists in the Treasure Boat Shipyard Park, located at the site of the Longjiang Shipyard where Zheng He's Chinese treasure ships were built.


In Shanghai, historically there were three principal Tian Hou Temples. During the Qing Dynasty, it was customary for diplomats departing by sea to worship at the Tian Hou Palace in the old city. All of these were successively destroyed. The last one, on the banks of the Suzhou Creek, was relocated to Songjiang. This temple is now dedicated to the "Mazu of the Huangpu River". The City God Temple in the old city is also partially dedicated to Mazu.


In Putian, the legendary birthplace of Mazu, there are hundreds of temples dedicated to the goddess, including about 20 on Meizhou Island alone.

Elsewhere in Fujian, there are about 70 temples dedicated to Mazu, mostly concentrated in the coastal areas.

Heavenly Empress Temple-Meizhou Ancestral Temple (天后宮湄洲祖廟) is on her native Meizhou Island.

Meizhou Island is regarded as "Oriental Mecca".


Australia has two Mazu temples, one each in Sydney and Melbourne.[11]

Hong Kong

A Tin Hau temple in Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Tin Hau is the English transliteration based on the common Cantonese name of Mazu. There are over 90 Tin Hau temples in Hong Kong, some giving reverence to other important deities.

The temple in the Tin Hau area, east of Victoria Park, in Eastern District, on the Hong Kong Island, has given its name to the area and to the MTR station serving it. The Tin Hau Temple is one of the declared monuments of Hong Kong.

Because of their historic significance, many Tin Hau Temples in Hong Kong were graded historic buildings.[12]


Yokohama Mazu temple (ja:横浜媽祖廟) was built in 2006. And Tokyo Mazu Temple opened in 2013.[13]


Macau has three Tin Hau temples (in Coloane, Macau Peninsula, and Taipa respectively). The name Macau is thought to be derived from the Templo de A-Má (A-Ma Temple) (媽閣廟, Cantonese Jyutping: Maa1 Gok3 Miu6, local pronunciation: Maa5 Gok3 Miu6 or Maa5 Gok3 Miu5), a still-existing landmark built in 1448 and dedicated to the goddess Mazu.


Statue of Mazu in the Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia has a long history of Taoist religion ever since the Chinese from Southern China settled in South East Asia region. The famous Thean Hou Temple (Chinese:馬来西亚吉隆坡天后宫) situated in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia is a famous tourist destination in Asia. Many other temples and statues are found throughout the country.

Every year, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is celebrated, especially in Penang whilst the Birthday of Mazu celebrated throughout the country.

A major project to build the world's tallest Mazu statue on the Northernmost tip of Borneo at Kudat was officially launched by the leader and people of Sabah recently. The statue was to be 10-stories high and would draw millions of tourists to the country every year. This project has however been canceled due to protests from a few Muslims in Sabah and some political interference.[14]

In Kampung Tok'kong, an isolated village far from Kota Bharu, Kelantan, a celebration also takes place at the village temple of 'Seng Choon Keong (圣春宫)'. Mazu followers go there to pay homage to Mazu and offer prayers for health and wealth as well as for personal safety and security. Every Friday, some believers go there to seek priests to ask for fortune and security from Mazu. The followers also seek a help from the goddess to face their personal problems. The Sea Goddess is extensively worshiped around South China Sea, and the Seng Choon Keong Temple is regarded as the cradle of Mazu culture in Malaysia. In fact a lot of migrants go seek bless from Mazu to avoid any unexpected danger before departing for a long journey. As the tradition holds, the sea Goddess protects and saves people's lives during their journeys.


Kheng Hock Keong Temple in Yangon, Myanmar, is the temple for Mazu and Kwan Yin

Kheng Hock Keong Temple located in Yangon (Rangoon), Burma (Myanmar), is the largest and oldest Chinese Buddhist and Taoist temple dedicated to Mazu. It was built in 1903. The temple attracts mostly Hokkien and Hakka worshipers in Myanmar.


The Ma-Cho Temple in San Fernando, La Union in the northern Philippines was built in 1975 by the Chinese Filipino community. With an elevation of 70 feet above sea level, the multicoloured temple stands about 7 storeys and has 11-tiers on more than a hectare of land.


The worship of Mazu was brought to Singapore from China by the influx of Chinese immigrants during the 19th century, a large proportion of whom came from Fujian. Two of the oldest and best known Chinese temples in Singapore, Thian Hock Keng aka Tian Fu Gong (belongs to the Hokkien Clan) and Yueh Hai Ching Temple aka Yue Hai Qing Miao (belongs to the Teochew & Cantonese Clan), were both dedicated mainly to Mazu, and in the 19th century were frequented by immigrants who came to give thanks after a safe sea voyage from China.


In 1980, a total of 509 temples were recorded as dedicated to Mazu, almost seven times the number recorded pre-1911.[15] There are about 1,000 Taiwanese temples dedicated entirely or, more often, partly to Mazu.[16] Originally, Mazu played a minor role in religious affairs in Taiwan, with patrons claiming that Mazu simply blessed the sea for fishermen. But as time went by, people began to pray to her for health, career, farming, relationship, and all sorts of concerns. So, as in the mainland China, Mazu became a patron for Taiwanese people.

According to a research team studying Taiwanese folk religion at Providence University in central Taiwan, ceremonies are held for Mazu to symbolically go on a tour of inspection of every Mazu temple in Taiwan every year. This is done for the blessing of her worshipers, to spread blessings, and to repel evil for them. Pilgrims organize processions to escort Mazu every year. The ritual serves as a social event for followers of Mazu in different regions.[17]

Some of the more famous temples are as follows:


In Thailand, there are also a large number of temples dedicated to Mazu, especially in cities near the sea such as Bangkok, Chonburi, Pattani, and Phuket. There are also three shrines known as Gew Leng Thong, Sam San Tian Hew Geng, and Keng Jew Hui Guan. Many Thai Chinese worship the goddess, and some visit Fujian, China, to worship her at her place of origin.

United States

Thien Hau Temple
Mazu statue at Thien Hau Temple, Los Angeles

Mazu is also worshipped by southeast Asians in the West as well. Many temples are dedicated to Mazu in Chinatowns across the United States.

  • The oldest Taoist temple in the United States, the Tin How Temple is in San Francisco. It was built in 1852 and is dedicated to Mazu. There is also a temple called the Ma-Tsu Temple at 30 Beckett Alley, in San Francisco's Chinatown.
  • The Thien Hau Temple in Chinatown, Los Angeles, California is home to the Ca Mau Association of America, a cultural benevolent association. It has become an immensely popular tourist attraction in Chinatown following its completion on September 5, 2005 after two years of construction and an investment of around $2 million. It features such attractions as live lion dance performances and a legal firecracker display on Chinese New Year's Eve.


In Vietnam, Mazu is known as Thiên Hậu (天后).

  • In the 19th century, the Cantonese congregation of Cholon, now a part of Ho Chi Minh City, built a well-known temple to Thiên Hậu.
  • The well-known Quan Am Pagoda, also in Cholon, has an altar to Thien Hau.
  • The most well-known is "Thiên Hậu Cung" at Binh Duong province, the ThienHau pagoda was built by Vietnamese - Chinese original who immigrated from China. The festival often occurs at Jan, 15th (lunar calendar)

Festival of Mazu

Mazu's birthday-festival is on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month of the lunar calendar. It falls in late April or early May according to the Gregorian calendar.

  • 2001: April 16
  • 2002: May 5
  • 2003: April 24
  • 2004: May 10
  • 2005: May 1
  • 2006: April 20
  • 2007: May 9
  • 2008: April 28
  • 2009: April 18
  • 2010: May 6
  • 2011: April 25
  • 2012: April 13
  • 2013: October 23 - attaining Immortality Anniversary
  • 2014: April 22


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 Duyvendak 1938, 344.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Boltz 1986, 211.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Irwin 1990, 62.
  4. Dreyer 2007, 148.
  5. As depicted in the murals of Fengtin in Fujian Province, recorded in Ruitenbeek, p. 316.'
  6. Irwin, p. 63.
  7. Ruiteenbeek, p. 319
  8. Ruitenbeek, p. 318
  9. Irwin, p. 63 and Ruitenbeek, p. 316
  10. Samuel Wells Williams (1848). The Middle kingdom: a survey of the ... Chinese empire and its inhabitants ... (3 ed.). NEW YORK & LONDON: Wiley & Putnam. p. 101. Retrieved 2011-05-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>(Original from Harvard University)
  11. 'Heavenly Queen Temple', Only Melbourne, retrieved 2011-11-11,
  12. List of Graded Historic Buildings in Hong Kong (as at 6 January 2007), by the Antiquities and Monuments Office, Hong Kong.
  13. Tokyo Mazu Temple (in Japanese)
  14. Lim Kit Siang (December 31, 2007). "The Mazu statue controversy should not only be resolved at the negotiation table". Retrieved 2014-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Boltz, p. 211.
  16. Erin de Santiago. "Mazu (Matsu), the Chinese Goddess of the Sea". Retrieved 2014-09-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Eva Tang, "Devout followers honor the Silent Maiden", 'Taiwan Culture Portal, 24 March 2009.
  18. Chenlan Temple (鎮瀾宮)
  19. Macdonald, Taiwan, p. 226.
  20. Macdonald. Taiwan, p. 162.
  21. Macdonald, Taiwan, p. 168.
  22. Macdonald, Taiwan, p. 214.
  23. Macdonald, Taiwan, p. 194.


  •  This article incorporates text from The Middle kingdom: a survey of the ... Chinese empire and its inhabitants ..., by Samuel Wells Williams, a publication from 1848 now in the public domain in the United States.
  • Judith Magee Boltz, "In Homage to T'ien-fei", Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 106, No. 1, Sinological Studies, pp. 211–232.
  • Dreyer, Edward L. (2007). Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405–1433. New York: Pearson Longman. ISBN 9780321084439.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Duyvendak, J.J.L. (1938). "The True Dates of the Chinese Maritime Expeditions in the Early Fifteenth Century". T'oung Pao 34 (5): 341–413. doi:10.1163/156853238X00171. JSTOR 4527170.
  • Lee Irwin, "The Great Goddesses of China", Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 49, No. 1 (1990), pp. 53–68.
  • Phil Macdonald, Taiwan (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2007).
  • Luis Pancorbo, "Tin Hau, la diosa del mar" en "Fiestas del mundo. Las Máscaras de la Luna" pp. 70–72. Ediciones del Serbal, Barcelona, 1996. ISBN 84-7628-168-4
  • Klaas Ruitenbeek, "Mazu, the Patroness of Sailors, in Chinese Pictorial Art", Artibus Asiae, Vol. 58, No. 3/4 (1999), pp. 281–329.

External links