Che Kung (車公, pronounced che gung in Cantonese, che gong in Mandarin) turned from a well-respected military commander to being hailed as the Chinese god of protection. He proved his outstanding loyalty by serving his emperors and saving the masses from illness and destruction. It’s no wonder that his life is celebrated to this day, with his birthday honoured each year on the second day of the Lunar New Year in Hong Kong and China. On the Gregorian calendar this year, his birthday falls on February 2, 2022.
Who was Che Kung?
Che Kung was a revered military commander in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). He protected the kingdom from Mongol invaders, thus proving his loyalty to the emperor. Che Kung prevented uprisings, doing his best to instil peace during turbulent times. He even escorted the last Song emperor to Hong Kong and settled in the area we know as Sai Kung today.
His impressive list of skills grew and served as accomplishments that made his life famous, as he became more than just a military general. It is said he had the power to stop plagues and keep the kingdom’s people healthy and happy.
Why do people celebrate Che Kung’s birthday?
Che Kung’s birthday falls on the second day of Chinese New Year, which in 2022 will be February 2nd. Revered by his followers as a very honourable man, Che Kung’s birthday has been commemorated over the centuries. Over his lifetime, he turned from a military commander at his emperor’s service to a much more powerful man who protected everyone, including commoners. As a result of his services, Che Kung became known as the god of protection, physical and spiritual, from a mere respected historical figure.
That’s why his birthday is celebrated to this day – many believe that without Che Kung, people, places and things might not be as they are now. People celebrate this man as a god of protection to remember his services that hold moral, ethical, loyal and of course, protective grounds.
It’s in hopes that by celebrating Che Kung’s birthday, people will continually be blessed and protected through their life endeavours and succeed at what they do because both harm and illness will stay at a distance with his presence. Celebrating Che Kung’s birthday is also believed to bring luck and change your fortune.
How do people celebrate Che Kung’s birthday?
Many activities take place during the celebrations for Che Kung’s birthday. First and foremost, on the second and third days of Chinese New Year, people visit temples to pay respect to him by burning incense sticks and making offerings in the form of food, paper money, fresh flowers and any gifts associated with Chinese New Year.
The significance of burning incense sticks comes from the rising smoke – the higher the smoke rises, the more appreciation shown. As worshippers burn the incense sticks and bow in front of his statue, they mindfully communicate to Che Kung their personal wishes and gratefulness for being protected and guided in the right direction.
Another activity people partake in is beating the Drum of Heaven in temples dedicated to Che Kung to let the deity know that his worshippers have arrived. A popular practice during this festive time is spinning a colourful pin-wheel, which is also known as the wheel of fortune. If one had good luck in the previous year and wants this luck to continue into the next, they use the left hand to spin the wheel clockwise. On the contrary, if one had bad luck in the previous year but yearns for good luck in the new year, they spin the wheel counter-clockwise using the left hand.
Temples dedicated to Che Kung
To honour the god of protection, two temples dedicated to Che Kung have been erected. There are other temples in Hong Kong that are partly dedicated to him.
Because the commander settled in Sai Kung upon his arrival to Hong Kong, it only makes sense that his first temple was built in Sai Kung in the mid-16th century. This is the Che Kung Temple (車公廟, pronounced Che Kung Miu in Cantonese) in Ho Chung village.
The second temple in Shatin, was originally built at the end of the Ming Dynasty and is occasionally open to the public. Villagers in Shatin wanted to bring Che Kung and his protective energy to the area because it was suffering from an onslaught of plagues. Highly protective, the Sai Kung villagers wanted Che Kung to stay in Sai Kung. However, they allowed Che Kung’s grandson to ‘visit’ Shatin (more directly, he was invited to be worshipped there). Thus, the Shatin Che Kung Temple (marked by the ‘Che Kung Temple’ MTR station) was built.
The current temple was built in 1993.
It is said that after the construction of the temple, the plagues stopped running rampant. From these two temples, Che Kung has reigned on, and the temples have become places where even government figures go to ask for fortune.
Other traditional Chinese festivals: Lunar New Year — Lunar New Year Fair — Birthday of Che Kung — Chinese Lantern Festival — Kwun Yum Treasury Opening Festival — Ching Ming Festival — Tin Hau Festival — Cheung Chau Bun Festival — Buddha’s Birthday — Birthday of Tam Kung — Dragon Boat Festival — Birthday of Kwan Tai — Qixi Festival — Hung Shing Festival — Hungry Ghost Festival — Mid-Autumn Festival — Monkey King Festival — Birthday of Confucius — Chung Yeung Festival — Winter Solstice Festival.
Header image credits: Wpcpey, CC BY-SA 4.0