Brotherhood is undeniably a significant bond shared among others that’s perhaps one of life’s greatest treasures. Symbolising this bond is Kwan Tai (關帝, Kwan Tai in Cantonese and Guan Di in Mandarin), the Chinese god of war from the Three Kingdoms Era (220 – 280 AD). Locals revere his birthday and celebrate his life rising through the ranks amongst his comrades. See the impact he has on this festival day in Hong Kong.
What is the Birthday of Kwan Tai?
Celebrating the birthday of Kwan Tai, the god of war, on August 10, 2023, means honouring virtues like integrity, commitment, loyalty, courage and righteousness. He was a sworn brother of Liu Bei, the first ruler of the state of Shu Han, ascending the ranks to become one of the most powerful and successful military generals. He is also known to foster a long life and bring prosperity to businessmen.
On the lunar calendar recognized in many Asian countries, Kwan Tai’s birthday falls on the 24th day of the sixth lunar month. Locals visit temples around the city dedicated to him, remembering him as a strong leader who always took the morally high ground whilst commanding, oftentimes, onerous tasks.
Who is Kwan Tai, the Chinese god of war?
For those visiting cultural hotspots in Hong Kong, Kwan Tai is probably a familiar face – a red-faced, fiery-eyed figure with a strong build sporting long hair, beard, and golden crown. Born Guan Yu (關羽), the deity representing loyalty came from humble, human beginnings. His milestone moments on the battlefield exalted him to the reputation he has today.
Guan Yu started as a soldier who gradually rose through the ranks by demonstrating his fierce loyalty and willingness to fight.
It was in this position that he met his most important friends, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, who became his sworn brothers. He followed these brothers on their escapades until one founded the State of Shu, where Guan Yu went on to lead the entire state’s army.
Though he’s known as the god of war in Taoism and Buddhism, Guan Yu represents brotherhood. He became a deity after his passing for his heroic deeds and strong morals. He was granted the title “Saintly Emperor Kwan” (關聖帝君, Kwan Sing Dai Gwan) in the Ming Dynasty before being called Kwan Tai by the people.
Mo Tai (武帝, Mo Tai) is an alternate name for him which translates to ‘military emperor’. However, he’s most notably known for his virtue of brotherhood, which earned him a spot as patron of the police force and triads. Kwan Tai is honoured in Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.
How to celebrate Kwan Tai’s birthday?
Celebrations are scattered across town to observe the birthday of the Chinese war deity.
Over in Shau Kei Wan, people gather at the fish market right outside Tam Kung Temple built in honour of the deity Tam Kung, who could predict the weather. Attendees parade alongside lion dance performers while a shrine of Kwan Tai is pushed through the streets.
However, in order for this event to even take place, funding is needed. A large banquet is held where holy relics used to worship gods are auctioned and a lucky draw occurs where the winner can bring home a statue of Kwan Tai.
Other occurrences feature a celebration in Tai Po’s Ting Kok Village to honour Kwan Tai’s birthday, except this celebration happens on the 13th day of the first lunar month, when it’s believed that Kwan Tai’s soul ascended to Heaven.
Kwan Tai temples in Hong Kong
Of the temples devoted to Kwan Tai, Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road is the most famous. Kwan Tai shares this temple with Man Cheong (文昌, man coeng), the god of culture and literature, because both gods are seen as almighty and successful from a civil duty and educational perspective. Hence, the name Man Mo Temple combines the two gods’ names.
Tai O, a small island to the west of Lantau Island, is also home to the Kwan Tai Ancient Temple (Kwan Tai Miu in Cantonese). It is the oldest temple built for Kwan Tai in Hong Kong, constructed in 1741. Kwan Tai Ancient Temple features a statue of the god built by local artisans.
Kwan Tai Temple in Sham Shui Po is another location, and it’s the largest temple dedicated to Kwan Tai in Hong Kong.
Built in 1891, Kwan Tai Temple’s original statue of Kwan Tai has been replaced with a more modern version with iconography that’s more recognisable to the public.
FAQ about Kwan Tai’s Birthday
Who is Kwan Tai, or Guan Yu?
Kwan Tai is the Chinese god of war who stayed righteous as a military general. He’s symbolic of brotherhood, and believed to bring wealth, abundance, and longevity.
Why does Kwan Tai represent brotherhood and loyalty?
Kwan Tai represents brotherhood and loyalty, as he met his most important friends turned sworn brothers while commanding an army. It was his commitment to fight that put him in high regard in Chinese belief today.
Where to celebrate the Birthday of Kwan Tai?
The main celebration for Kwan Tai’s Birthday occurs in Shau Kei Wan with a procession featuring lion dancing. People also pay respect at temples dedicated to Kwan Tai in Tai O, Tai Po, and Sham Shui Po.
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: Andrew Moore via Flickr