In Chinese traditional culture, people held various gods in awe, such as river gods, mountain gods, thunder gods, land gods, etc.
It is believed that gods are in charge of everything in heaven and on earth, and legendary stories about them have been passed down from generation to generation. Many people have also seen the existence of gods in their dreams or in real life.
Emperor Wen of Sui Encountered Plague Gods
Folk records of plague gods began in the Sui Dynasty (581-619) in China.
According to “San Jiao Yuan Liu Sou Shen Da Quan” (a Taoist publication, said to be written in the Ming Dynasty, which collected legends about saints and gods in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, and offered some valuable references to the study of theologies and folk gods in ancient China), in the sixth month of the reign of Emperor Wen of the Sui, five giant figures appeared in the air, some 30 to 50 feet above the ground. They were wearing gowns in five colors and each holding an object or two in their hands, including a ladle and a jar, a leather bag and a sword, a fan, a hammer, and a firepot.
“Who are these gods?! What are they doing here?” the stunned emperor asked his senior Grand Secretary Zhang Juren.
“They are the five gods endorsed by the Jade Emperor in Heaven, and they are in charge of plagues in different seasons,” Zhang Juren replied, “We are now in for an inevitable plague.”
Indeed, a devastating plague ravaged the land later that year, and many people perished as a result.
Emperor Wen of Sui reflected upon himself and amended his mistakes in governance. He also ordered his servants to build a temple to worship and offering sacrifices to the five plague gods.
This tradition continued in the Tang and Song dynasties, with the general belief that the five plague gods were sent by the heavenly emperor to spread plagues in the human world as a form of punishment for humans’ wrongdoings.
Guan Shiren’s Family Spared in Plague
Guan Shiren (1045-1109), a senior court official in the Northern Song era also had an encounter with the plague gods when he was a student. They told him that they would spread a plague on Chinese New Year’s Day, but his family would be spared of harm.
The plague gods also explained to him why his family would be safe: “The three generations of the Guan family have done many good deeds and accumulated much virtue. They always tried to stop others from doing bad things and praised those who did good deeds. Therefore they would be spared during the plague.”
Guan’s family indeed stayed safe and sound throughout the plague.
Plagues with Eyes
The traditional Chinese culture believes that when human morality has decayed to a certain extent, Heaven would punish people with disasters as a warning to stop them from sliding even further.
Ancient records of plagues showed that people who were kind with lofty morality usually stayed safe and happy, whereas those who were devoid of conscience and morally corrupt met their punishment accordingly. It is precisely on the basis of such causality that people sometimes say that “a plague has eyes.”
As an ancient saying goes: “People doing good things would be blessed by Heaven, while those doing bad things would suffer due punishment.”