Wong Tai Sin: From Shepherd to a Cultural Ambassador
The legend of Wong Tai Sin (aka Huang Daxian in Mandarin) has been circulated since Jin Dynasty (266-420) and has a history of more than 1,600 years. The folk literature, poetry and calligraphy, and local customs about Wong, all these intangible cultural heritages, are collectively referred to as the “Wong Tai Sin culture.”
In June 2007, Jinhua’s “Huang Daxian Legend” was listed in Zhejiang Intangible Cultural Heritage. In June 2008, it was also listed in the second batch of the National Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The earliest biography of Wong was from Ge Hong (284-364) in the Eastern Jin Dynasty. Ge , from Danyang Jurong (now Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province), was a famous Taoist theorist, alchemist and medical scientist.
In Ge’s hagiographical work Shenxian Zhuan (Biography of the Immortals), it is said that Wong was from Danxi, Jinhua. When he was 15 years old, he was asked to go out and keep the sheep, during which he met a Taoist. When the Taoist priest saw him so kind, he led him to the cave of Jinhua Mountain. From that point, Wong stayed in the cave for more than 40 years and he no longer went back home. His elder brother started to look for him but failed to find him for several years. Later, when he saw a Taoist priest on the street, he begged the priest to show him where his younger brother was. The priest said that there was a child in the Jinhua Mountain who has a sheep herd. His brother then followed the priest to the mountain to find his younger brother. The two brothers met with great joy. Wong’s brother asked where the sheep were. Wong said they were on the east slope. He went to the east slope to find the sheep but didn’t see anything but some white stones. So he came back and asked Wong: “Where are the sheep?” Wong said: “The sheep are there, but you just can’t see them.” They went there together, and Wong shouted: “Sheep, sheep, get up!” Then those white stones suddenly turned into tens of thousands of sheep. When Wong’s brother saw that Wong had this ability, he also left his wife and children, and started to learn from his brother. They ate turpentine and Chinese tuckahoe and lived to 500 years old. They reached a stage when they could suddenly disappear and no one could see him. Their faces were like those of children. Later, Wong changed his name to Chi Song Zi (Master Red Pine), and his brother’s name was changed to Luban. Many people took their medicines and became immortals. (According to Jinhua County Records)
The Spiritual Essence of Wong Tai Sin Culture
The themes of advocating high morals to save people and doing good deeds are the traditional virtues that embody the spirit and essence of Wong Tai Sin culture. In ancient societies when science was not advanced and medical care was insufficient, people like Wong who knew medicine, were willing to help others and help the wounded, were saviors in the eyes of ordinary people.
Wong showed persistence in scientific exploration. Immortality was not only the pursuit of Taoism, but also the natural desire of humans to survive and thrive. He kept pursuing the harmony between man and nature. The Chinese Taoist culture has always advocated the philosophical values of nature and harmony between man and nature.
Wong was born in poverty. At the age of 8, he began to keep sheep. At the age of 15, he was taken by the Taoist priest. He was introduced into the cavern, and he was enlightened for 40 years. He eventually became spiritual.
The formation and development of a culture requires a long process. There are four factors that played a crucial role in its development: First, praise from the officials. As early as the Northern and Southern Dynasties, the emperors praised Wong. Second, famous literates. Li Bai, Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, and other famous literates all had referenced Wong in their works. Third, many famous paintings and calligraphy works that paint the story. The most famous one related to Wong Tai Sin is by Gu Kaizhi during the Eastern Jin Dynasty. Fourth, the natural inheritance of folk tradition. The vitality of Wong culture lies in the popularity among the public. At the same time, it relies on the development of Jinhua folk culture.
Wong Tai Sin Culture and Place Names
Wong Tai Sin culture not only integrates the life of the locals, but also reinforces many cultural symbols deeply engraved in the land of Jinhua, and remains in people’s memory.
Common names of places is an important part of Wong Tai Sin culture. Most of the existing names of places that are related with Wong are around Jinhua Mountain and the area of Chisong Town in Jindong District.
The Wong Tai Sin culture reflects the openness and tolerance of Chinese culture. In a sense, it has become the embodiment of harmony and beauty. It is believed that with the deepening of China’s reform and opening up, Wong Tai Sin culture will continue to play a role of “cultural ambassador” in promoting Chinese culture to go out and promote international economic and cultural exchanges. Wong Tai Sin culture is always a shining pearl in Jinhua local culture. (Translated by Lin Yuqin, edited by Mariam Ayad)