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The Goddess of the Sea and her Guardians

by Chris W.C. Sam and Eliza S.K. Leong, IFT (Institute For Tourism Studies)

Qian Liyan (千里眼) and Sun Fenger (順風耳) were ancient mythical characters from the Chinese legend of 'Ten Brothers' (十兄弟). Each of the ten characters in the legend was endowed with superhuman powers. Qian Liyan, the eldest brother, could see for miles with his binocular eyes, while the second brother, Shun Fenger, could hear for great distances. The legend spread throughout China and these characters often appear in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) mythology – Feng Shen Yan Yi << 封神演義 >> (Creation of the Gods) and Xi You Ji <<西遊記>> (Journey to the West).

Why are Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger the guardians of Taoist Matsu (媽祖)? Taoism is a traditional Chinese religion which believes in multiple gods in association with mythology. Its deities, living in the immortal world, are part of a heavenly hierarchy. During the early stages of Taoist development, the unsystematic immortal world of Taoism was unified. To complete the hierarchy of the immortal world, Taoism absorbed many ancient mythical characters as part of the lineage of Taoist immortals. Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger are two of the most important deities, symbols who completed the Taoist transformation. Of the Macau temples housing statues of Matsu and her guardians, the Lotus Temple contains the most spectacular.

There are many stories about Matsu and her guardians but one of them is of outstanding interest. People say that Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger were real people who lived in the Shang Dynasty (商朝), some 2,000 years before Matsu. Shang King Zhou (商紂王) (c.154BC) appointed Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger to important positions in his court whereby they could employ their extraordinary powers to spy out the military secrets of the Zhou Dynasty (周朝). The failures of King Wu of Zhou (周武王), founder of the Zhou Dynasty in his revolt against the Shang Dynasty is explained by the powers of Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger. With the help of Jiang Ziya (姜子牙), a gifted follower of Toaist Yuanshi Tianzun (元始天尊) in Kun Lunshan (昆倫山), King Wu of Zhou claimed the final victory. Jiang Ziya conceived the brilliant idea of splashing the blood of a black dog onto Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger in order to destroy their superhuman power and thereby kill them.

After the death of Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger, their souls are said to have stalked a mountain near a village. Clamouring for vengeance, they haunted the villagers until the period of the North Song (北宋). Matsu, the Goddess of the Sea, heard of the evil acts and decided to rid the villagers of Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger. When Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger met Matsu, they were unaware that the ordinary-looking woman before them was the Goddess of the Sea. They spoke insolently to Matsu and claimed her as their wife. Matsu challenged them to fight on condition that she would be their wife if she lost; on the other hand, they had to follow Matsu and help the needy if they lost. Of course, Matsu won and claimed the final victory. Qian Liyan and Sun Fenger became the guardians of Matsu and ever since have been making use of their extraordinary powers to help Matsu 'hear' and 'see' if there are any fisherman crying for help at sea.


Qian Liyan (千里眼) and Sun Fenger (順風耳) at Lotus Temple