Immortal Official of Market Profits


Li shi xian guan (Immortal Official of Market Profits), a popular deity among Chinese people, was the God of Wealth of the North, one of the four generals under Zhao Gongming, the Military God of Wealth. His name was Yao Shaosi. Li shi is an auspicious term and conveys the sense of luck and fortune, as well as profits from sales. The Immortal Official of Market Profits is in charge of luck. He symbolizes good luck and happiness; through him money will pour in from all sides. He is especially appreciated by merchants. In New Year pictures, he is always depicted either at the side of the main God of Wealth or appears alone. The figure in this picture wears an official’s black gauze cap and court clothing and holds a tablet in both of his hands. He is dressed as a court official and his expression is kind and benevolent. The servant on his left side holds in both hands a precious vase, and behind him is a horse, which implies that money is being gathered in the precious vase and money will pour in “as soon as the horse is mounted,” a Chinese saying that means “right away.” The servant on the god’s right, with his bare upper body, holds a treasure basin filled with copper coins and gold ingots on top of his head, symbolizing the Immortal Official of Market Profits who brings money and treasure. Worship of and sacrifices to gods of wealth reflect the common people’s aspirations for wealth and treasures and their yearning for, and pursuit of, riches and bliss in their lives.

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1 illustration : woodblock ; 22.5 x 19.5 centimeter


  • New Year Pictures Collection: Nian hua (The New Year picture) is a traditional ancient folk art of China. It has a long history, and is very popular and close to the daily life of the Chinese people. It integrates pictorial art, woodblock printing, folk literature, and folk religion into one unique form. These pictures were produced in many places, with various themes, of widely different craftsmanship, and in various traditional forms. Research on nian hua involves folklore, anthropology, history, art, and other fields. Because these folk art products were made for a given time or occasion, such as a sacrificial offering to be burnt afterwards, or to be pasted on a door, window, inside a room, or on a vehicle, to be discarded later, they were not meant to be collected and their rate of preservation has been lower than that of other art objects or books. The National Library of China owns more than 100,000 such pictures; among them are woodblock engravings, pictures on stone tablets, offset printings, and propaganda pictures. Of great value are 5,000 or so woodblock-printed pictures from the late Qing and early Republican era, originally in the collection of the Sino-French Research Institute of Sinology. Their main themes are portraits of door gods and paper horses. They were produced in dozens of places in the country, including Beijing, Tianjin, Henan, Hebei, Jiangsu, Shanxi, and Guangdong. In recent years, scholars have researched the New Year pictures: their origin, heyday, themes, production locations, usage, their decline, and their future. Scholars agree that this art form flourished during the Ming dynasty, reached its zenith during the Qing dynasty, and began its decline from the late Qing and early years of the Republican era. The late Qing and early Republican era pictures in the collection provide in large measure the primary source for the study of New Year pictures and their decline.

Last updated: July 27, 2016