Photographs and Information about Taiwan's Culture, Nature and People by Rich Matheson

Generals Fan and Hsieh 謝將軍和范將軍 or Chi Yeh and Ba Yeh七爺和八爺

A work in progress……….any suggestions, corrections or questions, please leave a comment.

Chi Yeh and Ba Yeh are possibly the most easily identifiable gods in Taiwanese folk parades. They are the two oversized parade effigies (神將or將爺)*, always together, one tall and white; one short (relative) and black; with arms that pendulum wildly from their shoulders. Taiwanese folk religion has it that General Fan and Hsieh are the most important of the ghost escorts (鬼差). Subordinate to the City God(城隍爺), they take human form and patrol the city at night (暗訪), capturing criminals and taking their souls to the courts of hell for judgment.

They are also present in the Jia Jiang troupes and their names Seventh and Eighth Lord signify their positions in the group of eight. It is said that to judge a Bajiajiang troupe’s training, one need only look at these two gods’ performance.

Curiously, when I was at the Jade Emperor’s Temple during the final day of  Bei Ji Dian’s Jian Jiaow (The final part of jian jiaow is “song Tian Shih“, or return the heavenly teacher home after he has finished overseeing that proper rites have been observed, in the south, anyway), I noticed the jiajiang troupes were scurrying past the temple with heads bowed and fans shielding their faces. A caretaker told me this was because the Jade Emperor was so great that the lowly jiajiang were humbled before him.

It wasn’t this that I found curious though, but rather the same god in the oversized puppet form (jiang yeh) would proudly stride up the temple and bow before the altar.

Most people I asked didn’t see a problem with this, one was a Jiang Yeh and the other was the lowly Bajiajiang, they are different levels. Although when I dug a little some would concede that this was strange. I still don’t have a satisfactory answer.

Identifying Generals Fan and Hsieh

General Hsieh holds a fan in his left hand, shackles for criminals (枷鎖)  and/or fire bamboo stick(火籤)  in his right, has long white robes and a tall four-sided hat often inscribed with the words “Once seen, luck will follow”(一見大吉). His distinctive high-stepping walk is called the “white crane fist walk”(行白鶴拳).

In Jiang Tuan formation, the fans will be held on the outside of the formation and tools on the inside, ie. Hsieh’s fan is held in left and Fan’s fan is in his right.pic Robes will be more elaborate, not simple white like the parade effigies and face paint is 大蝙蝠臉 a stylized bat with wings covering both eyes.

General Fan holds a placard reading “distinction of good and evil” (善惡分明)pic with a chain (方牌加鎖鏈) pic in his right hand and a fan in his left. He wears black robes and a round,square or six-sided black hat. pic His walk is called the “monkey boxing walk”(行猴拳).His face paint has a black base with symmetrical circular or S patterns and flames around forehead, eyes or cheeks due to his especially fierce nature.

*As with all Taiwanese folk religion, customs vary from troupe to troupe and region to region. Some troupes nowadays will have modern interpretations of the traditional designs and decorate with aesthetics in mind as well as tradition. Parade effigies are easier to distinguish as they are more traditional. Being large wooden carvings, they are harder to change.

Origin Myths:

There are many myths explaining the origin of these two gods with many shared elements. One of the most common myths has Fan and Hsieh, sworn blood brothers, while on a mission for historical Tang Dynasty’s Chang Hsun during the An Lu Shan rebellion, take shelter under a bridge during a rain. For various reasons (one of the most common has Hsieh, the taller faster brother, improbably fetching an umbrella), Fan is left alone under the bridge. A flash flood drowns this short general and Hsieh, upon his return, is struck with grief at finding his sworn blood brother drowned. He hangs himself from the bridge, some fanciful variations have Hsieh wallowing in the water but being to tall to drown is only able to commit suicide by hanging. This tale neatly explains Fan’s black face from time spent under water and Hsieh’s long tongue hanging from his mouth, whereas some variations have Fan killing himself by smashing his head against a pillar or wall less adequately explain his black face. The Jade Emperor noticed this extreme example of brotherly love and sacrifice and appointed them positions in the celestial bureaucracy similar to their earthly positions.

General’s Fan and Hsieh can also be seen as puppet toys at traditional markets: and as two of the twenty four seasons’ door gods:

Names: as with all Taiwanese Gods, there are many names:
General Fan 范將軍:八爺,Eighth Lord, Ba Yeh or Eighth Master;黑無常,Hei Wu-chang, ;赤爺; Black(red) Lord; 范無救, Fan Wu-jiu, Fan who once you have seen him shall have no hope; hsiao yeh, short lord.
General Hsieh 范將軍:七爺,Seventh Lord, Chi Yeh or Seventh Master;白無常,Bai Wu-chang, 白爺, White Lord; 謝必安, Hsieh Bi-an, da yeh, tall lord.

*according to 台灣地理百科#35 台灣的藝陣, the large puppet parade gods have different names around the island. In central and  northern areas: 大仙尪仔陣, In the south: 神偶 or 神將, and also: 童陣. I’ve heard: 神將 or 將爺.

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: Weekly Links – January 28, 2010 « The Daily Bubble Tea

  2. Just have one thing to say … WOW.

    January 28, 2010 at 5:32 pm

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