Chinese Hero

Ji Gong

Ji Gong (濟公) was a monk and legendary Chinese folk hero. Rather unconventional for a Buddhist, he disavowed the ascetic life, yet his devotion granted him supernatural powers, including the ability to see the future.

By Mae HamiltonLast updated on Nov. 22nd, 2021
  • How was Ji Gong unlike other Buddhist monks?

    Ji Gong regularly indulged in drinking alcohol and eating meat, neither of which were considered proper in serious Buddhist practice.

  • What does Ji Gong look like?

    Ji Gong is a very recognizable figure, depicted in tattered robes, carrying a wine flask in one hand and a shoe or fan in the other, and wearing a carefree look on his face.

In Chinese mythology, Ji Gong (濟公) was a Buddhist monk and legendary folk hero that lived during the Song Dynasty in Southern China. Ji Gong had a reputation for being a rather unconventional monk. Although he was a practicing Buddhist, Ji Gong frequently indulged in drink and had a penchant for eating meat—an extreme taboo for most Nirvana-seeking Buddhists. A champion of the poor and repressed, Ji Gong uses his supernatural abilities to seek justice for all.

Etymology

Ji Gong’s name is comprised of two characters: jì (濟), which means “to aid or assist,” and gōng (公), a character that connotes someone of authority or importance.

Attributes

In art, he’s easily recognizable by his tattered robes and lackadaisical, carefree expression. In fact, he is almost never shown with a stern or serious look on his face. Ji Gong often has his signature gourd or bottle of wine in hand, and either a fan or his shoe in the other hand.

Mythology

Ji Gong was born Li Xiyuan (李修緣), the son of a famous military advisor, Li Maochun (李茂春). His parents died when he was just 18 years old, so Ji Gong was sent to a monastery in Hangzhou to begin living an ascetic life.

However, he soon became fed up with the monastic code and set out to the streets to help poor people directly while still spreading and practicing the teachings of Buddha. He eventually gained supernatural abilities, including the ability to see into the future, as the result of his many years of charity and Buddhist study.

One supernatural power that Ji Gong had was the ability to see into the future. According to one story, he foretold that a landslide was about to bury a nearby village so he attempted to warn the villagers. He tried to warn the residents of the impending tragedy, but no one would believe him. They dismissed his warning as the rants of a crazy, drunk, old monk. Desperate to save the villagers, Ji Gong had to think quickly. Just then, a wedding procession went by. Ji Gong abducted the young bride and ran out of town with her slung over his shoulder. The members of the wedding procession chased after him, followed by the rest of the residents of the village. Suddenly, rocks and dirt from the top at a nearby mountain began to roll down the side of the mountain and wiped out the entire village. Although their homes had been destroyed, none of the residents were killed in the landslide, thanks to Ji Gong.

Pop Culture

Ji Gong is a popular figure in modern media and has been the subject of a number of films and series, including The Mad Monk (1993) that starred Stephen Chow.

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