With a hammer he uses to punish sinful humans and battle demons, Lei Gong (雷公) is the god of thunder in Chinese mythology. Lei Gong is a fearsome and intimidating god with the face, claws, and wings of a dragon. In addition to his hammer, he carries a drum to generate the sound of thunder.
Léi Gōng’s name is comprised of the character léi, (雷) which means “thunder,” and gōng (公), a character that connotes a person of authority and is usually translated as “lord” or “general.” He’s also sometimes referred to as Léi Shén (雷神), which means “God of Thunder,” and in other styles of romanization as “Lei Kung.”
Lei Gong has a frightening appearance. His skin is a dark blue color, and he has features like a dragon, including the wings, claws, and a dragon-like face. However, in some artistic representations, he is depicted with a human face. Lei Gong only wears a loincloth for clothing and usually carries a drum and mallet which he uses to create thunder with his hands. He’s sometimes shown holding a hammer which he uses to strike down evildoers, both humans and demons.
Lei Gong is married to the goddess of thunder, Diàn Mǔ (電母), and is the adopted son of King Wen of Zhou (周文王), who was from the city of Leizhou. He also has an uncle named Fēngbó (風伯), who is the god of wind. Lei Gong has two assistants that support him and his wife during their stormy exploits. They are Yúnzhōngzǐ (雲中子), a youth who has the power to generate clouds, and Yǔ Shī (雨師), a minor deity who creates rain by dipping his sword into water and allowing the drippings to fall over the Earth.
Not only was Lei Gong one of the strangest looking Chinese gods, but he had one of the most peculiar origin stories, too. In ancient times, Lei Gong was highly revered—and feared—because of his role as a harbinger of justice.
One day, the warlord King Wen was riding through the forest on a hunt with his lucky nine-eared dog. As they plodded down the forest path, all nine of his dog’s ears wiggled and it began furiously pawing at the ground. The dog uncovered a small egg hidden away in a pile of leaves. When King Wen picked up the egg, the shell cracked and a fully grown boy popped out from the broken egg. But this was clearly no ordinary boy. He had dark blue skin, a beak, claws, and a set of wings. He had the character léi (雷), meaning “thunder,” written on one palm and zhōu (州), which means “state,” on the other. As an important political leader with no children, King Wen immediately understood that this strange little boy was sent by the gods to be his son. A female spirit then descended from the sky to nursed Lei Gong and care for him until he grew into adulthood.
As the adopted son of the King, Lei Gong enjoyed a number of lofty positions in politics and even served as a governor. It was said that Lei Gong achieved immortality by finding and consuming a stray Peach of Immortality that was stolen from Heaven and misplaced by a mischievous Fox Demon.
Lei Gong and His Hammer
As a member of the Jade Emperor’s imperial court, Lei Gong was given the responsibility of watching out for injustices happening on Earth. One day, when the Jade Emperor was looking down on the Middle Kingdom from his throne in Heaven, he saw two robbers taking advantage of a blind salesman. He sent down Lei Gong, armed with a drum and hammer, to take care of the situation.
When Lei Gong first encountered the robbers, he beat his drum as loudly as he could to warn the men to leave the salesman alone, but they refused to heed his warning. Frustrated, Lei Gong resorted to his hammer and struck the thieves dead. The villagers were shocked and frightened by the sudden and seemingly random deaths of the robbers. From then on, the villagers understood the sound of thunder as a direct warning from Heaven to avoid immoral and corrupt behavior.
Although Lei Gong is a minor Chinese god, he is still regularly worshiped by practitioners. He has a reputation as an unmerciful judge of character, and it’s not uncommon to see a shrine with offerings dedicated to him in Chinese temples. Lei Gong also plays a significant role in the 17th century Chinese novel, Fēngshén Yǎnyì (封神演義), or The Investiture of the Gods, as the character Léizhènzǐ (雷震子), whose story closely aligns with the myth of Lei Gong.