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Myths and Legends of China, by Edward T.C. Werner, [1922], at

Chapter VI

Myths of Thunder, Lightning, Wind, and Rain

The Ministry of Thunder and Storms

As already noted, affairs in the Otherworld are managed by official Bureaux or Ministries very similar to those on earth. The Fêng shên yen i mentions several of these, and gives full details of their constitution. The first is the Ministry of Thunder and Storms. This is composed of a large number of officials. The principal ones are Lei Tsu, the Ancestor of Thunder, Lei Kung, the Duke of Thunder, Tien Mu, the Mother of Lightning, Feng Po, the Count of Wind, and Y[’u] Shih, the Master of Rain. These correspond to the Buddhist Asuras, the “fourth class of sentient beings, the mightiest of all demons, titanic enemies of the Dêvas,” and the Vedic Maruta, storm-demons. In the temples Lei Tsu is placed in the centre with the other four to right and left. There are also sometimes represented other gods of rain, or attendants. These are Hsing T’ien Chün and T’ao T’ien Chün, both officers of Wen Chung, or Lei Tsu, Ma Yüan-shuai, Generalissimo Ma, whose exploits are referred to later, and others.

The President of the Ministry of Thunder

This divinity has three eyes, one in the middle of his forehead, from which, when open, a ray of white light proceeds to a distance of more than two feet. Mounted on a black unicorn, he traverses millions of miles in the twinkling of an eye.

Click to enlarge

Wên Chung, Minister of Thunder

His origin is ascribed to a man named Wên Chung, generally known as Wên Chung T’ai-shih, ‘the Great p. 199 Teacher Wên Chung,’ He was a minister of the tyrant king Chou (1154–1122 B.C.), and fought against the armies of the Chou dynasty. Being defeated, he fled to the mountains of Yen, Yen Shan, where he met Ch’ih Ching-tzu, one of the alleged discoverers of fire, and joined battle with him; the latter, however, flashed his yin-yang mirror at the unicorn, and put it out of action. Lei Chên-tzu, one of Wu Wang’s marshals, then struck the animal with his staff, and severed it in twain.

Wên Chung escaped in the direction of the mountains of Chüeh-lung Ling, where another marshal, Yün Chung-tzu, barred his way. Yün’s hands had the power of producing lightning, and eight columns of mysterious fire suddenly came out of the earth, completely enveloping Wên Chung. They were thirty feet high and ten feet in circumference. Ninety fiery dragons came out of each and flew away up into the air. The sky was like a furnace, and the earth shook with the awful claps of thunder. In this fiery prison Wên Chung died.

When the new dynasty finally proved victorious, Chiang Tzu-ya, by order of Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun, conferred on Wên Chung the supreme direction of the Ministry of Thunder, appointing him celestial prince and plenipotentiary defender of the laws governing the distribution of clouds and rain. His full title was Celestial and Highly-honoured Head of the Nine Orbits of the Heavens, Voice of the Thunder, and Regulator of the Universe. His birthday is celebrated on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth moon.

The Duke of Thunder

The Spirit of Thunder, for whom Lei Tsu is often mistaken, is represented as an ugly, black, bat-winged p. 200 demon, with clawed feet, monkey’s head, and eagle’s beak, who holds in one hand a steel chisel, and in the other a spiritual hammer, with which he beats numerous drums strung about him, thus producing the terrific noise of thunder. According to Chinese reasoning it is the sound of these drums, and not the lightning, which causes death.

A. Gruenwedel, in his Guide to the Lamaist Collection of Prince Uchtomsky, p. 161, states that the Chino-Japanese God of Thunder, Lei Kung, has the shape of the Indian divine bird Garuda. Are we to suppose, then, that the Chinese Lei Kung is of Indian origin? In modern pictures the God of Thunder is depicted with a cock’s head and claws, carrying in one hand the hammer, in the other the chisel. We learn, however, from Wang Ch’ung’s Lun Hêng that in the first century B.C., when Buddhism was not yet introduced into China, the ‘Thunderer’ was represented as a strong man, not as a bird, with one hand dragging a cluster of drums, and with the other brandishing a hammer. Thus Lei Kung existed already in China when the latter received her first knowledge of India. Yet his modern image may well owe its wings to the Indian rain-god Vajrapani, who in one form appears with Garuda wings.

Lei Kung P’u-sa, the avatar of Lei Kung (whose existence as the Spirit of Thunder is denied by at least one Chinese writer), has made various appearances on the earth. One of these is described below.

Lei Kung in the Tree

A certain Yeh Ch’ien-chao of Hsin Chou, when a youth, used to climb the mountain Chien-ch’ang Shan for the purpose of cutting firewood and collecting medicinal p. 201 herbs. One day when he had taken refuge under a tree during a rain-storm there was a loud clap of thunder, and he saw a winged being, with a blue face, large mouth, and bird’s claws, caught in a cleft of the tree. This being addressed Yeh, saying: “I am Lei Kung. In splitting this tree I got caught in it; if you will free me I will reward you handsomely.” The woodcutter opened the cleft wider by driving in some stones as wedges, and liberated the prisoner. “Return to this spot to-morrow,” said the latter, “and I will reward you.” The next day the woodcutter kept the appointment, and received from Lei Kung a book. “If you consult this work,” he explained, “you will be able at will to bring thunder or rain, cure sickness, or assuage sorrow. We are five brothers, of whom I am the youngest. When you want to bring rain call one or other of my brothers; but call me only in case of pressing necessity, because I have a bad character; but I will come if it is really necessary.” Having said these words, he disappeared.

Yeh Ch’ien-chao, by means of the prescriptions contained in the mysterious book, could cure illnesses as easily as the sun dissipates the morning mist. One day, when he was intoxicated and had gone to bed in the temple of Chi-chou Ssŭ, the magistrate wished to arrest and punish him. But when he reached the steps of the yamên, Ch’ien-chao called Lei Kung to his aid. A terrible clap of thunder immediately resounded throughout the district. The magistrate, nearly dead with fright, at once dismissed the case without punishing the culprit. The four brothers never failed to come to his aid.

By the use of his power Ch’ien-chao saved many regions from famine by bringing timely rain. p. 202

The Mysterious Bottle

Another legend relates that an old woman living in Kiangsi had her arm broken through being struck by lightning, when a voice from above was heard saying: “I have made a mistake.” A bottle fell out of space, and the voice again said: “Apply the contents and you will be healed at once.” This being done, the old woman’s arm was promptly mended. The villagers, regarding the contents of the bottle as divine medicine, wished to take it away and hide it for future use, but several of them together could not lift it from the ground. Suddenly, however, it rose up and disappeared into space. Other persons in Kiangsi were also struck, and the same voice was heard to say: ” Apply some grubs to the throat and they will recover.“After this had been done the victims returned to consciousness none the worse for their experience.

The worship of Lei Kung seems to have been carried on regularly from about the time of the Christian era.

Lei Chên-tzŭ

Another Son of Thunder is Lei Chên-tzŭ, mentioned above, whose name when a child was Wên Yü, who was hatched from an egg after a clap of thunder and found by the soldiers of Wên Wang in some brushwood near an old tomb. The infant’s chief characteristic was its brilliant eyes. Wên Wang, who already had ninety-nine children, adopted it as his hundredth, but gave it to a hermit named Yün Chung-tzŭ to rear as his disciple. The hermit showed him the way to rescue his adopted father from the tyrant who held him prisoner. In seeking for some powerful weapon the child found on p. 203 the hillside two apricots, and ate them both. He then noticed that wings had grown on his shoulders, and was too much ashamed to return home.

But the hermit, who knew intuitively what had taken place, sent a servant to seek him. When they met the servant said: “Do you know that your face is completely altered?” The mysterious fruit had not only caused Lei Chên-tzŭ to grow wings, known as Wings of the Wind and Thunder, but his face had become green, his nose long and pointed, and two tusks protruded horizontally from each side of his mouth, while his eyes shone like mirrors.

Lei Chên-tzŭ now went and rescued Wên Wang, dispersing his enemies by means of his mystical power and bringing the old man back on his shoulders. Having placed him in safety he returned to the hermit.

The Mother of Lightning

This divinity is represented as a female figure, gorgeously apparelled in blue, green, red, and white, holding in either hand a mirror from which proceed two broad streams or flashes of light. Lightning, say the Chinese, is caused by the rubbing together of the yin and the yang, just as sparks of fire may be produced by the friction of two substances.

The Origin of the Spirit of Lightning

Tung Wang Kung, the King of the Immortals, was playing at pitch-pot  1 with Yü Nü. He lost; whereupon Heaven smiled, and from its half-open mouth a ray of light came out. This was lightning; it is regarded as p. 204 feminine because it is supposed to come from the earth, which is of the yin, or female, principle.

The God of the Wind

Fêng Po, the God of the Wind, is represented as an old man with a white beard, yellow cloak, and blue and red cap. He holds a large sack, and directs the wind which comes from its mouth in any direction he pleases.

There are various ideas regarding the nature of this deity. He is regarded as a stellar divinity under the control of the star Ch’i,  2 because the wind blows at the time when the moon leaves that celestial mansion. He is also said to be a dragon called Fei Lien, at first one of the supporters of the rebel Ch’ih Yu, who was defeated by Huang Ti. Having been transformed into a spiritual monster, he stirred up tremendous winds in the southern regions. The Emperor Yao sent Shên I with three hundred soldiers to quiet the storms and appease Ch’ih Yu’s relatives, who were wreaking their vengeance on the people. Shên I ordered the people to spread a long cloth in front of their houses, fixing it with stones. The wind, blowing against this, had to change its direction. Shên I then flew on the wind to the top of a high mountain, whence he saw a monster at the base. It had the shape of a huge yellow and white sack, and kept inhaling and exhaling in great gusts. Shên I, concluding that this was the cause of all these storms, shot an arrow and hit the monster, whereupon it took refuge in a deep cave. Here it turned on Shên I and, drawing a sword, dared him to attack the Mother of the Winds. Shên I, however, bravely faced the monster and discharged another arrow, this time p. 205 hitting it in the knee. The monster immediately threw down its sword and begged that its life might be spared.

Fei Lien is elsewhere described as a dragon who was originally one of the wicked ministers of the tyrant Chou, and could walk with unheard-of swiftness. Both he and his son Ô Lai, who was so strong that he could tear a tiger or rhinoceros to pieces with his hands, were killed when in the service of Chou Wang. Fei Lien is also said to have the body of a stag, about the size of a leopard, with a bird’s head, horns, and a serpent’s tail, and to be able to make the wind blow whenever he wishes.

The Master of Rain

Yü Shih, the Master of Rain, clad in yellow scale-armour, with a blue hat and yellow busby, stands on a cloud and from a watering-can pours rain upon the earth. Like many other gods, however, he is represented in various forms. Sometimes he holds a plate, on which is a small dragon, in his left hand, while with his right he pours down the rain. He is obviously the Parjanya of Vedism.

According to a native account, the God of Rain is one Ch’ih Sung-tzŭ, who appeared during a terrible drought in the reign of Shên Nung (2838–2698 B.C.), and owing to his reputed magical power was requested by the latter to bring rain from the sky. “Nothing is easier,” he replied; “pour a bottleful of water into an earthen bowl and give it to me.” This being done, he plucked from a neighbouring mountain a branch of a tree, soaked it in the water, and with it sprinkled the earth. Immediately clouds gathered and rain fell in torrents, filling the rivers to overflowing. Ch’ih Sung-tzŭ was then honoured as the God of Rain, and his images show him holding the p. 206 mystic bowl. He resides in the K’un-lun Mountains, and has many extraordinary peculiarities, such as the power to go through water without getting wet, to pass through fire without being burned, and to float in space.

This Rain-god also assumes the form of a silkworm chrysalis in another account. He is there believed to possess a concubine who has a black face, holds a serpent in each hand, and has other serpents, red and green, reposing on her right and left ears respectively; also a mysterious bird, with only one leg, the shang yang, which can change its height at will and drink the seas dry. The following legend is related of this bird.

The One-legged Bird

At the time when Hsüan-ming Ta-jên instructed Fei Lien in the secrets of magic, the latter saw a wonderful bird which drew in water with its beak and blew it out again in the shape of rain. Fei lien tamed it, and would take it about in his sleeve.

Later on a one-legged bird was seen in the palace of the Prince of Ch’i walking up and down and hopping in front of the throne. Being much puzzled, the Prince sent a messenger to Lu to inquire of Confucius concerning this strange behaviour. “This bird is a shang yang” said Confucius; “its appearance is a sign of rain. In former times the children used to amuse themselves by hopping on one foot, knitting their eyebrows, and saying: ‘It will rain, because the shang yang is disporting himself.’ Since this bird has gone to Ch’i, heavy rain will fall, and the people should be told to dig channels and repair the dykes, for the whole country will be inundated.” Not only Ch’i, but all the adjacent kingdoms were flooded; all sustained grievous damage except Ch’i, where the p. 207 necessary precautions had been taken. This caused Duke Ching to exclaim: “Alas! how few listen to the words of the sages!”

Ma Yüan-shuai

Ma Yüan-shuai is a three-eyed monster condemned by Ju Lai to reincarnation for excessive cruelty in the extermination of evil spirits. In order to obey this command he entered the womb of Ma Chin-mu in the form of five globes of fire. Being a precocious youth, he could fight when only three days old, and killed the Dragon-king of the Eastern Sea. From his instructor he received a spiritual work dealing with wind, thunder, snakes, etc., and a triangular piece of stone which he could at will change into anything he liked. By order of Yü Ti he subdued the Spirits of the Wind and Fire, the Blue Dragon, the King of the Five Dragons, and the Spirit of the Five Hundred Fire Ducks, all without injury to himself. For these and many other enterprises he was rewarded by Yü Ti with various magic articles and with the title of Generalissimo of the West, and is regarded as so successful an interceder with Yü Ti that he is prayed to for all sorts of benefits. p. 208


208:1 See 45.

208:2 In Sagittarius, or the Sieve; Chinese constellation of the Leopard.

Next: Chapter VII. Myths of the Waters