Red lotus shaped Chinese lanterns under the ghost festival
Chinese lanterns lit under the ghost festival. Lotus-shaped lanterns are lit and set afloat in rivers and out onto seas to symbolically guide the lost souls of forgotten ancestors to the afterlife.

China has such a varied an long history, diverse culture, with different regions, religions, and translations. Most ancient countries has. Sometimes things change over time, like in this case with Chinese ghosts, and how they are perceived. The tales and beliefs changes according to the ebb and flow of time. In any case it has been believed traditionally, in China and the countries around often, that every living person will become a ghost when we die, a 鬼 guǐ. It will then weaken, and fade away, dying again for a second time.

This is only natural and how it is suppose to be. The ancestors are honored, given sacrifices and held in esteem, thinking they have a part in the world as much as the living. Ancestral worship is the original basic of Chinese religion, and it is a core belief thare is an existence after death. A deceased person’s soul is made up of yin and yang parts called hun and po. They are not immortal, and need offerings before going to the underworld for eternal rest.

The trouble however is when that spirit is driven by anger and malice. This is called a Hungry Ghost, a 餓鬼 èguǐ and quỷ đói, and only happens on rare occasions. It is not only in China it is reported in a various of Asian countries. It happens when a persons death has been exceptionally violent or unhappy. And perhaps this is what happened to Tu-Po.

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Background

Tu-Po (or Du Bo) was the Duke of Tangdu, situated west of State of Yi Lin Shaanxi province. According to legend, the Tangdu were descendants of the people living in the State of Tang, a Dukedom destroyed by Zhou Gong Dan (Duke of Zhou). They were allowed to form a new State of Du, and became known as Tangdu or Du shi(杜氏).

map of Jin (Tang) state during the spring and autumn period.
Map over the Jin (Tang) state during the late Spring and Autumn period, around the time of Tu-Po’s death and after. This is were he, and his ancestors resided and ruled. All credit to: Hugo Lopez – Wikimedia Commons user: Yug

He was also a minister to King Xuan of Zhou (also known as Emperor Hsuan) who reigned from 827-783 B.C. He was the eleventh king of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty. The king is remembered fighting the ‘Western Barbarians’, most probably Xianyun, on the Huai River. On his ninth year as King, he called all the lords into a meeting. He also meddled in debacles of successions in States of Lu, Wey an Qi. Sima Qian, considered father of Chinese historiography, said: “from this time on, the many lords mostly rebelled against royal commands.” What happened? And what is the connection to Tu-Po?

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The Story

A rumor was out that a woman was about to become a danger of the town of Jiangshan, the King ordered a mass execution of women. This is what Tu-Po opposed to the Kings’ decision. And this would cost him his life. King Xuan ordered his execution for this. The king was warned that Tu-Po’s ghost would haunt him. Tu-Po said:

“If my majesty kills me without reason, the dead may not know, well that’s it. However, on the other hand, I will avenge myself on him, within three years.”

But despise the warnings, King Xuan went through the execution nevertheless. Even though he was considered innocent. Tu-Po was executed around 786 B.C.

King Xuan of Zhou (827-783 B.C). Formerly known as Emperor Hsuan or King Suan.
King Xuan of Zhou (827-783 B.C). Formerly known as Emperor Hsuan or King Suan.

Three years later, the King brought his dukes to hunt on his own hunting grounds. There were hundreds of chariots, thousands of escorts. At noon, Tu-Po appeared, riding a white horse and a cart, wearing a red coat with a red bow and arrow in hand. He took up the chase of King Xuan and shot the king in the heart and broke his spine. At the time, it is reported that no one saw the killing and no one heard it. The king fell. Tu-Po got his revenge.

In another version, it is said that king Xuan died after dreaming that Tu-Po shot him to death with an arrow.

In both cases, the innocent and wronged minister got his revenge. And King Xuan’s son, was the last of the western Zhou. And the story has gone down in traditional legends, ever since. The Chinese philosopher, Mo Zi (470-391 B.C), said this about ghosts and about Tu-Po’s revenge:

“If from antiquity to the present, and since the beginning of man, there are men who have seen the bodies of ghosts and spirits and heard their voices, how can we say that they do not exist? If none have heard them and none have seen them, then how can we say they do? But those who deny the existence of the spirits say: “Many in the world have heard and seen something of ghosts and spirits. Since they vary in testimony, who are to be accepted as really having heard and seen them?”

As we are to rely on what many have jointly seen and what many have jointly heard, the case of Tu Po is to be accepted.”

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