Todays question is : where might we find the only shrine on the planet dedicated to the support of gay men in their search for love? Could it be on the streets of San Francisco, in a corner of the liberal Marais quarter of Paris, close to a ruined temple somewhere in Greece, buried under the jungle greenery of Angkor Wat or up a grubby Soi in Bangkok?
Taoist priest Lu Wei-ming at the shrine of the Rabbit God in Taipei, Taiwan.
The answer, surprisingly, is to be found down a narrow alleyway in a bustling district of New Taipei City. Welcome to Wei-ming temple, devoted to a deity who has watched over gays for four centuries. So let us introduce Tu Er Chen, the "Leveret Spirit" or "Rabbit Deity."
According to Zi Bu Yu, a book written in the 17th century, Tu Er Shen was a man called Hu Tianbao, a young soldier, in love with a very handsome imperial inspector of Fujian Province. Hu Tinbao, caught peeping at the inspector through a bathroom wall, confessed to his affections for the other man. The inspector, sadly, had his admirer sentenced to death by beating. One month after Hu Tianbao's death, he returned from the dead in the form of a young hare, or leveret, in the dream of a village elder. The leveret demanded that local men build a temple to him, where they could burn incense in the interest of "affairs of men".
After his dream the elder erected a shrine to Hu Tianbao. He became so popular that, in late Qing times, his cult was targeted by government officials for extermination. Zhu Gui (1731-1807), a Fujian grain tax circuit intendant, attempted, in 1765, to moderate the morality of the people with a "Prohibition of Licentious Cults". The one cult which he found particularly resistant was the cult of Hu Tianbao.
So nowadays, the Wei-ming shrine to the Rabbit God is a house of Taoist worship with a difference: almost all of its congregants are gay.
"In Chinese history, 'rabbit' was a derogatory term for homosexuals," said Lu Wei-ming, who founded the temple in 2006, at a time gays were excluded from most religious ceremonies. Lu, who has taken a vow of celibacy and declined to answer questions about his sexuality, said he wanted to create a welcoming environment for a flock that had long been ostracized. "This was a group with no one to look after them, and I wanted to fill that void," said the 28-year-old priest, adding that Wei-ming is the world's only shrine for homosexuals. Lu added that, although mainstream Taoist society remains in a conservative mindset, the most vocal opposition to Wei-ming temple has come from Christian activists protesting in front of the temple, including one pastor who attempted to perform an exorcism before the altar of the Rabbit God. Not much sign of that Christian tolerance here, then!
As part of his devotions, Lu pours a small cup of rice wine on the smoldering ashes of a devotee's prayers."Rabbit God loves this kind of liquor," he said. Pleasing the deity could lead to a match made in heaven. The nearly 9,000 people who seek Lu's counsel each year have one common goal, namely to find a suitable partner. Gay love was, of course, a common feature of Chinese life, as seen below.
This painting depicts Qing-dynasty scholar and bureaucrat Bi Yuan and his male lover Li Guiguan. Yuan was born in China in 1730. Whilst still a struggling student, Bi Yuan met a successful opera singer Li Guiguan who went on to support the boy financially as he finished school and worked his way up in the government sector. The two men lived as a married couple for many years and were the inspiration for Chen Sen’s 1857 novel "Precious Mirror for Ranking Flowers", the first gay novel in China.
Had Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer, happily married in England a few weeks back, been lovers in Fujian province in the Qing era, no doubt they would have visited the shrine to Hu Tianbo in Fujian Province. Today a trip to Taiwan is the modern option. Maybe they are on their way there?
Join our mailing list
- December 30th, 2016
- December 1st, 2016
- October 29th, 2016
- October 1st, 2016
- August 31st, 2016
- July 23rd, 2016