[Photo Gallery:] Bi Gan Temple 比干庙 near Xinxiang, Henan 新乡,河南

The Bi Gan Temple (比干庙 bǐ gān miào) near Xīnxiāng (新乡) in Hénán (河南) contains carvings by emperors and one supposedly by Confucius himself, and commemorates the 3000-year-old legacy of 比干 Bǐ Gān, an upstanding imperial advisor who had his heart cut out for speaking the truth to a tyrannical emperor.

Bi Gan’s mausoleum was reparied by King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty (1134 B.C. — 771 B.C.), while the temple itself was built by Emperor Xiaowen of the Southern Wei Dynasty (386 A.D. — 534 A.D.). The existing architectural complex was reconstructed in 1494 during the Ming Dynasty.

I’ve found conflicting versions of the story both online and from Chinese friends and coworkers. But here’s the gist of the legend, which I’ve cobbled together from the information at the temple, students and coworkers, and online sources: Bǐ Gān was one of three uncles to the Emperor, all of whom were the Emperor’s top advisors. However the Emperor was a tyrant and his uncles/advisors couldn’t convince him to change his ways. One faked insanity to get out of advising, another resigned, but Bǐ Gān refused to stop speaking the truth to his cruel nephew. In the end, this cost him his life as his enemies in the court conspired against him and had his heart cut out.

You can read further details and variations of the story here:

The 林 (lín) surname, which includes millions of people in China, Korea and Vietnam, traces back to Bǐ Gān, whose widowed and pregnant wife was given the name by the next emperor.

Bǐ Gān is also called 文财神, the ‘imperial advisor version’ of the God of Wealth, alongside 武财神 (the army general God of Wealth), 财神爷 (Grandpa God of Wealth) and other various names and incarnations depending on variations in regional traditions. Apparently there are 12 different theories regarding the origins of the God of Wealth and 17 different names in Daoism and Chinese folk culture. I can’t find anyone to explain how exactly Bǐ Gān became a/the God of Wealth. Maybe it’s just as one of my Chinese friends joked, that these two things that Chinese love the most — money gods and honest government officials — are myths that naturally go together?

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