Chinese God of Wealth

Ho! Ho! Who? Santa VS. China’s God of Wealth


Whatever this post is about, it is most certainly not about Christmas. If you want to read something about Christmas, follow the links:

Hey! This post comes with music! Play this while you read: [audio:O Come All Ye Faithful – O Holy Night.mp3]

Santa VS. the Chinese God of Wealth & Laughing Buddha

Nothing puts you in the holiday mood like seeing your culture’s biggest holiday reflected back at you by a foreign culture… especially when that culture is Mainland China.

The Pantheon

L to R: a laughing buddha (笑佛), the God of Wealth (财神), Santa Claus.

They’re fat, they’re red, they appear on posters and as statues, they mean people get stuff. In North America he brings “gifts” in a big sack. In China, traditionally, there’s two of him, and he’s more explicit, holding gold bars, coins and other symbols of wealth, sometimes in a big sack. But I honestly don’t see how the money god and laughing buddhas can compete with Santa.

Santa Rules
In addition to our veneer of giving in order to get stuff, we Westerners do it better than the Chinese in another important way. Typically, Chinese restaurant owners just stick up a poster or set up a statue of the God of Wealth and offer it food, wine and incense, hoping for prosperity in return. Laughing buddha figurines are popular as good luck charms, and you can rub the bellies of the big statues for peace and prosperity. But in North America we’re more creative and effective: we brainwash our kids. We get them buzzed with songs and movies and talk about toys before taking them to sit on a real live Santa’s lap. “Santa” asks them two questions: Have you been good? and, What do you want? — in a mall of all places, at the height of the biggest shopping season of the year. The kids get the point so well they don’t even realize it; it metastasizes into their developing psyches and shapes their human experience for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t matter if they grow up and lose their faith in Santa; it’s not about him. They’ve totally absorbed the idea that our biggest cultural celebration of the year revolves around wanting and getting. In other words, our patron saint of consumerism kicks butt on the Chinese money god. And surely no belly-rubbing-for-peace-and-prosperity on a jolly, golden, laughing buddha can compete with a mall Santa.

But seriously, folks…
You might think it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to generalize about Santa Claus, the God of Wealth, and laughing buddhas because they seem so fundamentally different. For example, maybe Santa’s not really a god of wealth but of consumerism. And maybe he’s not really our god of consumerism; no one except for kids attempts to bribe, placate, beseech, or otherwise cajole Santa as a spiritual being into enabling our consumption. He’s more like our idol of consumerism; the man-made physical representation of our unhinged desires to consume that helps us focus and realize those desires. And last but certainly not least, Santa is Not Jesus — maybe that’s his real name. He’s our Jesus-avoidance tool; a soothing, comfortably 100% imaginary mascot, employed as a colourful cheerleader to add lighthearted, saccharin distraction to our otherwise obscene consumption, which doesn’t look quite as bad when Jesus isn’t around. I suspect Santa’s a little bit of each. I’m not saying Santa (or gift-giving) has to be this way — it’s not like Santa’s inherently evil — just that he’s currently functioning like an omnipresent consumption mascot on steroids.

Mainland Chinese, by the way, love Santa Claus. They can’t get enough Santa Claus. He fits with the holidays: he wears red, he’s fat, he’s loaded. He means we get stuff. He’s in every other business in Tianjin around Christmas time, where he occupies the same places on walls and doors that’re sometimes occupied by posters of the money god. And how many people could honestly point him out in a police lineup with laughing buddha and the money god? So you see, we’re not so different after all.

For a look at “Christmas” in China, see:

3 thoughts on “Ho! Ho! Who? Santa VS. China’s God of Wealth”

  1. I remember explaining to a Taxi Driver one late Christmas night (years ago) who Santa was, and why everyone obsessed about him… Basically , as children, you have no money, and you want gifts, etc… He nodded, “That sounds great! I get it now!!” ;) Greed is universal haha

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