You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade


  • Deity Parade - 游神 (yóu shén) - the name used to call this parade where deity are invited though offerings to parade around town and village as a sign of fresh year, luck, prosperity, and abundant harvest. 
  • Divine General - 神将 (shén jiàng) - directly refers to generals, warriors, and those who have certain authority or accomplishment for humanity. They are subordinates of higher generals or gods and play an important role in the protection of different towns. They are also considered gods themselves. For this article, mentioning of gods, deities, or divine figures refers to these generals and figures who parade around town, not gods like the Bodhisattva, Queen Mother of the West (王母娘娘, wángmǔ niángniáng), or Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝, yùhuáng dàdì).
  • Moon blocks - 筊杯 / 圣杯 / 圣筊 (jiǎo bēi / shèng bēi / shèng jiǎo) - wooden tools from China used for seeking divine guidance with offerings provided to said deity. They are in pairs and can be made from different wood materials and take on different shapes. 
    • "Smiling" Cup - 笑杯, 正 (xiào bēi, zhèng) - two flat side of the moon block, meaning your question is unclear and you can repeat yourself using the remaining chances. 
    • "Yin" Cup - 阴杯, 反 (yīn bēi, fǎn) - two curve side facing up, meaning the deity you are asking question to either disagree with your decision or saying something is not possible, not coming true, or not going to go your way.
  • Bǎo cháng gōng - 保长公 (bǎo cháng gōng) - a deity of Fu Zhou. During the Yóu Shén Parade, they will be at the front of the line helping clear the path for the parade. They are responsible for communicating with each town member of authority and drinking, so they usually take “drunk steps.” 
  • Mǎfū - 马夫 (mǎfū) - similar role as Bǎo cháng gōng. 
  • Incense Holder - 净炉手 (jìnglú shǒu) - incense holder in front of the deity, will be walking a specific step to give incense to the deity, especially after hours of walking, usually young male, and sometimes female.


Yóu Shén Culture

Chinese New Year has just passed not long ago, and there have been a lot of celebrations across China before and after New Year, depending on each region’s beliefs and culture. One of the celebrations that became popular across Douyin is Fujian Yóu Shén, which in English is sometimes called Fujian God Parade or something similar. One reason for its popularity is because the new figurines representing the deity look more appealing to the audience compared to that of the past. This parade is popular in the southern part of China, specifically popular in Fujian,  Changle region. It is usually held between the third and fifteenth days of the lunar calendar, if using our calendar format, it will be between February 12th to 19th, starting on the first day of the Lunar New Year and ending on the Yuánxiāo festival.

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade


Divine Moon Block

Yóu Shén Parade, also called yíng shén (迎神) , directly translated as “Welcoming Deity,” is a Northern China celebration that has at least four hundred years of history. As its name suggests, it is a celebration where people invite deity from their temples to parade around town with the sign of wishing for good luck and smooth weather (求风调雨顺,平安喜乐). But to invite them out, people have to toss moon block (圣杯, shèng bēi) to gain agreement from each god before taking them out of their temple. They will have to prepare offerings on a table to ask the gods a question, then they will be on their knees (which is the normal posture, sometimes standing, depending on the situation), closing their eyes with the moon block between their palms, either mumbling or asking the question in their mind for an answer. Then they release the moon block onto the floor.

The method is quite similar to rolling a dice, but instead, you are seeking an answer from a god, so there will only be three possible answers you can receive. The moon block comes in two pieces, usually in the shape of a crescent, with one side flat and the other side in a curved bend. The flat face looks like half a circle. The curved side is the side of yin (阴, yīn) or (反, fǎn), and the flat side is the side of yang (阳, yáng) or (正, zhèng).

When one curve is facing up, it’s “yin,” and when one flat is facing up, it’s “yang.” Then it means the question or confusion you are trying to clear is a positive or “agreed” answer. If you are in a state of confusion and asking if one of your decisions is correct, or if luck will be on your side for something, this half yin half yang answer will show that it’s a positive meaning or “yes, you’ve made the right choice” or “yes, luck will be on your side.”

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade

When two flats are facing up, this is called “smiling" cup (笑杯, xiào bēi), meaning either your question is unclear, the decision is yet to be determined, and asking for you to ask again with a clearer question. When two curves (yin) are facing up, this is known as "yin" cup (阴杯, yīn bēi), it will represent “no,” or “not possible,” or “disagree” for what you are asking.

When I was younger, I did see my grandma asking Bodhisattva something with moon block for my uncle and whatever he is trying to achieve, and the answer is “yes.” But I never got to fully understand what this is until the popularity of this Deity Parade reached me through Douyin.

Moon blocks usually can be thrown one to three times. After the three chances depending on culture, you either change a new set of table offerings to ask new questions or wait a few days, weeks, or months before asking. Depending on culture, some people think you need to receive "yes" thrice for the result you want, and some believe you just need to receive one "yes."

For this parade, once the gods agree to come out from their temple, then people can take them out and parade around different towns. If not, then you will have to wait till the celebration next year or whenever  the parade occurs again. Due to Covid-19 pandemic, the Yóu Shén Parade didn't resume until now. 

People believe that during the day, the gods will come to the mortal realm and see through the eyes of the figurines that they made t o observe the change  of humanity. The parade usually lasts a day and a night for wishing for this year's smoothness and beginning of a new year. 


Day of the Parade Preparation and Parade Format

Fujian, Changle has many towns and villages, and of them has their own “deity” in their temples that people needed to invite. The entire parade is not just one or two popular generals that will be taking the task of the parade. Starting at 8 a.m. or earlier, people will be finishing their preparation for the offerings (贡品) for their deity. People will be bringing in the divine generals and dressing them up in their suitable outfits then putting them on a wooden rack with shoes so it looks like they are standing up. This is the basic skeletal structure that will be used when the parade starts.

Next, the host of the Parade (东家, dōng jiā) will distribute cigars for the deity. Some videos show large cigars that are DIY, so I’m not sure if they’re real or just DIY ones depicting respect and preparation for the parade. The hosts gather funding to create the deity figures, usually for temple refurbishment but in this case, for parade structures. They're responsible for inviting the deity for offerings and prayers of peace and prosperity. As the event organizers, they have authority, symbolized by walking in front of the deity, signifying their family's protection by the town’s deity for the year.

I initially believed that hosts for the parade were chosen from those who expressed interest, responsible for various tasks and financial matters. However, after a conversation with my parents, it seems like it follows a cycle. It rotates among a few families over a span of four years or possibly more. In our discussion, I learned that my maternal grandparents will need to return to China in February-March 2026 to fulfill the hosting duties, as it is their turn in the cycle after four years. This has sparked my interest, and I want to travel with them to experience the parade in person, as my memories from two years ago are not sufficient.

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade

Depending on the region, they also invite out the greatest general yīngliè wáng (英烈王) using the same method and place them in a carriage. Once in the carriage, people try to touch the carriage's head as a sign of good luck.

As the loud drumming and music fill the air, the parade officially begins. Chosen individuals from the town or village don their deity figurines, complete with wooden racks, attire, and head masks. Males represent male deities, and females take on the roles of female deities. These participants undergo training for walking style and techniques, as the entire rack can weigh between 3 to 5 pounds. The parade lasts throughout the day and night, and concludes the following morning around 4 a.m.

The parade, which includes several hundred divine generals, spans approximately 7-8 lǐ (里), equivalent to roughly 2.8-3.2 miles. It's unclear whether they break into smaller groups or remain as one entity while traversing the town. Typically, higher-status individuals are positioned at the back of the line, with generals leading the procession to pave the way and boost the festivities at the front.

At the forefront is a short-stature deity known as bǎo zhǎng gōng (保长公), akin to "guards" whose task is to clear the path ahead. Typically wielding a long stick, they use it to whip the crowd when the pathway is crowded. The whip primarily targets the legs, symbolizing for intelligence and dispelling misfortune. This role is the most demanding, as they must engage with every notable town member upon arrival. Authorities in each town often present them with cigars and liquor, resulting in the person portraying this character becoming intoxicated after hours of the parade. 

Behind bǎo zhǎng gōng is mǎ fū (马夫), which, based on my observations, plays a role similar to the lead. The only slight difference is that the former clears the path while the latter explores the path ahead. It's akin to a guard preceding the generals to identify dangers before they reach them. However, in most videos I've seen, either only bǎo zhǎng gōng is with the deity and other parade groups, or mǎ fū is with the parade, rarely both at once. Perhaps their roles could be combined, or people might be misidentifying the deity. This may also vary depending on the region of Northern China.

Behind mǎ fū, there is jìng shǒu lú (净手炉), who follows a specific walking method known as qī xīng bù (七星步), or the "seven star step," ahead of the deity. The incense holder plays the role of clearing the path, and when they perform a 360-degree turn before kneeling down on one leg, their head is bowed and their hand with the incense raised above their head, showing sincerity and offering incense to the deity. The deity shakes their body to indicate acceptance of the incense and becomes energized after hours of parading, then continues walking ahead using sì fāng bù (四方步), "four-direction step."

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade

Afterward, following the format of lower status at the front, the taller deities are accompanied by a music group behind the incense holder. The parade typically proceeds slowly from one town to another, occasionally pausing for musical interludes (奏乐).

Participants wearing the tall deity costumes must possess strength and a certain height to bear the heavy wooden structures throughout the parade or during designated breaks if substitutes are available. For prominent deities or those with devoted followers, breaks are limited during the stops for music. However, throughout the procession, the audience provides refreshments and food offerings, so the people acting as deities are not starving the entire day.

For everyone dressing up as deities, there is a rule saying “扮神扮七分,要留三分破绽” (bàn shén bàn qī fēn, yào liú sān fēn pò zuàn). Basically, it means when you are dressing up as a god, the costume has to be 70% similar to the god and 30% of the wearer’s characteristics. In this case, the 30% will be your own pants and shoes under the deity outfit that will be showing. Fujian people have deep respect for their culture and their beliefs. They invite the deity to come and celebrate with them for a fresh year. It does not mean that the people acting as deities are gods themselves, or else it will be similar to you “being” said god when you fully dress like them and you are receiving the incense and offering that is supposedly given to the deity and not you.

Accompanying the tall deity, there will be child-like deities. The exact placement of these child deities in the procession, whether in front of or behind the tall figure, is unsure. They are acted by children below age 10, and the deities they are acting as is collectively referred to as "hái ér dì," (孩儿弟).

The video also highlights the presence of a flag team positioned at the front of the parade line. Their role is to elevate the festive spirit and ensure order, akin to music parades, lion and dragon dances. While some videos depict them in front of the deity, in that case, they will be blocking the path of the incense holder's path to the deities. Therefore, it remains uncertain whether they are positioned behind the line or at the very forefront, possibly depending on the specific cultural practices or regional variations.

As the parade travels, there will be drums, dances, music, and colorful ribbons. Among the colorful ribbons is something called "luò huā" (落花), directly translated as “fallen flower,” but artificially made. It serves a purpose similar to ribbons falling from the sky but with the added meaning of “blessings for children and happiness." People say it’s very effective for conceiving a child; if you pick up this fallen “flower,” one flower represents one child. If you pick up many and put them next to your pillow when sleeping, your wish will come true. There are different colors, such as red meaning for a daughter, white for a son, and yellow for wealth.

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade

As night falls, the deities' hats adorned with flashing light bulbs will be turned on, illuminating the path. This luminous display is accompanied by fireworks, smoke bombs, and firecrackers. The generals will hold illuminating flares, contributing to the spectacle, while masks add an extra layer of mystery as the faces of the deities remain hidden behind thin wisps of smoke. This is the time where everyone this the hype of the parade is starting. 

When it's time to return the deities to their temple, people use the moon block in front of the temple to inquire whether they want to return. During this process, strong males will be the ones holding the flags and figurines, ensuring they have enough strength to run quickly back to the temple after receiving a "yes." This rushing back to the temple is known as chōng gōng (冲宫). Why? There can be two reasons. Firstly, some believe that deities can exhibit childish characteristics, similar to children returning home with friends after a fun day out; hence, they are likely to race to see who can get home first. The second reason is to prevent the deities from changing their minds once they have agreed.

There are deities that like to stay home and there are deities that like to play outside, providing difficulties when returning. If one of the deities refuses to return, the group of people following said deity will have to remain outside and walk in a circle before using the moon block. For however long they haven’t got the “agreed” answer, then they will have to continue holding the deity figure, and this is where young strong males come into play. After asking three times and the answer is no, the person asking the question will have to change their question, such as asking “do you have something else you want to do before returning?” “Do you want to go to the movies?” “Do you want to have a cigar?” “Do you want to drink boba?” Depending on the answer, people will take the deity figure to said area to complete the final request before asking if they want to return again.

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade

It’s interesting to see the different characteristics of each deity during my research because it made them more “alive” than just a set of costumes people are wearing. Some deities will agree to return to the temple on the first try, and the group carrying that deity will be able to return home, while the ones that disagree can stay out for hours until the answer changes. Besides that, there is also a group of deities that were brought to the movie theater and given popcorn and soda, one was tossed into water because they want to “play” with water, another one wants to drink boba, and some want to have another cigar. This puts emphasis on a common phrase used in China, “请神容易送神难,” basically meaning “it’s easy to invite a god to come, but it’s hard to send one away.”

Only when the parade fully ends do people think a new year has begun with their wish of good luck and prosperity.


The few deities that show their faces often across media for this year’s parade:

  1. Zhào Shì Zǐ (赵世子) - Known as the God of Expelling Epidemics, Zhào Shì Zǐ is the son of Zhèn Líng Gōng, Zhào Gōngmíng (振灵公赵公明) and wears a black four-clawed python robe. His hair is side-parted and adorned with a golden double-dragon and pheasant feather crown. He is believed to be proficient in medical skills and often ascends to the mortal realm to heal people. He protects the land and wards off evil and disasters. He does not like to go out often, but due to his attention to appearance, people think that designing him enough beautiful outfit will increase the likelihood of him to come out.
  2. Jīn Lóng Tài Zǐ (金笼太子) - Also known as the Golden Dragon Prince, Jīn Lóng Tài Zǐ is the third son of Yù Huáng Dà Dì, the Great Heavenly Emperor, Zhāng Yǒurén (玉皇大帝大天尊张友仁). He wears a golden-scaled dragon robe and is crowned with a shining pearl and jade pheasant crown.
  3. Zhāng Dà Shì Zǐ (张大世子) - Wǔ Fú Dà Dì (五福大帝), Xiǎn Líng Gōng, Zhāng Yuán Bó (显灵公张元伯), eldest son. Known for his smile and fondness for cigars, he does not like to go out but dotes on his younger brother who enjoys going out. He wears a golden dragon robe and his head is adorned with a golden dragon and pheasant feather crown, no bangs. His personality is said to dote on his younger brother, who usually doesn't like to go out either but if his brother goes, he will too, or if people use cigars to convince him.
  4. Zhāng Èr Shì Zǐ (张二世子) - Second son of Wǔ Fú Dà Dì (五福大帝), Xiǎn Líng Gōng, Zhāng Yuán Bó (显灵公张元伯). Wears a golden dragon robe and a golden crown, with his hair middle-parted and side bangs. Described as having a lively personality. His personality is the liveliest among the other four deities, so people don’t even have to prepare or give anything, they think that even before they finish asking the question of whether he wanna go out, he will be ready and eager to go.
  5. Huá Guāng Shì Zǐ (华光世子) - Son of Wǔ Xiǎn Dà Dì, Mǎ Língyào (五显大帝马王爷马灵耀), grandson of Fú Xī (伏羲). Wears a black golden dragon armor with a red dragon robe underneath and a golden dragon crown. Legend has it that he can travel between space and control time to bring protection and peace. He has three eyes, with one in the middle of his temple. Based on what's online, he likes QQ candies, either for himself or to share with others. So people will tie the candies to his belt during the parade. 

They are the five generals that meet each other during the Taizong period, and brought toegtehr by their aspirations, they form brotherhood. 

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade


Female Generals

For female generals, they are either called jùn zhǔ (郡主), or shào niáng (少娘).

  1. Yǔ Huā Shào Niáng (雨花少娘) - Wears a white robe with cloth tassels at the back of her hair. Her role is to ensure a bountiful harvest.
  2. Fēng Huā Shào Niáng (风花少娘) - Adorned in a blue robe with a decorative forehead piece, she is tasked with ensuring safe travels.
  3. Shèng Huì Shào Niáng (胜会少娘) - Cloaked in red, she embodies both gentleness and feminine sternness and is believed to bless victories in competitions.
  4. Wǔ Líng Gōng Zhǎng Jùn Zhǔ (五灵公长郡主) - Adorned with a full head of golden accessories, she symbolizes prosperity and protection.

There are additional deities such as the Scholar Deity (文状元, wén zhuàngyuán), Prince Guan Ping (关平世子, guān píng shìzǐ), General Lyon Hua (银花将军, yín huā jiāngjūn), and Great Emperor Huaguang (武财神, wǔ cái shén), (华光大帝, huáguāng dàdì), etc. If you are interested, you'll need to conduct a more in-depth search on these deities beyond the ones I introduced.


Final Word

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy online regarding the characteristics of You Shen. Some information has been distorted by marketing channels, and there are misinformations about specific aspects of the parade, such as the use of moon block and the requirement of a boy's pure body to hold the incense. Every few days, a video pops up correcting some part of the parade information that has been widely spread across the internet.

The moon block is used to ask the deity if they are willing to come out for the parade or not and to take them back to the temple. However, there is also a saying that moon blocks is needed to find the chosen person to wear the deity costume for the parade, while some claim it is unnecessary. Someone who worked with the parade organization mentioned that if you work within the group for customer wearing, you do not need to use it to ask for permission.

There's also a debate about the purity of the incense holder's body. Some insist it's crucial, while others say it's unnecessary. Online sources suggest that the incense holder needs to be a boy with a "pure" body, meaning they do not have a relationship and are still a teenager. However, a recent channel suggested that those holding the incense burner do not have such requirements. To enhance the parade, burning paper money and creating smoke around the chosen person wearing the costume is considered a ritual to "clean" oneself.

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade

Initially, it was believed that the deity known for liking QQ candy was 8 years old. Later, one of the hosts clarified that the deity's years are different from those in the mortal realm. While they might be viewed as 8 years old in the mortal realm, in their god and goddess world, human 8 years might mean their 800 or 8000 years. Another group of people argued that the deity figure is not 8 years old, without specifying the exact age, stating it is misinformation and that this deity figure has childish characteristics and likes QQ candies purely to share luck with the audience.

Some hosts of the parade claim that, being the "host," they can feel and think as the deity they invited. There is discriminatory treatment between host family members or group "sisters" who can freely touch the deity figure's face, while others cannot. Believers think that touching the deity's face can disperse to the god, while the hosts argue that they have the authority since they "invited" the deity to their house. Thus, what was supposed to be a celebration of cultural tradition slowly develops into something that aims to grab an audience and earn more money.

Some argue that there is misinformation, and the marketing changes focus more on money and audience than on respecting Fujian's original tradition and culture. Even some Fujian people's lives are being guided off course by the online information. Regardless, I wrote this mainly because I find this to be an interesting tradition of my culture that I do not fully understand until now. Since I am not there in person and can only understand more about the You Shen Parade through online media, there can be lots of misinformation. Perhaps in a few more days, there will be more accounts or channels popping up, stating that some other information is misleading for the audience. Still, I hope you find this article and a little understanding of Chinese regional culture interesting.

You Shen: Immersing in the Rich Cultural Heritage of Fujian's Deity Parade

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