Three Stars in Rural Kaohsiung

The rooftop at Qinghe Temple 清和宮 in Alian
The Three Stars on the rooftop of Alian’s Qinghe Temple.

Pictured here is the rooftop of Qīnghé Temple 清和宮 in central Ālián 阿蓮, Kaohsiung 高雄, which supposedly dates back to 1665, though a major reconstruction took place in 1982. I shot this photograph while riding back from the badlands of southern Taiwan years ago but only recently learned the meaning of these ubiquitous figurines. These are the Three Stars 三星 of Chinese folk religion, commonly known by their combined name Fúlùshòu 福祿壽, and they appear here in the traditional right-to-left orientation. Fú 福, holding a child on the right, is the avatar of Jupiter and the personification of good fortune. Lù 祿星, commonly depicted as a mandarin, represents imperial rank or status, and appears in the night sky as the star Mizar in the Big Dipper. Finally, Shòu 壽 is the god of longevity, easily recognized by his high, domed forehead, friendly demeanor, elderly appearance, and (in this case) gnarled walking stick. Also known as the Old Man of the South Pole, his is the southern star, Canopus. Together these deities represent the culturally Chinese conception of the good life: prosperous, high-ranking, and long-lived. Once you go looking for them you’ll find them all over the place in Taiwan.

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