Guan Yu (AD 160-219), the much-admired general in the Three Kingdom Period (AD 220-280) also reverently known to Chinese as Guan Gong (Lord Guan). He was not the smartest military man of his time, but Guan Yu has a legacy of loyalty, integrity, mercy and bravery - as depicted in China's classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms - that has earned him deity status in Chinese traditional culture.
While Guan lacked the genius of his compatriot military adviser Zhuge Liang, whose name has become a synonym with wisdom, Guan Yu played a significant role serving the warlord Liu Bei in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220). The Kingdom of Shu (AD 221-263) was then established, with Liu Bei as the first emperor.
In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong centuries later, Guan is portrayed as a red-faced warrior with a long, lush beard. His weapon resembles a halberd and was said to weigh 41 kilograms. Together with Zhang Fei, Guan Yu joined Liu Bei and fought against the rebel forces in northern China. The three of them shared a brotherly relationship. Guan and Zhang followed Liu wherever he went, and protected him from danger. His martial skill in his later years was highly admired and lionized thereafter.
Thanks to the long-standing popularity of the novel, which was both read by the literate and presented orally to the general public on the street, he was gradually deified. Temples have been built around China to have his statues enshrined and worshiped.
There are more than 30,000 Guandi temples in about 30 countries and regions, with the one located in Guan Yu's hometown in Xiezhou Township, Yuncheng, being the oldest, the largest and the most famous. The temple, which was designated a national cultural heritage site in 1988, was built between the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-581) and Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). The temple complex includes the remains of Xiezhou Guandi Ancestral Temple, Changping Guandi Temple and Changping Guan Gong Ancestral Grave, are located in Guan's hometown in Yuncheng, Shanxi province.
Each year, the temple along with two others in the city play host to three important cultural activities in memory of Guan Gong, including the traditional temple fair on the eighth day of the fourth month according to Chinese lunar calendar (May 6 this year) and the celebration of Guandi's birthday on the 24th day of the sixth month (July 20 this year).
Nowadays, the ordinary people worship Guan, hoping he will bless them with a peaceful life. The soldiers worship Guan for making contributions to the nation. Further more, Guan is also revered by businessmen in Hong Kong, Macao and in Southeast Asia as an alternative god of wealth. He is perceived to bless the upright and protect them from the dishonest.