Worship of Wen Gon

Ancient history first noticed Wen Gon as the water carrier who saved the life of General Jo during a battle in 1020 BCE in a rice paddy near present-day Handan. * Almost two-hundred years later he was the owner of a shop selling rice wine and sticky rice in Zhou, present-day Jining, where he was fined for tax avoidance. In response he gave to the poor everything he owned. Generally, his name was Wen Gon but several variants were noted, including Wan Ton, Ten Men, Hou Won, and Won Tou. * Around 666 BCE, Wen Gon was a tax collector who refused to collect rice from farmers who were doing poorly near Gusu, now Suzhou. * At 500 BCE, he became known as a rice exporter who was accused of unfair competition because he overpaid farmers near Ningbo. * 300 BCE, he owned horses and used them for packing rice from Jinhua to Shangrao, but refused to pay the levy at Quzhou, upon which he forfeited his horses and became a Confucian monk taking refuge at a temple where the Tianning Temple was later built. * Wen Gon continued to show stubbornness toward city officials. As a Confucian monk, it seems, he was an organizer of the rice uprising in Quzhou in 125 BCE. * During the Xin period, Wen Gon sold rice to enemy armies and was banished from Chang’an. After this first thousand years scholars in the capital noticed a pattern, and took mention of this to empress Wang Zhengjun. Since Wen Gon had been banished, he could not be found for questioning. * In 201 CE, employed as a bureaucrat in charge of planning the storage of rice to be delivered to the provinces after natural disasters, Wen Gan lost his post because he was accused of involvement with Five-Pecks-of-Rice adherents. If his involvement were true, it shows that Wen Gon lacked a strong ideological commitment, since the Way of the Five Pecks of Rice was a Taoist movement. However, like them, he was committed to ending official decadence. * In 280 CE, Wen Gon was found in Huipu Town, present-day Taizhou. There he was described giving a rice cake to a hungry boy who later became a bodyguard of the emperor Wu in a poem that everyone had to memorize for official examinations. * By 375 AD, Wen Gon had become the owner of a shop making rice noodles in Wenzhou. After closing his shop each evening, they say he walked along the Qu River through the shanties built by people that had been pushed aside by Guo Pu. Over his shoulders, he bore a yoke on which he hung two pots of warm noodles, which he would give to street kids and prostitutes. * A shipping industry was established in Quanzhou, where Wen Gon was arrested for smuggling rice to support the Chen State before 590. Although he was arrested, he wasn’t punished since he slipped his chains on route to general Yang Su. This matter of slipping chains. As the stories about Wen Gon continued to be recorded, he began to accumulate interesting talents. In addition to being able to make money, his generosity is matched by his ability to escape punishment. * One story has him in Hong Kong about the year 700, where the story claims he was responsible for monthly shipments of rice balls to Empress Wu Zetian. The distance from Hong Kong to her palace in Chang’an would have taken a month to walk, so that a package of rice balls would always be in transit and they would never arrive fresh. These shipments were sent anonymously by third or fourth parties. As powerful as she was, Empress Wu was unable to trace the rice balls to Wen Gon. * Later, Wen Gon was credited with supplying all white rice for the city of Yougzhou, present-day Nanning. He lived near the city center above a pastry shop. During the worker protest of 850, Wen Gon withheld shipments of rice until the workers’ demands were met. It’s not clear whether city administrators realized that he was personally responsible for the absence of rice in the city. Each morning, he was seen with a large bag of lotus seed buns that he would give away on his way to work. * In Tuodong, present-day Kunming, records show that Wen Gon became associated with the preservation of minority Naxi, Dian, and Bai cultures. In 1050, officials put out a warrant for Wen Gon, but he could not be found. The Yunnan cuisine, including pineapple rice, guoqiao, a rice-noodle soup, and erkuai, a compressed rice cake, are still popular there. * After Tuodong, Wen Gon appeared in Zhaotong, an area of poverty on the western frontier of the areas controlled by the Jin dynasty. In 1200, he was presumably the unofficial mayor of Luoshagou, an agricultural valley in the south of the province. When the officials came to discuss taxes, Wen Gon was gone, but when they were absent, letters poured in from him complaining about the portion of the rice harvest that farmers were allowed to keep for themselves. * When the Ming dynasty came into power, Wen Gon was presumed to be in Chengdu, Sichuan. He was said to have been responsible for letters to the provincial governor to argue that rice farmers should be insured against flooding. Officials considered it foolish to attribute these letters to Wen Gon, but an investigation did not determine any other likely author. There was clearly, however, a widespread belief that Wen Gon cared about the people and was secretly working for their safety and comfort. * Poor people throughout the country were increasingly leaving the land and moving to the cities, bringing with them a belief in Wen Gon. Small groups would gather in homes and in temples and talk about how their own well-being was never guaranteed, but that Wen Gon cared about them. Taoist and Confucian monks started competing for the attention of these groups. By 1600 in Beijing, at least one temple has set up an altar with a polychrome statue of Wen Gon holding in his arms baskets of rice buns. Bowls of rice were arrayed about his feet.