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Imperial Titles
Granted to Māzǔ 媽祖

There is often little evidence to go on when trying to investigate the rise and spread of the cult of a particular Chinese deity. It is common for a divinity to attract very local adherents before more distant ones, of course; and one assumes that imperial recognition (in the form of officially granted titles) comes only after a cult has become either geographically widespread or locally important, so that the government is better advised to recognize and coopt it than to ignore or suppress it.

It appears, however, that once an imperial title has granted, in a sense legitimizing a cult, further expansion of the cult can bring further titles, while a cult which does not expand presumably acquires fewer if any additional titles. All sorts of things can interfere, of course, not least the special devotion of a well placed palace courtier (or courtesan or eunuch), or an emperor who is convinced that he has been the beneficiary of divine intervention.

Still, in the absence of better evidence, the progression of imperial titles can sometimes suggest that a cult is expanding or slowing down in a particular period, or that its followers are becoming more or less influential.

As titles pile up and become ever more grandiloquent, they reach a point of absurdity and the imperial household decides to clean house, and suddenly there is a jump to a simpler (but often higher) title.

In the case of Māzǔ, we see the earliest (known) imperial title in 1155, a little short of 200 years after her death. We must assume a small cult, perhaps limited initially her home on Méizhōu Island 湄洲, followed by its reasonably rapid expansion to adjacent coastal areas, until she becomes, by the Southern Sòng period (period 15c) too important to ignore. The following is a list of her titles, beginning with 1155, when the crown makes her the “Lady of Divine Blessings.” Gradually she progresses from “Lady” (1155) through “Consort” (1190) to “Empress” (1681). (In English translations, she is usually called “queen” rather than “empress.”)

The English translations of the Chinese titles are almost necessarily implausible, since such titles are not used in English, but they at least convey something of the growing esteem in which she is held.


960-1127 Northern Sòng 北宋 Dynasty
(Period 15b)

960-987 Probable dates for Māzǔ’s life. No national recognition of her cult.

1127-1279 Southern Sòng 南宋 Dynasty
(Period 15c)

The “ Lady” (Fūrén 夫人) Period

1155 崇福夫人 “chóngfú fūrén”

= Lady of Divine Blessings

1156 靈惠夫人 “línghuì fūrén”

= Lady of Numinous Grace

1157 靈惠昭應夫人 “línghuì zhāoyìng fūrén”

= Lady of Numinous Grace & Glorious Response

1166 靈惠昭應崇福夫人 “línghuì zhāoyìng chóngfú fūrén”

= Lady of Numinous Grace, of Glorious Response, & of Divine Blessings

1183 靈惠昭應崇福善利夫人 “línghuì zhāoyìng chóngfú shànlì fūrén”

= Lady of Numinous Grace, of Glorious Response, of Divine Blessings, & of Virtuous Benefit

The “Consort” (Fēi ) Period

1190 靈惠妃 “línghuì fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace

1198 靈惠助順妃 “línghuì zhùshùn fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace & Who Assists Efficacy

1205 靈惠助順顯衛妃 “línghuì zhùshùn xiǎnwèi fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Assists Efficacy, & Manifest Guardian

1217 靈惠助順顯衛英烈妃 “línghuì zhùshùn xiǎnwèi yīngliè fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Assists Efficacy, Manifest Guardian, & of Noble Ardor

1225 靈惠護國助順協正嘉應英烈妃
“línghuì hùguó zhùshùn xiézhèng jiāyìng yīngliè fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Protects the Nation, Who Assists Efficacy, Who Aids Orthodoxy, of Auspicious Reply, & of Noble Ardor

1241 靈惠護國助順協正嘉應善慶妃
“línghuì hùguó zhù hùn xiézhèng jiāyìng shànqìng fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Protects the Nation, Who Assists Efficacy, Who Aids Orthodoxy, of Auspicious Reply, & of Felicitous Celebration

1253 靈惠助順嘉應英烈協正妃
“línghuì zhùshùn jiāyìng yīngliè xiézhèng fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Assists Efficacy, of Auspicious Reply, of Noble Ardor, Who Aids Orthodoxy

1255 靈惠助順嘉應慈濟妃
“línghuì zhùshùn jiāyìng cíjì fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Assists Efficacy, of Auspicious Reply, & of Compassionate Salvation

1259 靈惠護國助順協正嘉應佐濟妃
“línghuì hùguó zhùshùn xiézhèng jiāyìng zuǒjì fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Protects the Nation, Who Assists Efficacy, Who Aids Orthodoxy, of Auspicious Reply & Assisting Salvation

1259 顯濟妃 “xiǎnjì fēi”

= Consort Who Manifests Salvation

1262 靈惠顯濟嘉應善慶妃 “línghuì xiǎnjì jiāyìng shànqìng fēi”

= Consort of Numinous Grace, Who Manifests Salvation, of Auspicious Reply, & of Felicitous Celebration

1271-1368 Yuán (Mongol) Dynasty (Period 19)

The “ Celestial Consort” (Tiānfēi 天妃) Period

1278 (Shift to Tiānfēi 天妃 “Celestial Consort” title at command of Kublai Khan)

1278 護國明著靈惠協正善慶顯濟天妃
“hùguó míngzháo línghuì xiézhèng shànqìng xiǎnjì Tiānfēi”

= Celestial Consort Who Protects the Nation, of Illustrious Manifestation, of Numinous Grace, Who Aids Orthodoxy, of Felicitous Celebration, & Who Manifests Salvation

1289 護國顯佑明著天妃 “hùguó xiǎnyòu míngzháo Tiānfēi”

= Celestial Consort Who Protects the Nation, Who Manifests Assistance, & of Illustrious Manifestation

1299 輔聖庇民明著天妃 “fǔshèng bìmín míngzháo Tiānfēi”

= Celestial Consort Who Upholds the Holy, Who Safeguards the People, & of Illustrious Manifestation

1314 護國庇民廣濟明著天妃 “hùguó bìmín guǎngjì míngzháo Tiānfēi”

= Celestial Consort Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Far-reaching Salvation, & of Illustrious Manifestation

1330 護國輔聖庇民顯佑廣濟靈感助順福惠徽烈明著天妃
“hùguó fǔshèng bìmín xiǎnyòu guǎngjì línggǎn zhùshùn fúhuì huīliè míngzháoTiānfēi”

= Celestial Consort Who Protects the Nation, Who Upholds the Holy, Who Safeguards the People, Who Manifests Assistance, of Far-reaching Salvation, of Numinous Influence, Who Assists Efficacy, of Blessed Grace, & of Illustrious Manifestation

1354 輔國護聖庇民廣濟福惠明著天妃 ·
“fǔguó hùshèng bìmín guǎngjì fúhuì míngzháo Tiānfēi”·

= Celestial Consort Who Upholds the Nation, Who Protects the Holy, Who Safeguards the People, of Far-reaching Salvation, of Blessed Grace, & of Illustrious Manifestation

1368-1644 Míng Dynasty (Period 20)

1372 昭孝純正孚濟感應聖妃
“zhāoxiào chúnzhèng fújì gǎnyìng Shèng Fēi”

= Holy Consort of Glorious Filiality, of Pure Orthodoxy, of Confident Salvation, & of Influential Reply

1409 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟天妃
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóng én pǔjì Tiānfēi”

= Celestial Consort Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Magnanimous Benevolence, & of Universal Salvation

1644-1911 Qīng Dynasty

1680 [identical with 1409]

1680 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟天妃
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóngrén pǔjì Tiānfēi”

= Celestial Consort Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Magnanimous Benevolence, & of Universal Salvation

1680 天上聖母 “Tiānshàng Shèngmǔ”

= Holy Mother in Heaven Above

The “Empress of Heaven” (Tiānhòu 天后) Period

1681 昭靈顯應仁慈天后 “zhāolíng xiǎnyìng réncí Tiānhòu”

= Queen of Heaven of Glorious Numinosity, Who Manifests Reply, & of Benevolent Compassion

1683 天后 “Tiānhòu”

= Queen of Heaven (legalized short title)

1737 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟福佑群生天后
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóngrén pǔjì fúyòu qúnshēng Tiānhòu”

= Queen of Heaven Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Universal Salvation, & of Blessed Protection of All Beings

1788 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟福佑群生誠感鹹孚顯神贊順天后
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóngrén pǔjì fúyòu qúnshēng chénggǎn xiánfú xiǎnshén zànshùnTiānhòu”

= Queen of Heaven Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Universal Salvation, & of Blessed Protection of All Beings, of Sincere Feeling, of All Confidence, Who Manifests Divinity, Who Promotes Efficacy

1800 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟福佑群生誠感鹹孚顯神贊順垂慈篤佑天后
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóngrén pǔjì fúyòu qúnshēng chénggǎn xiánfú xiǎn shén zàn shùn chuí cí dǔ yòu Tiānhòu”

= Queen of Heaven Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Universal Salvation, & of Blessed Protection of All Beings, of Sincere Feeling, of All Confidence, Who Manifests Divinity, Who Promotes Efficacy, of Gracious Compassion, of Sincere Protection

1826 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟福佑群生誠感鹹孚顯神贊順垂慈篤祐安瀾利運天后
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóngrén pǔjì fúyòu qúnshēng chénggǎn xiánfú xiǎnshén zànshùn chuící dǔyòu ānlán lìyùnTiānhòu”

= Queen of Heaven Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Universal Salvation, of Blessed Protection of All Beings, of Sincere Feeling, of All Confidence, Who Manifests Divinity, Who Promotes Efficacy, of Gracious Compassion, of Sincere Protection, Who Pacifies the Waves, of Profitable Transport

1839 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟福佑群生誠感成孚顯神贊順垂慈篤佑安瀾利運澤潭海宇天后
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóngrén pǔjì fúyòu qúnshēng chénggǎn chéngfú xiǎnshén zànshùn chuící dǔyòu ānlán lìyùn zétán hǎiyǔ Tiānhòu”

= Queen of Heaven Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Universal Salvation, of Blessed Protection of All Beings, of Sincere Feeling, of All Confidence, Who Manifests Divinity, Who Promotes Efficacy, of Gracious Compassion, of Sincere Protection, Who Pacifies the Waves, of Profitable Transport, of Swamps & Pools, & of Sea & Heaven

1848 恬波宣惠
“Tiánbō Xuānhuì”

= of Tranquil Waves & Who Proclaims Grace (legalized short title)

1851-1861 護國庇民妙靈昭應宏仁普濟福佑群生誠感威孚顯神贊順垂慈篤佑安瀾利運澤潭海宇恬波宣惠導流衍慶靖洋錫祉恩周德普衛漕保泰振武綏强天后之神
“hùguó bìmín miàolíng zhāoyìng hóngrén pǔjì fúyòu qúnshēng chénggǎn wēifú xiǎnshén zànshùn chuící dǔyòu ānlán lìyùn zétán hǎiyǔ tiánbō xuānhuì dǎoliú yǎnqìng jìngyáng xīzhǐ ēnzhōu dépǔ wèicáo bǎotài zhènwǔ suíqiáng Tiānhòu zhī shén”

= Queen of Heaven Who Protects the Nation, Who Safeguards the People, of Wondrous Numinosity, of Glorious Reply, of Universal Salvation, of Blessed Protection of All Beings, of Sincere Feeling, of All Confidence, Who Manifests Divinity, Who Promotes Efficacy, of Gracious Compassion, of Sincere Protection, Who Pacifies the Waves, of Profitable Transport, of Swamps, of Pools, of Sea & Heaven, of Tranquil Waves, Who Proclaims Grace, Who Guides Watercourses, of Abundant Celebration, of Still Oceans, Who Grants Blessings, Who Shows Favor & Assistance, of Virtuous Universality, Who Guards the Grand Canal, Who Protects Prosperity, Who Inspires Soldiers, & Who Pacifies the Frontier

1872 Members of the Bureau of Rites (Jīng-Lǐ Bù 經禮部) began to complain that titles were becoming too long, but nevertheless added two more characters: 嘉佑 “jiāyòu” = of Auspicious Protection

Republic of China (Period 21)

The Holy Mother (Shèngmǔ 聖母) Period

1912-now 天上聖母 “Tiānshàng Shèngmǔ”

= Holy Mother in Heaven Above

In Hokkien-speaking areas the usual colloquial name is Māzŭ 媽祖 (literally “motherly ancestor,” but closer to “grandmother” in Hokkien). In Cantonese speaking areas, the usual term, both formally and spoken is Tiānhòu 天后, “Queen of Heaven.” That title is also the most common in names of temples.

Source

Although I am responsible for the English renderings, the dates and Chinese titles in this list were taken from:

DÙ Róngzhé 杜榮哲
1984 Lùn “Dàjiǎ Māzǔ de xúnlǐ yùndòng” duì xìntú shēnxué de qǐshì. 論 「大甲媽祖的巡禮運動」 對信徒身學的啟示。 (On the pilgrimage activity of the Māzŭ of Dàjiă as a revelation of believers’ theology.) In DǑNG Fāngyuàn 董芳苑 (ed.) Táiwān mínjiān zōngjiào xìnyǎng. 台灣民間宗教信仰。 (Popular religious belief in Taiwan.) Taipei: 長青文化公司. Pp.339-343.


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