…two representations of wealth….

Two contrasting representations of wealth.

In the biblical context, the followers of Mammon, the “god” (or demon) of wealth, only leads to enslavement, misery and downfall. In the Chinese context however, the god of wealth, Cai-Shen (财神) is highly venerated and worshipped by the common people.

So can money buy happiness? Is the path to spiritual enlightenment not conciliable with wealth accumulation or material gain? There is of course no one-size-fits all answer to this. It really depends on the context and varies on a case-by-case basis.

Money makes a big difference when you have a clear goal to pursue and it is used to empower youself and those around you. However, if your desire for wealth accumulation is driven by an obsession to have even more money, and it reaches a point whereby you think that there can never be enough, or when it brings you more grief and misery than good, or when you measure (and judge) someone’s success or worth, including your own, purely in monetary terms, then surely, you are a captive of Mammon.

There is no fixed sum to indicate when one has too much money but at the other end of the spectrum, one can talk about the abject poverty. I guess it is between hitting ground bottom and flying into the sky, or between zero and infinity.

It is interesting to note that whereas people refer to abject* poverty, I have not come across an equivalent to describe those who are miserable because they have too much money. We have heard of the Midas touch but it is reference to one’s great money-making ability. Everyone only focuses on the first half of the story when he had the golden touch, and ignore how miserable Midas felt; he eventually chose to give up this ability by washing his hands in the river of Pactolus but no one seems to remember or care about this bit of the story.

Maybe nobody believes that a rich person can actually experience the same level of despair like that of a poor person, that money would cushion any suffering he might feel: “He seems really miserable but with $400 million in his bank account, he can’t be that miserable…..”

Money is Everything. Money is Nothing.

[* Utterly hopeless, miserable, humiliating, or wretched]


“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24

Mammon 1884-5, George Frederic Watts (1817-1904)

Oil on canvas
support: 1829 x 1060 mm

Mammon, the god of money, is represented as a tyrant on a throne. He nurses money bags in his lap and two youths are crushed by his monstrous power. This is one of a series of paintings in which George Frederick Watts criticised modern commerce and its de-humanising effect on the nation. Watts subtitled the picture Dedicated to his Worshippers, as if inscribing a monument. He apparently had plans to commission a sculpture of Mammon for Hyde Park where he hoped the god’s followers ‘would be at least honest enough to bow the knee publicly to him’. (From the display caption July 2007)

For a full write up, click here.


Chinese Representation – God of Prosperity and Wealth (财神 / Cai-Shen)

Unlike the biblical representation, the Chinese representation of the God of Wealth is positive:

Cai Shen, also called (Wade-Giles romanization) Ts’ai Po Hsing Chün, the popular Chinese god (or gods) of wealth, widely believed to bestow on his devotees the riches carried about by his attendants. During the two-week New Year celebration, incense is burned in Ts’ai Shen’s temple (especially on the fifth day of the first lunar month), and friends joyously exchange the traditional New Year greeting “May you become rich” (“Kung hsi fa ts’ai”). (Source: Britannica Online)

There is an article in Xinhua net [财神的由来和分类 (in Chinese)] that discusses the origins and evolution of the imagery.

Note the evolution of the imagery. You will notice how the Chinese representation is turning into a Chinese cousin of Santa Claus.

Here you see a video of one in action:


~ by malecalicocat on April 29, 2008.

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