The Chinese god of fortune 财神 has a name. Before we get to that, let me tell you a little story. During the period of the Warring States, there was a very talented Taoist scholar by the name of 范蠡 from the state of Chu 楚国. He was not only well versed in military strategies but also in state administration. Unfortunately for Fan Li, he had humble origins while the king of Chu was only interested in recruiting members from his own clan. Disappointed, Fan Li left home to serve the king of Yue 越 by the name of Gou Jian 勾践. Though Gou Jian was a wise ruler, he indulged in sensual pleasures and wasteful projects.
In 493 BC, the King of Wu 吴 Fu Chai 夫差 invaded Yue. Caught unprepared, Yue lost the battle. Gou Jian was captured and forced to serve as a slave in the kingdom of Wu for 3 years. To show his complete submission to Fu Cai, Gou Jian tasted his excrement to help physicians with the diagnosis of his ailments. Fu Chai was very satisfied that Gou Jian had no dignity and would never be a threat to him.
In 490 BC, Gou Jian returned to Yue where he changed his lifestyle completely to one of extreme austerity, commonly referred to nowadays as 卧薪尝胆。He wanted to build up his army, but Fan Li objected and believed that they ought to build up the state’s economy first. Under Fan Li’s administration, Yue grew prosperous. He then ordered a wall to be built across the border with Wu and continue to build an army and train soldiers without being observed. On several occasions, Gou Jian had wanted to invade Wu to take revenge but Fan Li objected. Gou Jian followed his advice.
In 482 BC, Fan Li decided that Yue was ready to invade Wu while Fu Chai was travelling and leaving the administration to his son. The tables were turned this time, but it was still a long siege that took nearly 10 years. Fu Chai committed suicide in 473 BC.
In 468 BC, Fan Li suddenly resigned from his post and handed over to his friend Wen Zhong 文仲. He then changed his name to 陶朱公 and travelled to Tai Lake 太湖 with his wife Xi Shi 西施. The couple made a living trading goods. He was rumoured to have a Midas touch. Every business he engaged in became very profitable. That was when he got the nickname 财神 .
Worried about his friend Wen Zhong, he wrote to him with the statement: “飞鸟尽，良弓藏；狡兔死，走狗烹”. It can’t be translated. Let me interpret: “When birds go extinct, the bow is discarded. When elusive rabbits go extinct, hunting dogs are cooked.” Fan Li was trying to hint to Wen Zhong that he quit his prestigious position in the imperial court with no regrets. When Gou Jian had no use for him anymore, he would only be seen as stealing his limelight. Wen Zhong did not quit. Not long after that, Gou Jian gave him a sword and asked him to kill himself with it.
Fan Li’s escape is an example of the last dirty trick in the 36 Dirty Tricks from Ancient China 走为上策. Wen Zhong didn’t know better. Living a blissful and prosperous life at Tai Lake, Fan Li also gave talks and lectures on Taoist philosophy. After he died, he was worshiped as a deity. This is the origin of 财神. Ironically, the people who worship him are often greedy folks who don’t know when they should apply 走为上策 .