Hand gestures mean different things in different cultures. For example, sticking out a pinkie and a thumb means “six” in China. In the USA, it’s a thing surfers used to do instead of saying “cool.” Los Angeles gang signs are a topic I just want to skip completely. Yet, this was something I was forced to consider recently when visiting Taoist Temples in Changzhou.
Specifically, I was at Bailong Monastery 白龙观 in Wujin’s eastern arm. Once you walk through the front door, you see a golden figure with a sword raised. He has quite a scowl on his face, and he also holding up his middle finger. Back in Jersey and the USA, that would definitely be considered rude. The middle finger essentially means “Fuck you.” It’s a hell of a thing to be greeted with once you walk through the door. I later learned the statue is of a god named Wei Tuo 韦陀. So, was he telling me to fuck off? While threatening to hit me?
Um, no. Again, hand gestures can mean several things in several different cultures. Especially in Asian religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Hand signs are sometimes referred to as mudras, and they are meant to be meaningful sources of magical power. It’s why you see people use them in meditation. So, Wei Tuo’s middle finger is not meant to be rude. I think.
However, it’s a bit murky — especially once you do research into who Wei Tuo actually is. This is where it gets a little confusing for me. When I search his name, he often comes up as a Buddhist topic and not necessarily a Taoist one. Yet, there is a lot of bleed over between the religions. It’s sort of similar when you consider Christianity, Judaism, and Islam: three religions sharing the same set of angels. Taoism and Chinese Buddhism share a lot of the same gods.
As for Wei Tuo, he is often considered the guardian of teaching. In some legends, he’s the bodyguard to Guanyin, a goddess of mercy. In this regard, it makes sense that he is the first thing you see once you enter a temple or monastery. He is there to protect the place and keep out ghosts, demons, and unclean spirits. In this regard, you can read the western meaning of the middle finger into this. If you are a monster with ill intent, and you’re trying to enter Bailong Monastery, Wei Tuo will definitely tell you to fuck off.