Miao Shan

Miao Shan


Kwan Yin



Once upon a time, there was a king who had no children but desperately wanted them. Well, what he really wanted were sons. He petitioned the Lord of T’ai Shan, offering tremendous sacrifices. His petition was heard, and the king’s wife shortly had three babies, but they were girls. The king was terribly disappointed but was finally appeased by the thought that he would gain son-in-laws via his daughters’ marriages.

The eldest two were amenable, but the youngest, Miao Shan—the future Kwan Yin, Lady of Compassion—refused. She wished to lead a spiritual life in a convent, causing bitter conflicts with Dad. Miao Shan tried to compromise by offering to marry a doctor so she could help him relieve suffering. That wasn’t the kind of son-in-law Dad had in mind; he sought politically advantageous marriages.

Eventually he seemed to relent, sending Miao Shan to the Monastery of the White Sparrow, but it was a ploy. He gave instructions that she be treated so miserably that she would run home, give up her dreams, and beg to be married to her father’s choice. Miao Shan was ordered to wash, cook, and care for all five hundred nuns by herself, an impossible task. Then the miracles began:

• The Mother of the Great Bear sent a dragon to dig Miao Shan a well.

• A tiger brought wood for the fire.

• Birds gathered vegetables.

• The Spirit of the Hearth prepared all the meals.

Not impressed by these miracles, the king was enraged when he realized his plans had been foiled. He ordered the convent burnt down with all the nuns inside. Miao Shan quenched the fires with a fresh miracle. Enraged, the king ordered her beheaded. Even when the sword broke upon touching her neck, her father would not relent and recognize her holy nature. Finally, she was strangled to death.

She continued performing miracles after death. Miao Shan became the center of a tremendous cult in Western China. She received a peach of immortality from Hsi Wang Mu and joined the Chinese pantheon as a goddess of eternal patience, mercy, and compassion.

In approximately 1100 CE, an official named Chiang Chih Ch’i visiting the Hsiang Shan monastery was given a text, which purported to reveal Kwan Yin’s true identity: she was really Princess Miao Shan. Events associated with her earthly incarnation had occurred on the site where the monastery now stood. The monastery quickly became a major pilgrimage for Kwan Yin devotees.

This myth has an alternative ending: Following various spiritual post-death trials, Buddha appeared to Miao Shan and gave her a Peach of Immortality. She could have journeyed to Heaven but instead chose to stay on Earth for as long as there was one breath of human suffering, and thus Princess Miao Shan evolved into the Bodhisattva Kwan Yin.

Miao Shan, once the focus of a significant spiritual tradition, is now virtually entirely absorbed by Kwan Yin. Statues of Kwan Yin are used to represent Miao Shan (or vice versa.) Offerings and other pertinent information regarding veneration of Miao Shan are found in the entry for Kwan Yin.


A giant pearl of such luminosity that it serves Miao Shan as a night light; the pearl was a gift from the Dragon King for saving his son.


Bao Gu; Dragon Kings of the Sea; Hsi Wang Mu; Lady of the Beasts; Kwan Yin; Ma Zu; T’ai Shan, Lord


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.