Hongjun Laozu is a Chinese deity known as the Ancestor of the Great Balance and the patriarch of the Three Pure Ones in Taoist mythology. Hongjun can also be translated to mean “primordial nature”. His honorific name is Hongyuan Laozu, with means “Great Primal Ancestor”. He is known as the ancestor of the transcendent and immortals. Hongyuan is a cosmological term for “the universe before the separation of heaven and earth” in Chinese creation myths.
Hongjun Laozu is well known in the myth of Chinese New Year. In one version of the story, each New Year the people of China suffered in fear because they were terrorized by Nian, the great beast. One year a monk named Hongjun Laozu came to a Chinese village. He asked a man why everyone looked so frightened and sad during this time of celebration. The man explained that they were afraid of Nian. The monk said that he would help by going to talk to Nian.
When Hongjun Laozu found Nian he asked him to stop eating and terrorizing the people of China. Nian just laughed and said that he was going to eat Hongjun Laozu. Hongjun Laozu replied, “Oh, but what will that prove? Eating me isn’t great! Would you dare to eat the poisonous snakes on the mountains?” Nian replied that eating snakes wasn’t difficult, then he went to the poisonous snakes and ate them to prove his point. Hongjun Laozu said, “At the back of the mountain there are many great beasts. Can you subdue them?” So Nian went to the back of the mountain and scared out all of the dangerous beasts.
Nian returned and again threatened to eat Hongjun Laozu. Hongjun Laozu said that he needed to take off his clothes so he would taste better. When he took off his clothes he revealed his red undergarments. Nian said, “Ah! A red undergarment! I dearly hate red; get out of my sight quickly.” Hongjun Laozu repled that he knew Nian was afraid of red. He then rode into town on top of Nian and told the villagers that they no longer needed to be afraid. He instructed the villagers to paste red on each of their doors to prevent Nian from causing further havoc. Nian remained subdued and became Hongjun Laozu’s regular mount.
In another version of the story, the villagers scare the monster away with fireworks, drums, and gongs. The monster is then killed and the villagers continue the tradition of making noise to drive away monsters each year.
There is also a version of the story in which the monster is pacified by offerings of food left at the door of each house.