Marshal Wen began as a popular deity worshiped in the southern coastal areas
of Zhejiang province. As Zhejiang is a hot, humid region in southern China
known for its frequent plagues and epidemics, it is no surprise that Marshal
Wen was primarily known as a god who fought against plague demons. Legend
has it that his terrifying appearance --blue face and bright red lips and
hair -- resulted from a selfless act. He once drank enough poison to kill
a whole community so that it would not be poured into the communal well.
Although the cult around Marshal Wen began as a small-scale, regional movement,
it eventually spread along the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces
and also to Sichuan. He gained status as a national deity of the orthodox
Taoist pantheon, but his following never really expanded beyond these areas.
He is still worshiped in southern coastal regions today, especially in Taiwan.
Several factors aided the spread of Marshal Wen's cult, the most important
being that the merchants from coastal Zhejiang looked to him as a protector
spirit, thereby spreading his worship along trade routes. He was also worshiped
by scholars and Taoist priests, both of whom had an impact on the development
of his cult.