Also popularly known as ‘Lords of the Three Realms’, Three Great Emperor Officials are referred to as Heaven Official, Earth Official and Water Official. According to popular belief, three officials are in charge of different matters: Heaven Official bestows blessings; Earth Official pardons sins; Water Official eliminates distress. It is said that Three Great Emperor Officials were originated from Song Jing-Lian’s postscripts. Subsequently, Zhang Xiu’s Taiping Dao and Way of the Five Pecks of Rice by Zhang Dao-Ling also referred to the Heaven, Earth, and Water as three Officials, or San Yuan. Three officials are gods commanding Heaven, Earth, and Water. Originally, they derived from people’s worship for nature. After they were personified, the people worshipped them as spirits. In folk culture, Three Great Emperor Officials are called San Jie Gong, San Jie Ye; in China, they are called San Guan Lao Ye.

  •   The full name of the Heaven Official is ‘Great Emperor of Purple Temerity who is the Upper Primordial First-Rank Heaven Official that bestows blessings’; he belongs to Jade Clarity Realm. Composed of green, yellow, and white Vital Breaths, Heaven Official is in charges of the emperors of all heavens. On the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, he descends to the human world and inspects and decides the sins and blessings of men, which is called ‘Heaven Official Who Confers Blessings’. The full name of Earth Official is ‘Great Emperor of Pristine Emptiness who is the Middle Primordial Second-Rank Earth Official that pardons sins’. Belonging to Highest Clarity Realm, Earth Official is a condensation of Numinous Vital Breath of Original Grotto of Chaos and of Essence of Extreme Yellow, who is in charge of Five Emperors of Five Sacred Mountains and of Earth Immortals of all places. Every fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, he comes to the human world, inspects the sins of men and absolves them. As for Water Official, his full name is ‘Great Emperor of Pervasive Yin who is the Lower Primordial Third-Rank Official that eliminates distress’. As a condensation of Vital Breath of Winds and Lakes and of Essence of the Dawn of Greatness, Water Official is in charge of the immortals residing in water, belonging to Jade Clarity Realm. On the fifteenth day of the tenth lunar month, he comes to the human world to inspect sins and good fortune, and eliminates the misfortunes of men.

      Heaven Official bestows blessings, Earth Official pardons sins and Water Official eliminates distress. They are closely related with one’s fortune; hence, they are widely worshipped. In folk culture, the worshipping of Three Great Emperor Officials is connected with the ‘way of training for San Yuan Mou Chao’ for the ancestors of Taoism. Because of the birth of Taoism, Taoists have started worshipping Three Great Emperor Officials. However, at the beginning, there were no specific shrines or idols. They only worshipped them with hanging censers in each temple. Since Northern Wei dynasty, Taoists started worshipping Three Great Emperor Officials during San Yuan Festival. When Celestial Master elaborated Taoism, he suggested the idea of sinking in Handwritten Repentances to the Three Great Emperor Officials: one was placed on the top of the mountain to offer to heaven, one was buried into the earth, and one was sunken into water. In the Southern and Northern dynasties, Three Officials were combined with the Spirits of the Three Origins (higher, middle and lower). The vegetarian method of Taoism, Three Yuan Vegetarian, also kept the three days for vegetarian because Three Officials descended on the three days respectively to inspect and decide the sins and blessings of men.