Gathering: Fortune Sticks

Chinese fortune sticks, ca. 1850s. Courtesy of Temple of Kwan Tai.
Chinese fortune sticks, ca. 1850s. Courtesy of Temple of Kwan Tai.

These Chinese fortune sticks are among the original objects from Temple of Kwan Tai. The Temple was built by Chinese settlers who arrived in Mendocino, California by sampan in the early 1850s. The Taoist temple is one of the six original Taoist temples left in California. Analysis of original building materials dated the Temple to 1854. A room for a full-time priest was added in the 1870s. It should be noted that prior to the early 1940s, no white person was allowed to enter the temple.

A table near the entrance to the worship room holds prayer papers for burning and dishes to place food and drink to be blessed. The middle altar holds metal boxes for burning incense. A dragon adorns a large stand with silver candle holders on each side.

Above the back altar is a portrait of Kwan Tai, protector and advisor. On each side are 3 sets of fortune sticks and blocks. Painted boards name Kwan Tai and provide dates of his birth and death. Dishes on the altar are filled with food and drink to give the god and the ancestors substance up in the heavens. Left of the altar the celestial army is represented by five flags. A wooden box that is wrapped and housed in a stand is used for blessing the deceased.

Board and paper plaques along the walls display poetry and the names of those who donated the items.

This object was featured in the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)'s exhibit, "Gathering: Collecting and Documenting Chinese American History," October 17, 2019 - March 22, 2020.


Place(s): Mendocino, CA
Year: 1854

– The Temple of Kwan Tai

Relationship:  unknown unknown