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@ Thni Kong Tnua @ Thnee Kong Tnua, Air Itam, Penang

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The Jade Emperor's Pavilion, also called Thni Kong Tnua, is a Taoist temple at the foot of Penang Hill in Air Itam, Penang. It is located to the right of the Penang Hill Railway Station.

As the name suggests, the Jade Emperor's Pavilion is dedicated to the worship of the Jade Emperor, or Thni Kong. The term Thni Kong means Heavenly Grandfather, and is the common title for the Huang Shangdi, or Pure August Emperor of Jade. This is the most important deity in the Chinese Taoist pantheon, and is regarded as the ruler of heaven. The worship of the Jade Emperor is traced to as early as the 9th century AD, when he was the patron deity of the imperial family.

Jade Emperor's Pavilion, Air Itam, Penang.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

As with most Taoist deities, the origin of the Jade Emperor is shrouded in mythology. He is said to have been born a crown price of one "kingdom of pure felicity". Upon the death of his father, he ascended the throne. He underwent 1750 trials, each taking 120,976 years, after which he attained Golden Immortality. After another one hundred million years, he finally became the Jade Emperor.

According to Taoist myth, it was the Jade Emperor who created men. He fashion men out of clay, and left them to harden in the sun. However, it rained, causing the men to deform, and thus introducing the origin of sickness and physical abnormalities. This is just one of the many stories featuring the Jade Emperor that are popular in China, and with Chinese practising Taoism.

Workman putting finishing touches to the Jade Emperor's Pavilion.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

A number of beliefs that are commonplace among the Chinese can be traced to the Jade Emperor. One of them was the Chinese zodiac. In this story, the busy Jade Emperor summoned all the animals on earth to pay him a visit, because he has never visited earth personally, and has not seen how animals look like. The cat asked the rat to wake him on the day of the visit. However, the rat was worried that he would compare unfavourably to the cat, so on the day of the visit, he did not wake the cat.

As a result, the cat missed the chance to meet the Jade Emperor, and his place was taken over by the pig. The Jade Emperor was delighted to meet all the animals, and hence he named the years with each of them. The cat was furious when he learned that he missed out, and from that day, the cat and the rat were enemies.

The Thni Kong Tnua or Jade Emperor's Pavilion in Air Itam is one of those rare temples dedicated to the worship of this august deity. The temple in its present form dates back to 1905. It was built by the same Cantonese-Hokkien temple trustees as the Kong Hock Keong, better known as Kuan Yin Teng. A Taoist shrine is said to have existed on that particular site since 1869, and for that reason, the present Jade Emperor's Pavilion is regarded as being over 140 years old.

The outer pavilion of the temple houses three Buddha images.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

The Jade Emperor's Pavilion sits on a horse-shoe knoll called Fong San, or Phoenix Mountain, a particularly auspicious position, for it represents the four sacred creatures of Taoism: green dragon, white tiger, black turtle and red peacock, each guarding the temple in four cardinal directions.

The Thni Kong Tnua is unique in that it is a Taoist temple managed by Buddhist monks. One of the more imminent was Abbot Jing Ming, a Mahayanist Buddhist monk who also taught Zen Buddism. He was the abbot of Thni Kong Tnua from 1905 to 1915.

The Thni Kong Tnua underwent extensive renovation and restoration which began in January 2002. As the craftmanship is not available locally, artisans from China had to be employed. They include 33 craftsmen from Fuzhou. The people involved in the restoration is also the ones who worked on the award-winning Thian Hock Keng Temple in Singapore. The restoration of the Thian Hock Keng Temple received an award from Unesco for cultural heritage conservation.

A fierce-looking door god guards against spiritual intruders.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

The Jade Emperor's Pavilion is particularly busy on 8th night of Chinese New Year, because it is thronged by devotees coming to celebrate the Jade Emperor's birthday. As I am neither Buddhist nor Taoist, I document the Thni Kong Tnua for AsiaExplorers and Penang Travel Tips for its heritage and cultural value.

Associated Site

A line of Chinese mythological personalities.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

The Jade Emperor in the inner sanctuary.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

Ornate ceiling in the inner sanctuary.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

Ornamental element on the roof eaves are called sculptured swallows with long tails, and are of Hock Chew architectural style.
© Timothy Tye using this photo

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