The Joss House

The Joss House featured an extensive Daoist-Buddhist shrine with statues of Guandi, Guanyin, and other deities, as well as the baskets and fortune-telling sticks shown here.  Fair goers’ accounts make it clear that the shrine was a real place of worship even though it was built and operated for tourists.

These baskets and fortune sticks were in the Chinese “Joss House” [temple] at the Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE) of 1893.  They were sold to the Field Museum in 1894 by the Chicago-based merchant Hong Sling, manager for the Wah Mee Exposition Co, the group that built the Chinese theater/temple.

As far as we know, the pieces shown here and at he bottom of this page are the only surviving Chinese objects from the WCE. All are now in the collection of the Field Museum (FM Accession 124).  (Photos by and courtesy of Ben Bronson)

Note: The word “joss” was a Pidgin English word meaning “deity.”  It came from the Portuguese term for god, “deus,” and was often used by Westerners and westernized Chinese in connection with Chinese religion.  “Joss sticks” were incense sticks; “joss paper” included sacrificial paper money, paper funerary goods, printed paper charms, etc; and “joss house” meant any kind of traditional Buddhist or Daoist (Taoist) temple.   Older Chinese temples on the West Coast and Australia still are called joss houses in tourist publications.