Three Great Emperor-Officials
Painting of the Three Great Emperor-Officials in the White Cloud Temple of Beijing
Literal meaningThree Great Emperor-Officials

The Three Great Emperor-Officials (Chinese: 三官大帝; pinyin: sānguān dàdì), Sanguan,[1] or the Three Officials[1] are three of the highest shen in some branches of religious Taoism, and subordinate only to the Jade Emperor (玉帝 yùdì). The Three Great Emperor-Officials are the Heavenly Official (天官 tiānguān), the Earthly Official (地官 dìguān) and the Water Official (水官 shuǐguān). They administer all phenomena in the three spheres,[citation needed] and were thought to be able to take away sin.

Chinese playwrights popularized the worship of these gods by including a skit before plays with shared themes between each performance called The Official of Heaven Brings Happiness.[1]

They have been worshipped since the second century CE.[2][1]

Full titles

  • The Heavenly Official, full title: the Heavenly Official of Higher Origin and First-Rank Who Bestows Blessings (上元一品賜福天官, shàngyuán yīpǐn cìfú tiānguān), also known as the Great Emperor of Middle Heaven North Star (紫微大帝, zǐwēi dàdì).
  • The Earthly Official, full title: the Earthly Official of Middle Origin and Second-Rank Who Absolve Sins (中元二品赦罪地官, zhōngyuán èrpǐn shèzuì dìguān), also known as the Great Emperor of Pristine Emptiness (清虛大帝, qīnɡxū dàdì).
  • The Water Official, full title: the Water Official of Lower Origin and Third-Rank Who Eliminate Misfortunes (下元三品解厄水官, xiàyuán sānpǐn jiě è shuǐguān), also known as the Great Emperor of Pervasive Yin (洞陰大帝, dòngyīn dàdì)[3]


Tiānguān was thought to have power over Tiān or heaven and grant happiness to believers.[1]


Dìguān was the official of earth who took away sin in popular belief,[1][4] although all the Sanguan were thought to be able to pardon sin to some extent, especially with their powers combined.[1][2]


Shuǐguān was the ruler of the ocean in some Taoist belief systems,[1][2] and in others, he shared the same position as the Dragon King[2] or did not exist.[citation needed] He was often held to "avert misfortune".[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Sanguan". Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010-02-03. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  2. ^ a b c d Adler, Joseph A. "The Three Officials". Kenyon College. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  3. ^ 《道法會元》
  4. ^ "The Three Officials". Roots. National Heritage Board. Retrieved 2023-04-30.