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Ancient Chinese Tiger Bone

Ancient Chinese Tiger Bone

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Chinese archery

For millennia, Chinese archery (simplified Chinese: 中华射艺 traditional Chinese: 中華射藝 pinyin: zhōnghuá shè yì , the art of Chinese archery) has played a pivotal role in Chinese society. [1] In particular, archery featured prominently in ancient Chinese culture and philosophy: archery was one of the Six Noble Arts of the Zhou dynasty (1146–256 BCE) archery skill was a virtue for Chinese emperors Confucius [2] himself was an archery teacher and Lie Zi (a Daoist philosopher) was an avid archer. [3] [4] Because the cultures associated with Chinese society spanned a wide geography and time range, the techniques and equipment associated with Chinese archery are diverse. [5] The improvement of firearms and other circumstances of 20th century China led to the demise of archery as a military and ritual practice, and for much of the 20th century only one traditional bow and arrow workshop remained. [6] However, at the beginning of the 21st century, there has been a revival in interest among craftsmen looking to construct bows and arrows, as well as a practice technique in the traditional Chinese style. [7] [8]

The practice of Chinese archery can be referred to as The Way of Archery (Chinese: 射道 pinyin: shè dào ), a term derived from the 17th century Ming Dynasty archery manuals written by Gao Ying (simplified Chinese: 高颖 traditional Chinese: 高穎 pinyin: gāo yǐng , born 1570, died ?). [9] The use of 道 (pinyin: dào , the way) can also be seen in names commonly used for other East Asian styles, such as Japanese (kyūdō) and Korean (Gungdo) styles of archery.

World's Oldest Tiger Species Discovered

The oldest extinct species of tiger known yet has been discovered in China, scientists say.

Although the skull of the more than 2-million-year-old fossil is smaller than most modern tigers, it appears very similar in shape, researchers added.

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is one of the largest living cats, a giant predator native to Asia reaching up to 13 feet (4 meters) in length, including its tail, and weighing up to 660 pounds (300 kilograms). The beast's origins are under intense debate, with suggestions it arose in north-central China, southern China or northern Siberia.

Now scientists have discovered a new skull and jaw from an extinct jaguar-sized tiger in northwestern China dating back 2.16 million to 2.55 million years, predating other known tiger fossils by up to a half-million years. This represents the oldest complete skull hitherto found of a pantherine cat &mdash the lineage that includes tigers and all other living big cats.

"The discovery of the identity of this fossil is vitally important for providing a greater understanding of the fossil history of big cats and the relationships between them," said researcher Andrew Kitchener, principal curator of vertebrate biology at National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh.

The scientific name for this newfound species is Panthera zdanskyi, after the late Austrian paleontologist Otto Zdansky, who revealed much about ancient Chinese fossil carnivores. It was unearthed in 2004 on the eastern slope of Longdan, a village in Gansu, China, giving it the informal name of the Longdan tiger. The cat was only recently analyzed and described online Oct. 10 in the journal PLoS ONE. [Gallery: 9 Subspecies of Tigers]

The skull of this extinct cat had robust, well-developed upper canine fangs and a relatively long nose, details typical of tigers. Although the size of the skull is comparable with that of the smallest females of living tiger subspecies, its overall shape suggests it belonged to a male. Indeed, despite about 2 million years of separation, the skull of the Longdan tiger appears surprisingly similar to that of modern tigers.

"It seems likely that this tiger's diet would have been similar to that of today's and would have included ungulates such as deer and pigs,"Kitchener told LiveScience.

The researchers suggest this extinct cat was a sister species to the modern tiger. Their analysis argues that the tiger lineage developed features of its skull and upper teeth early on, while its lower jaw and teeth evolved at a different rate. A similar pattern of "mosaic evolution" is seen in the cheetah lineage, they noted. The evolutionary trend of increasing size in the tiger lineage is likely coupled its prey evolving larger body sizes, the researchers added.

"It will be interesting to see whether further fossil big cats are discovered in China and elsewhere, which expand our knowledge of the distribution of this species and fill in more gaps in the tiger's fossil history," Kitchenersaid. "Confirming a more precise dating of Panthera zdanskyi would also be invaluable for understanding its position in the tiger's evolutionary timescale."

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Three Kingdoms History: Symbols of Authority

Fu 符, Hufu 虎符 (Tiger Tallies), Jie 節, Zhijie 持節, Fujie 符节, and more.

Like any other culture the Chinese used a number of methods to signify and authenticate authority in the military, government and cities. While reference is commonly made to the various symbols and concepts of authority and authentication in biographies and other historic texts, the actual appearance and nature of these elements is often confused, and English information on the subject is so difficult to come by. Similarities in usage and names also sometimes lead translators into confusion—I attempt to touch up on common mistranslations herein. Please enjoy!

Fu 符 : Identification Tallies

In Han (and Three Kingdoms) times a fu ( 符 ) or ‘tally’, a translation which is not particularly clear, was an object, usually split in two and sometimes carved in the likeness of an animal (e.g. a tiger), and used as some form of credential or authority. Because validation of a two-piece fu would require both parties to be in contact, fu were probably used most commonly in limited areas such as in the palaces at the capital and were given in grades. Bielenstein, Bureaucracy, p33 provides a good description: regular visitors had iron tallies, with half kept at the relevant gate temporary visitors were issued with ones in wood, which were collected when they came out. Fu, as defined here, were probably not used in distant communication for this reason.

More generally a fu was not necessarily a real tally, but simply a document giving authority to travel not unlike our present-day passport and visa system. Loewe, Records of Han Administration I (Cambridge University Press 1967) had an excellent discussion, and at p. 112 he cites a bamboo strip which is described as a fu 符 he renders the term as “passport” which seems an accurate translation. Loewe also describes how such authorities to travel might be needed not only on the frontier but also at various passes within the empire (e.g. to enter the territory about the capital). (1)

Cao Cao, for example, was granted a hufu covering the first through fifth grades ( 第一至第五 ) presumably granting him clearance at a greater level than those possessing hufu at a lower grade. Also demonstrating that fu come in different forms, Cao Cao was also granted a bamboo tally ( 竹使符 literally ‘bamboo to use as a tally’) at first through tenth grades (2) .

Guo Dan is described in Sanguozhi ( 三國志 ) as using a fu to gain passage through Xiangu Pass (3) . Dongguan Han Ji ( 東觀漢記 ) goes into more detail, saying Guo Dan didn’t have a fu with him, forcing him to purchase one from a commoner of Wan before he could pass. Clearly the fu is used in this case as a passport.

Hufu 虎符 : Tiger Tallies

Tiger Tallies, or hufu ( 虎符 ), were two-piece fu formed in the shape of a tiger. The material from which tiger tallies were created varied through Chinese history and included everything from jade and gold to bronze. According to Hou Han shu tiger tallies made of bronze were used for kings, heads of commanderies, and similar high and comparatively static ranks. They were not common. The Hou Han shu’s explanation applies accurately to the the Han and Three Kingdoms periods and to surrounding periods to a degree. At different points the material from which tiger tallies were created varied, but the fundamental purpose remained the same.

No small amount of confusion exists behind the way in which tiger tally is rendered in Chinese. Hufu (‘tiger mark’ or ‘tiger symbol’), the literal and most obvious rendering, does not appear commonly. Tiger tallies at times may be described simply as fu and at other times, including some later-era historic texts, as fujie ( 符节 ) the term most commonly used today, and often in error (see ‘Fujie’). Striving for accuracy, a translator must be careful in rendering this term.

Jie 節 : As ‘Staff of Authority’

Jie ( 節 ) can be rendered either as ‘credentials’, referring to a level of authority, or as ‘Staff of Authority’, a physical representation of authority. Citing numerous references in Hou Han shu, a staff of authority was a staff, frequently adorned on the top with fur (usually from a yak’s tail) of a specific color (e.g. red or yellow combined with other physical characters likely representing the level of a person’s authority). Xu Tianlin ( 徐天麟 ), Dong Han Huiyao ( 東漢會要 ) (4) compiles references from Han-era histories for a more comprehensive picture: “In the 6th year of Zhongping ( AD 189-190) the red yak-fur on jie was reinstated. […] At the beginning of the Han dynasty the yak-tail on jie was purely red. The Emperor Wu, considering how Crown Prince Wei held a red [yak-tailed] jie, changed the jie to feature yellow yak-tails. The Eastern Han followed this tradition. In the 6th year of Jian’an ( AD 201-202) Dong Zhuo conferred about deposing the emperor. Yuan Shao thus hung his jie by the yak-tail on the eastern gate and left. Dong Zhuo, because Yuan Shao abandoned his jie, changed the top-ranked jie back to the color of red.” (5)

Hou Han shu (1A, 10), in commentary quoting Ying Shao, Hanguan yi ( 漢官儀 ), describes the jie as “an eight chi (184.8 cm) staff with three yak’s tails fastened to the top as tassels.” References describing more than one tail, however, are rare. Chen Shou, Sanguozhi (Wei 6) says, “[The Emperor] appointed Yuan Shu General of the Left and granted him the title of Yangzhuo along with jie privileges. Grand Tutor Ma Midi was sent to conduct the proper ceremonies for the bestowal of honors. Yuan Shu seized the jie from Midi and detained him, refusing to send him back.” (6) From this we can see that the jie was still granted at least toward the end of the Later Han.

In addition to most common references of a Staff of Authority (jie) conferring exceptional authority, having been granted to officers, there are also instances where a messenger was sent with a jie for a comparatively minor purpose, as for example to grant promotion to a general in the field. The purpose of a jie depend very much on the individual commission and each entry must be read in context for proper understanding. Most of the time, though, the occasions mentioned in history are the ones in which the jie granted considerable power. (7)

Jie 節 : As ‘Credentials’

Jie ( 節 ) was also rendered in less material terms to represent jie authority. Jie authority was a level of power afforded an officer beyond that of his regular office. Please see Zhijie below for more information.

Zhijie 持節 : “Bearing the Staff of Authority”

Zhijie (‘Bearing the Staff of Authority’ or ‘Bearing Credentials’) represented the act of granting authority, or simply having a specific authority (see below), well beyond the the basic power granted by an individual’s substantive office (jie credentials). Zhijie is also sometimes referred to using the basic term, jie. An officer’s authority varied their individual commission, but in general terms this act conferred plenipotentiary authority (i.e. the right to make decisions independently of the throne or leadership). During the Eastern Han, Three Kingdoms, and Jin periods there were three ‘levels’ of jie:

  • Shichijie ( 使持節 ): Ability to execute anyone below the rank of 2,000 shi (lower to middle-ranked officers) without court approval.
  • Chijie ( 持節 ): Ability to execute commoners without court approval.
  • Jiajie ( 假節 ): Ability to execute violators of military law.

Jiajie, for example, was frequently granted to a commander by his sovereign prior to leading troops, or represented to subordinates to imply execution or punishment should they disobey orders. Dr. Rafe de Crespigny explains that for a considerable period of time the Director of Retainers (sili xiaowei), head of the capital province about Luoyang, and the Inspector of Jiaozhi, in the very far south, both held zhijie rights: the one because he needed authority to control officials at the capital, the other because he was too far away for meaningful communication on every matter.

Fujie 符节 : Symbol of Authority

Fujie, though sometimes presented or mistranslated as a term for ‘tiger tally’, usually holds a different meaning. Fujie is more properly used as a physical representation of an officers official rank insignia. The real sign of official position was the seal and ribbon. The Han dynasty had an official known as the fujie ling ( 符節令 ), which was rendered as Prefect of Insignia and Credentials by Bielenstein Bureaucracy of Han times. It was through this office that these insignia were issued. Seals varied in size and material—the emperor had seven, all in jade, but carried only one, the Great Seal of State. Senior officers had gold, and there were also different colors of ribbon: the ribbon was looped through a ring at the top and then used to tie the seal to the belt. The combination was rather like our modern medal and ribbon for fighting men, and would show a man’s rank quite clearly. (8)

Back to the Prefect of Insignia and Credentials ( 符節令 ): take notice of the way in which the title is rendered? Fujie ( 符節 ) commonly appears in compound forms such as this. As such a translator should take great care to ensure any occurrences of this term are properly identified and presented.

Jiechuan and Fuchuan: Official Insignia

Jiechuan is a general term, perhaps best translated as ‘official insignia’, which can describe various forms of credentials. Fuchuan is only referenced once in Hou Han shu [23/13.810-11] where it again seems to be a general term for insignia of office, though with the caveat that the commentary says the insignia did take the form of a tally. (9)

Copyright © 2005–2007 James Peirce. All rights reserved.
With great thanks to Dr. Rafe de Crespigny for insight and elaboration.
Sources cited as referenced.

Ancient Chinese Tiger Bone - History

The History of the Eastern Han depicts the totems and origins of the Ba people and their first king Lin Jun. Many historians regard it as an important source for solving Ba mysteries. The book says, "After Lin Jun died, his soul turned into a white tiger. The later Ba generations watered it with human blood and offered human bodies as sacrifices for it." This gives written evidence that the ancient Ba people took the white tiger as their totem and thought it to be their ancestors.

Archaeological discoveries in the Three Gorges area in 1998 provided further evidence that the ancient Ba people sacrificed men for the tiger. In a Ba-style tomb, archaeologists found two human skulls at the foot of the remains of a Ba warrior, besides common burial articles such as bronze weapons. Obviously, the skulls were sacrifices. In another tomb, the dead had been cut into several sections to be used for sacrifice. These accidental or inevitable occurrences gave people thousands of years later the possibility to decipher its ancient mysteries.

The book doesn't give a detailed conclusion about the death of Lin Jun, the Ba's first king, but you can still imagine the scene then: the Ba people mastered the skills of fishing and hunting and military conflict and conquest were frequent among the tribes. As a military leader who set up the Ba State, Lin Jun could only be thought of to have died in battle. The later Ba people respected him as their god -- the white tiger.

In the minds of the ancient Ba people, the white tiger was the same as their ancestors and that's why the custom of offering sacrificial humans to the tiger was handed down.

Qingjiang River, called Yishui in the past, originates from Enshi County of Hubei Province and flows through such places as Lichuan, Badong, Digui and Jianshi. Most of these areas hosted the Ba culture throughout history. Today we can still find the Tujia ethnic group there, who are thought to be the direct descendants of the Ba. It is completely appropriate if we compare the present Tujia area as a frozen space in historic time. The primitive scenes of the Ba culture are preserved well and handed down. For example, today's Tujia people still imitate the jumping, fishtailing and face washing actions of a tiger when offering sacrifices to the dead. Meanwhile, they sing songs about tigers and the tiger also appears in different images on the front gate of the diaojiaolou (houses seated on wooden columns) of the Tujia ethnic group. Human were still sacrificed to the tiger until the 1930s, but today the Tujia people only have their forehead cut in a gesture of sacrifice to the white tiger.

The Tujia people living along the Qingjiang River in today's Changyang County, Hubei Province, still offer sacrifice in their boats. The deity they worship is the Wuluo Zhongli Mountain nearby, where they believe their ancestor Lin Jun was born. Many activities today are symbolic rather than being heavy and magical in remote antiquity. History has recorded the religion, belief and customs of ancient ethnic groups.

Shiben ( Origin of the World ), compiled by the Qin and Han people and after which Sima Qian of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD) wrote his Historical Records , said that there were two caves in the Wuluo Zhongli Mountain, one was red, the other black. The first king of the Ba State Lin Jun was born in the red cave. The Ba people were composed of five family groups with different surnames. Lin Jun, due to his accuracy in throwing swords and leading positions in boat-racing, became the leader of the five groups. Now the red cave and the temple to worship Lin Jun can still be found. Standing on the Wuluo Zhongli Mountain and looking far into the dark blue Qingjiang River, one can be lost in history.

To the east of Wuluo Zhongli Mountain and on a platform of the Qingjiang River Valley, people found the Xianglushi (Stone used as an incense burner) Cultural Ruins, which cover an area of 70 square meters. From the articles unearthed there, we can vividly see the ancient scenes as recorded in historical documents. The huge oracle bones were mainly sculptured from gill covering of big fish or tortoise shells. This, to some degree, shows the fishing and hunting life of the early-stage Ba people. The oracle fish bone has not been found in any other ruins of the same period.

For the Ba people, migration was as important as war. Previous archaeological surveys came to the conclusion that the Ba people entered the Yangtze River by way of the juncture where the Qingjiang River joins the Yangtze. However, some later facts reversed this conclusion. Archaeologists believed that the ancient Yangtze River had a larger volume of water than today and landslides occurred time and again. Therefore, it was hardly possible for the ancient Ba people to go upstream among turbulent rivers and treacherous shoals in their simple canoes.

On the contrary, there is proof that the Ba people entered the Yangtze River through the Daxi. The Daxi has become a dry river bed today and is situated about 30 km to the east of Qutang Gorge. In the past, it moved toward the Qingjiang River, parallel to the Yangtze River. Going across the watershed between the Qingjiang and Yangtze rivers, Daxi entered Enshi. The Enshi section was available for navigation until the 5th century. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC), Ba troops were frequently spotted in Zhijiang, Songzi and Jiangling of Hubei Province. So we can say that the Ba people went eastward along the Daxi.

The Yangtze River became a new starting point for the Ba people. The usually strong Ba people began a pastoral life on two banks of the Yangtze River. They planted rice and oats, collected mulberries to raise silkworms and brewed wine with high-quality grain. As they got abundant food to eat, they used their surplus rice to make cosmetics. At intervals of wars, the Ba women would try their best to show their beauty.

According to archaeologists, the Ba people set up their homes mainly on tributaries of the Yangtze River as they first entered the area. The relatively weak Ba people found flat platforms and fertile soil convenient for living. Later, the Ba became prosperous in division and unity with the Chu and Shu states. As a result, they built capitals in Fengdu, Zhongxian and Fuling along the river.

Chongqing, now the largest industrial and commercial city in west China, used to be the most important capital of the Ba State and called Jiangzhou. Though more than 2,000 years have passed, we can still feel the enthusiasm and straightforwardness of the men and beauty of the women in the city. The residential houses supported by wooden columns, the boats connecting with each other and the endless stone stages may remind us of the past Ba life style.

In history, any ethnic group which adored war would never cease migrating. In the following hundreds and thousands of years, the Ba people covered nearly half of China. But later their force gradually decreased.

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Stunning Tiger Arwork by Rosabelle

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Symbolic Meaning of the Cat

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Ancient Chinese Tiger Bone - History

Jp. = Shishin 四神 Chn. = Sì Shòu 四獸
Four Guardians of the Four Compass Directions
Celestial Emblems of the Chinese Emperor
Shishin 四神. Also read Shijin. Also known in Japan
as the Shijū 四獣, Shishō 四象, or Shirei 四霊.

Origin = China

Click images to jump to specific creatures.

Tortoise (Black Warrior) = North, Winter, Black, Water
White Tiger (Kirin) = West, Fall, White, Metal
Red Bird (Phoenix) = South, Summer, Red, Fire
Dragon = East, Spring, Blue/Green, Wood
Each is associated with seven constellations. See 28 Constellations.

In Japan, the four creatures have
been supplanted by the SHITENNŌ

Lit. = Four Heavenly Kings (of Buddhism)
Four Guardians of the Four Compass Directions.
Associated closely with China’s Five Element Theory.

At the heart of Chinese mythology are four spiritual creatures (Sì Shòu 四獸) -- four celestial emblems -- each guarding a direction on the compass. In China, the four date back to at least the 2nd century BC. Each creature has a corresponding season, color, element, virtue, and other traits. Further, each corresponds to a quadrant in the sky, with each quadrant containing seven seishuku, or star constellations (also called the 28 lunar mansions or lodges for charts, see this outside site). Each of the four groups of seven is associated with one of the four celestial creatures. There was a fifth direction -- the center, representing China itself -- which carried its own seishuku. In Japan, the symbolism of the four creatures appears to have merged with and been supplanted by the Shitennō (Four Heavenly Kings). The latter four are the Buddhist guardians of the four directions who serve Lord Taishakuten (who represents the center), and are closely associated with China’s Theory of Five Elements. In any case, the four animals are much more prevalent in artwork in China than in Japan, although in Japan one can still find groupings of the four creatures. The four were probably introduced to Japan from China sometime in the 7th century AD, for their images are found on the tomb walls at Takamatsuzuka 高松塚 in Nara, which was built sometime in the Asuka period (600 - 710 AD). They are also found on the base of the Yakushi Triad 薬師三尊像 at Yakushi-ji Temple 薬師寺, also in Nara.

SHISHIN 四神. Below Text Courtesy JAANUS
Ancient Chinese mythical animals associated with the four cardinal directions: green/blue dragon (Chn: Qinglong 青龍, Jp: Seiryuu) of the east white tiger (Chn: Baihu 白虎, Jp: Byakko) of the west red phoenix (Ch: Zhuque 朱雀, Jp: Suzaku) of the south and black warrior (Chn: Xuan Wu 玄武, Jp: Genbu) of the north, a tortoise-like chimera with the head and tail of a serpent. The pictorial theme developed around the Warring States to Early Han period in China. Frequently painted on the walls of early Chinese and Korean tombs, the animals served primarily an apotropaic function warding off evil spirits. In Japan notable examples of the shishin are found on the walls of the tomb chamber in the tumulus Takamatsuzuka 高松塚 of the Asuka period, and on the base of the Yakushi Triad, Yakushi Sansonzō 薬師三尊像 at Yakushiji Temple 薬師寺, both in Nara.

Exerpt from “Chinese Mythology:
An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend”
by Derek Walters. ISBN: 1855380803
Writes Walters: “The four directions, east, south, west and north, represent the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Together with the Center, which in Chinese is synonymous with China itself, they form the five cardinal points. The Four Directions have been represented at least since the second century BC by four celestial animals, the Dragon for the East, the Bird for the South, the Tiger for the West, and the Tortoise for the North. Each animal has its own color: the Dragon is the Green of Spring, the Bird the red of Fire, the Tiger of Autumn the glittering white of metal (of ploughshares or swords), and the Tortoise Black, for night, or water. The four celestial animals, which have no connection with the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, are also the names of the four divisions of the sky [note. each with seven constellations, see 28 Constellations]. The Dragon's Heart, the Pleiades, and the Bird Star are the names of three of the lunar mansions which marked the central position of the Dragon, Tiger and Bird. As there was no identifying star at the centre of the Black Tortoise, the appropriate place (the eleventh mansion) was called Void.”

Phoenix vs. Red Bird, Ch’i-lin (Kirin) vs. White Tiger. Why the Confusion ?
In the same book, Walters explains: “However, it seems that before the adoption of the Four Celestial Emblems, there were only three -- the Feng Bird (or Phoenix), the Dragon, and the Ch’i-lin (or unicorn). Bronze mirrors usually portray cosmological patterns and symbolism on the back. Those of the Tang period (618 - 906 AD) show all twelve, or sometimes the 28 or even 36 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and those of an earlier period depict the four celestial emblems referred to above. But the very earliest mirrors show only the three: the Ch’i-lin, the Feng-huang, and the Dragon. Because of the astronomical significance, the White Tiger replaced the Ch’i-lin, and the Phoenix gave way to the Red Bird, which is of uncertain identity. Thus the Tortoise was a later but not the last addition, for many mystical texts refer to the northern constellation not as the tortoise, but as the Black Warrior.” < end quote from Derek Walters >

NOTE: The Chinese Ch’i-lin is known in Japan as KIRIN. Many web sites replace the White Tiger with the mythological KIRIN in groupings of the four animals. Many web sites also list the Phoenix, not the Red Bird, as the celestial emblem of the south. This confusion is entirely forgivable, as the composition of this group of four has changed over the centuries to reflect ever-changing traditions.

Attributes of the Four
China and Japan Myths and Legends
by Donald A. Mackenzie ISBN: 1851700161

    . East, Spring, Wood, Planet Jupiter, liver & gall (Phoenix). South, Summer, Fire, Planet Mars heart and large intestines . West, Autumn, Wind, Metal, Planet Venus, lungs and small intestine . North, Black, Winter, Cold, Water, Planet Mercury, kidneys and bladder

Represents the yang principle often portrayed surrounded by water or clouds. In Chinese mythology, there are five types of dragon: (1) the celestial dragons who guard the abodes of the gods (2) dragon spirits, who rule over wind and rain but can also cause flooding (3) earth dragons, who cleanse the rivers and deepen the oceans (4) treasure-guarding dragons and (5) imperial dragons, those with five claws instead of the usual four.

The dragon is a mythical creature resembling a snake -- reflecting its membership in the NAGA (Sanskrit) family of serpentine creatures. It is also a member of the Hachi Bushu (the eight protectors of Buddhism). Dragons are said to be shape shifters, and may assume human form. In contrast to Western mythology, dragons are rarely depicted as malevolent. Although fearsome and powerful, they are equally considered just, benevolent, and the bringers of wealth and good fortune. Click here for much more on the Asian dragon.

Editor’s Note. Despite the dragon’s close association with water and the watery realm, in the Shishin Grouping of Four Celestial Emblems (this page), the dragon is associated with the element WOOD. The turtle is associated with the element WATER. See Five Elements.

  1. Su Boshi
  2. Ami Boshi
  3. Tomo Boshi
  4. Soi Boshi
  5. Nakago Boshi
  6. Ashitare Boshi
  7. Mi Boshi

  • See Dragon star charts at this outside site.
  • Jump to Dragon Main Page

Red Bird, Big Bird, Suzaku, Phoenix
Jump to Main Phoenix Page for More Details
Chinese = Zhū Qiǎo 朱雀 or Zhū Niǎo 朱鳥
Korean = Chujak 주작
Japanese = Suzaku, Sujaku, Shujaku 朱雀
Japanese = Shuchō 朱鳥 or Suchō, Akamitori, Akamidori aka the Vermillion Bird. Shuchō was also a Japanese era name for a few months between 686 and 687 AD.

In Japan, the term “Suzaku” is translated as “Red Bird” or “Vermillion Chinese Phoenix.” In both Japan and China, the symbolism of the red bird seems nearly identical to or merged with that of the mythological Phoenix. At this site, I consider the Suzaku and the Phoenix to be the same magical creature, although I am not certain if this is entirely true. Scholar Derek Walters (see resources) says the Phoenix was supplanted (replaced) by the Red Bird, for the Red Bird more accurately reflected the astronomical iconography associated with the southern lunar mansions.

Corresponds to summer, red, fire, and knowledge makes small seeds grow into giant trees (need to give source). Often paired with the dragon, for the two represent both conflict and wedded bliss dragon (emperor) and phoenix (empress). Portrayed with radiant feathers, and an enchanting song only appears in times of good fortune. Within the ancient Imperial Palace in Japan, there was a gate known as Suzakumon 朱雀門 (Red Bird Gate). See JAANUS for a few more details on this gate.

Suzaku’s seven seishuku 星宿 (constellations) are:

  1. Chichiri Boshi (Chn. = Ching 井)
  2. Tamahome Boshi (Chn. = Kuei 鬼)
  3. Nuriko Boshi (Chn. = Liu 柳)
  4. Hotohori Boshi (Chn. = Hsing 星)
  5. Chiriko Boshi (Chn. = Chang 張)
  6. Tasuki Boshi (Chn. = Yi 翼)
  7. Mitsukake Boshi (Chn. = Chen 軫)

The Red Bird of the South (Suzaku)
Found on tomb wall at Kitora Kofun
Photo courtesy Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Nara
Archaeological dating places its construction to the
Asuka period (7th to early 8th centuries)

Suzaku, The Red Bird, Modern Drawing. Available for Online Purchase

Jpn = Byakko 白虎, Chn = Baihu. Guards Buddha’s teachings and mankind observes world with clairvoyance corresponds to the season fall, the color white, wind, the element metal, and the virtue righteousness. Says Donald Mackenzie: "The White Tiger of the West, for instance, is associated with metal. When, therefore, metal is placed in a grave, a ceremonial connection with the tiger god is effected. According to the Chinese Annals of Wu and Yueh, three days after the burial of the king, the essence of the element metal assumed the shape of a white tiger and crouched down on the top of the grave. Here the tiger is a protector - a preserver. As we have seen, white jade was used when the Tiger god of the West was worshipped it is known as 'tiger jade' a tiger was depicted on the jade symbol. To the Chinese the tiger was the king of all animals and lord of the mountains, and the tiger-jade ornament was specially reserved for commanders of armies. The male tiger was, among other things, the god of war, and in this capacity it not only assisted the armies of the emperors, but fought the demons that threatened the dead in their graves." <end quote>

Byakko, Takamatsu Zuka Tombs
Learn more at this outside site.

  1. Tokaki Boshi (Chn. = K’uei 奎)
  2. Tatara Boshi (Chn. = Lou 婁)
  3. Ekie Boshi (Chn. = Wei 胃)
  4. Subaru Boshi (Chn. = Mao 昴)
  5. Amefuri Boshi (Chn. = Pi 畢)
  6. Toroki Boshi (Chn. = Tsui 觜)
  7. Kagasuki Boshi (Chn. = Shen 參)

PHOTO: From Research Report of Cultural Heritage in Asuka Village Vol. 3. A primary center of power in Japan in the 6th and 7th centuries, Asuka lies about 12 miles south of Nara in the Kinki District home to many ancient temples and tombs. The Takamatsu Zuka Tombs 高松塚 were discovered the early 1970s and date back to Japan’s Asuka Period (600 - 710 AD).

In Japan, the tiger is sometimes confused with the mythological Chinese Ch'i-lin (Qilin), which is rendered Kirin 麒麟 in Japan. Scholar Derek Walters says the Ch’i-lin was supplanted (replaced) by the White Tiger, for the Tiger more accurately reflected the astronomical iconography associated with the western lunar mansions.

The Kirin, which often appears tiger-like in artwork (see photos below), is a different creature entirely from the White Tiger. The Kirin is said to have the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the hooves of a horse, a body covered with the scales of a fish, and a single horn. The Kirin appears only before the birth or death of a great and wise person. Said to live in paradise, the Kirin personifies all that is good, pure, and peaceful can live to be 1,000 years old.

Below text courtesy of
A mythical horned Chinese deer-like creature said to appear only when a sage has appeared. It is a good omen associated with serenity and prosperity. Often depicted with what looks like fire all over its body. In most drawings, its head looks like that of a Chinese dragon (see dragon above). Japanese art typically depicts the Kirin as more deer-like than its Chinese counterpart. Kirin is sometimes translated in English as "unicorn," because it looks similar to the unicorn -- the later a hoofed mythological horse-like beast with a single horn on its head. Some accounts describe it as having the body of a deer and the head of a lion. <end quote>

Below: Images of the Kirin

NORTH - The Tortoise / Turtle / Snake
Genbu 玄武 in Japanese in Chinese Gui Xian, Kuei Hsien, Zuan Wu, Zheng Wu, Xuanwu. Genbu is always listening, and is thus portrayed as completely versed in Buddha’s teachings corresponds to winter, cold, water, black, earth, and faith. The tortoise is a symbol of long life and happiness. When it becomes one thousand years old, it is able to speak the language of humans. Able to foretell the future. In artwork, often shown together with the snake.

In Japan, the turtle’s Buddhist counterpart is known as Tamonten, the most powerful of the Shitennō (Four Buddhist Protectors of the Four Directions). Tamonten is also known as the Black Warrior and is also called Bishamonten like the tortoise, his imagery corresponds to north, winter, black, and the element water.

Says Derek Walters: "One of the Celestial Emblems, the symbol of longevity and wisdom. It is said that its shell represents the vault of the universe. A common symbol for longevity is the Tortoise and Snake, whose union was thought to have engendered the universe. The reason why tortoise symbolism has been superseded by the Black Warrior as the emblem of the North, is probably due to the fact that 'tortoise' is a term of abuse in China." <end quote by Walters>

Turtle Entwined with Snake
Wood, Date Unknown
Photo courtesy of

Says Donald Mackenzie: "In China the tortoise had divine attributes. Tortoise shell is a symbol of unchangeability, and a symbol or rank when used for court girdles. The tortoise was also used for purposes of divination. A gigantic mythical tortoise is supposed, in the Far East, to live in the depths of the ocean. It has one eye situated in the middle of its body. Once every three thousand years it rises to the surface and turns over on its back so that it may see the sun." <end quote Mackenzie>

A turtle’s shell (plastron) also symbolizes a suit of armor, hence the turtle is also called the Black Warrior or Dark Warrior. The Dark Warrior represents the Northern Palace or northern constellations of the Chinese zodiac. Genbu’s seven seishuku 星宿 (constellations) are:

  1. Hikistu Boshi (Chn. = Tou 斗)
  2. Inami Boshi (Chn. = Niu 牛)
  3. Uruki Boshi (Chn. = Nü 女)
  4. Tomite Boshi (Chn. = Xū 虚)
  5. Umiyame Boshi (Chn. = Wei 危)
  6. Hatsui Boshi (Chn. = Shih 室)
  7. Namame Boshi (Chn. = Pi 璧)

  • See star charts for the Turtle at this outside site.

Tortoise and Snake Symbolism
Below text courtesy
Gabi Greve

    Tortoise and Snake 亀と蛇
    In Chinese culture, especially under the influence of Taoism (道教) the tortoise is the symbol of heaven and earth, its shell compared to the vaulted heaven and the underside to the flat disc of the earth. The tortoise was the hero of many ancient legends. It helped the First Chinese Emperor to tame the Yellow River, so Shang-di rewarded the animal with a life span of Ten Thousand Years. Thus the tortoise became a symbol for Long Life. It also stands for immutability and steadfastness.

Tomb with Turtle Body with Snake Head

Tomb of Oe Hiromoto (in Kamakura 1225 AD). Oe was Yoritomo Minamoto’s celebrated counselor during the founding of the Kamakura Shogunate. He was a distinguished scholar credited with conceiving and organizing the Kamakura system. Another nearby tomb, with similar turtle / snake design, is that of Shimazu Tadahisa, the illegitimate son of Yoritomo .

The Chinese Dark Lord of the North - Xuan Wu
Below Text Courtesy of: The Online Journal of the I Ching, Yi Jing
The Dark Lord of the North (Xuan Wu Da Di) is a deity that comes from the pre-history of shamanic times (c. 6000 BC). In relatively modern Chinese prehistory (c. 1200 BC) the Dark Lord has become the human figure of a warrior with wild, unruly black hair, dressed in the primitive clothing of the tribal peoples of Neolithic times. He is powerful and strong deity capable of powerful punishments and redemptive deliverance. He is frequently depicted as the black tortoise who rules over the direction North in Chinese cosmology. He is called " Xuan" for the color black and " Wu" meaning "tortoise.

Prehistory: The Snake and the Tortoise
The Dark Lord speaks to a more ancient myth, that of the snake and the tortoise, in religious prehistory. Very ancient drawings of a black snake and tortoise together symbolize the Dark Lord. These reptilian creatures, the snake and tortoise, were probably themselves worshipped or were powerful medicine to help in overcoming one's enemies. From Shang times onward, the flag bearing this symbol (snake and tortoise) was part of the king's color guard. In Neolithic prehistory the tortoise -- also known as the somber warrior -- and snake together are the symbols or totems of a powerful shaman who fights evil against the demons of the Invisible World. According to ancient tradition, the black tortoise is yin the snake yang. <end quote by Online Journal of the I Ching>

Old Chinese spelling pronounced “kame” in Japan means turtle. PROVERB: The rareness of meeting a Buddha is compared with the difficulty of a blind sea-turtle finding a log to float on, or a one-eyed tortoise finding a log with a spy-hole through it." [from soothill]

Below text courtesy
The story of the Historical Buddha’s birth as a tortoise (in his past lives, before becoming the Buddha) is featured in Indian reliefs of the first gallery balustrade, where a total of five panels present the culminating scenes from a story called the Kaccapavadana. In the Hindu scriptures, the great sage Kasyapa (Sanskrit for toroise) is the father of Aditya, the Sun. The solar nature of Kasyapa is particularly appropriate representation for a past life of the Sakyamuni, who was sometimes called the "Kinsman of the Sun" (Adityabandu).

CENTER, Synonymous with China itself
Tenkyoku (Chinese = Pangu, Pan Ku, P’an Ku).
Associated with virtue of benevolence. The seishuku (constellations) are:

  1. Taishi Boshi
  2. Tei Boshi
  3. Shoshi Boshi
  4. Koukyuu Boshi
  5. Kyoku Boshi
  6. Shiho Boshi
  7. .

P’an Ku
Exerpt from “Chinese Mythology: An Encyclopedia
of Myth and Legend” by Derek Walters, ISBN: 1855380803
The legendary architect of the universe. Oddly enough, the story of how P’an Ku created the universe is now so firmly established in Chinese folklore, it would be forgivable to assume that the story of P’an Ku was one of China’s earliest legends. However, the great philosopher Ssu-ma Ch’ien makes no mention of it, and in fact P’an Ku does not make his appearance until the 4th century AD. The legend, ascribed to the brush of Ko Hung (Kung) is likely to have been a tale imported from Southeast Asia. It is highly unlikely that it would have been fabricated by a Taoist writer such as Ko Kung, because it would have been second-nature to an educated Chinese writer to introduce established characters of Chinese mythology, but none are present. The date of its composition may be even later, as its first appearance may not be earlier than the 11th century Wai Chi (Records of Foreign Lands). The substance of the legend is that P’an Ku chiselled the universe for eighteen thousand years, and as he chiselled, so he grew himself, six feet every day. When his work was complete, his body became the substance of the universe: his head became the mountains, his breath the wind. From his eyes the sun and moon were made, while the stars were made from his beard. His limbs became the four quarters, his blood the rivers, his flesh the soil, his hairs the trees and plants, his teeth and bones the rocks and minerals, and his sweat the rain. Finally, the lice on his body become the human race. In China, he holds the hammer and chisel with which he formed the universe, and is surrounded by the Four Creatures (tortoise, phoenix, dragon, and unicorn. <end quote by Derek Walters >.

Pangu (Chinese Adam) & the Four Mythical Creatures
Text courtesy

China has a history longer than that of any other present day nation. We have plenty of myths and legends. The first figure in our history is Pangu, regarded as the Chinese Adam by westerners. According to legend, in the beginning there was only darkness and chaos. Then an extremely large egg appeared. This vast egg was subjected to two opposing forces or principles. The interaction of the two forces -- yin, the passive or negative female principle, and yang, the active or positive male principle -- caused the egg to produce Pangu, and the shell to separate. The upper half of the shell formed the heaven, and the lower half the earth.

Pangu has been depicted in many ways. He sometimes appears as a dwarf with two horns on his head, clothed in skin or leaves. He may be holding a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other, or perhaps the symbol of yin and yang. He may also be shown holding the sun in one hand and the moon in the other. He is often depicted with his companions the four supernatural animals - the phoenix, the dragon, the unicorn and the tortoise. In any case, Pangu grew rapidly and increased his height by six to ten feet daily. He hammered and chiseled a massive piece of granite floating aimlessly in space, and as he worked, the heavens and the earth became progressively wider. He labored ceaselessly for eighteen thousand years and finally he separated heaven from earth. His body dissolved when his work was done.

    This site. Learn more about each of the four quarters (north, south, east, west) and the seven constellations in each group. All 28 represent points in the moon’s monthly path, and each was deified.
    Chinese Mythology: Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend
    By Derek Walters. A-to-Z format. Very useful resource, but no Chinese language characters are given, only English equivalents. First published by The Aquarian Press, 1992. Pages = 191 pages. ISBN = 1855380803.

Modern reproductions of old Chinese imagery.
Photo from this Japanese eStore.

Modern Artwork of the Four. Photo courtesy

SHITENNŌ. Lit. = Four Heavenly Kings (Buddhist)
Four guardians of the four compass directions in Buddhism. Associated closely with China’s Five Element Theory. The four celestial emblems (dragon, red bird, tiger, turtle) can be associated with the iconography of the Shitennō, who also guard the four cardinal directions.

Four Shitennō, Horyuji (Hōryūji) Temple 法隆寺, Nara
Mid-7th Century. Oldest extant set of the four.
Kōmokuten 広目天, Zōchōten 増長天, Tamonten 多門天, Jikokuten 持国天
Painted Wood, Each Statue Approx. 133.5 cm in Height
Photos from Comprehensive Dictionary of Japan's Nat’l Treasures
国宝大事典 (西川 杏太郎. ISBN 4-06-187822-0.

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In this paper I do not really discuss the Anthropocene, which I understand as ‘a present armed with teeth, with a hau of demands and reciprocal tethers that have left many anthropologists cautious’ (Howe and Pandian 2016) however, I use this term and not ‘global warming,’ ‘climate change’ or the ‘crisis of global modernity’ because the term enables crucial discussions (because of the creation of a sense of “an us” that arises from a shared sense of catastrophe [Chakraborty 2009, p. 222]) in relation to the inescapable urgency we now have for sustaining ‘our common geostory’ (in a Latourian [2014] sense). This geostory involves entanglements in which humans and nonhumans—both subjects and objects—reorganize themselves and these are going to decide the politics of global strategies in relation to energy plans and food systems. These, I’m convinced, are necessarily going to be thought of in religio-cultural terms rather than in purely economic ones. Geopolitics, in the current scenario, will need to be radically reconceptualised and hopefully this will involve taking a closer look at different cultures’ approach to the environment and the nonhuman world—this is partly inspired from a close reading of Amitav Ghosh’ recent The Great Derangement (2016) and Nayanika Mathur’s EPW article ‘The Task of the Climate Translator’ (2017). For an article summarising climate change, security and the Global South read D’Souza (2015) and Dalby (2014).

With reference to its epistemological status, transcendence is a locus from which the Axial Age religions ‘sought to take a synoptic view of the world and to distinguish the flood of phenomena from the underlying essences’ (Habermas 2010, pp. 17–18).

Duara uses Simmel’s understanding of religion which he describes being akin to viewing art ‘something that bridges the gap between the subjective and the objective’ (2015, p. 5 Simmel 1978) and not so much on how trade, as discussed by Foltz, had a great deal to do with the religions that took hold and ultimately survived in the Central Asian Silk Road areas (2000).

Following anthropologists such as Descola (1996, 2008, 2013), Pálsson (1996, 2013), Bird-David (1999), Franklin (1999), Mullin (1999) who have studied the intimate relations humans from various cultures have shared with animals, and described how certain cultures’ perceptions of ‘animals’ do not fit the western essentialising dichotomy between the two, I prefer using the term nonhuman for animals. I believe this term allows me to include understandings or ‘ontologies’ of ‘animals’ that are not necessarily steeped in the western nature/society divide thus allowing for a greater interweaving of an ensemble of socio-animal-natural relations these have been explained and/or developed more independently by scholars such as Viveiros de Castro (2004) Latour (2004a, b, 2009) Stengers (2005) and have been at the heart of a few detailed anthropological studies between human and nonhuman animals such as those of Jalais (2008a, 2010) Willerslev (2007) Govindrajan (2015) Aiyadurai (2016) Mathur (2016) etc.

As elegantly discussed by Dean for the south-east part of China, one needs remember, that ‘local Chinese religion resists definition’ (2003, p. 338).

Lu estimates that by 1949 there were only 4000 tigers left in China 150–200 by 1981, and only 50–80 by the mid-1980s (1987, p. 73) in contrast, after a dip in numbers, by the mid-1980s India had about 4000 tigers (Karanth 1987, p. 119).

The paper will not focus on the modern age, for this one would need to read Shapiro’s damning book on Mao’s extreme interference on the natural world (2001, p. 1).

As highlighted in the environmental histories of Mark Elvin (1993, pp. 7–47), Nicholas Menzies (1994), Richard Edmonds (1994, pp. 22–25) who highlight the man-made environmental degradation by the fourth to sixth centuries BCE. However, Miller (2017, p. 595) argues that this is overstated without, unfortunately, giving us many convincing arguments to support his claims.

Muscolino’s review that this book does not engage enough with the work of environmental historians ‘who have demonstrated that, environmental ideals aside, Buddhism and Daoism have done little to limit “pressure on the environment” in China’s past’ (2017, p. 3) is a valid point.

The list of scholars having worked on the topic: Ma Huan (1433) Briggs (1951) Wolters (1967) Li (1979), Hall (1985) Haellquist (1991) Wicks (1992) Cushman (1993) Reid (1993) Momoki (1998) is provided by Donovan (2004, p. 106).

Whilst Americans, on average, eat 122 kilos of meat per year.

‘for tigers ruled the mountains of China as dragons lorded it over its lakes and sea’ (Schafer 1967, p. 228 citing Soymié [1956, p. 111]. Schafer notes how on p. 8 he cites the example of the monk Hui-yüeh of the Sui dynasty).

This means they can be considered ‘extinct’ as even if adequately protected, the South China tiger is at this point not viable in the long term due to its minuscule population size (Kitchener 1999, p. 20 quoting Nowell and Jackson 1996).

There are however other animals providing decorative motifs for Shang art and these include: deer, ox, buffalo, goat, sheep, antelope, rhinoceros, elephant, bear, horse, boar, and birds, reptiles, insects, amphibians, fishes, and worm.!

For a detailed discussion about shamanism and whether Shang divination can, in fact, be called Shamanism one should read the wonderful chapter on ‘Shamanism and Politics’ in Chang’s 1983 book Art, Myth, and Ritual.

For the religions of the ancient near east and Europe, sacrifice, hunting and warfare were symbolically interchangeable and all three were marked by feasting (Allan 2016, p. 24).

Allan suggests that the taotie was used by religious interlocutors or spirit mediums who used wine as a means of transcendence, via ritual sacrifices, to the world of the spirits—and that was symbolised by drinking from the taotie bronze vessels (2016, p. 55).

Chin-hsiung Hsu, Oracle Bones from the White and Other Collections (Toronto: Roy. Ontario Museum, 1979), no. 1915 William Charles White, Bone Culture of Ancient China (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1945), 96–98, in Allan (2016, p. 53).

There is however an exception. Sen and Mair report how the cousin of the Han ruler Ming (r. 28–75) offered a vegetarian feast to Buddhist monks and laypersons (even though they also add that ‘neither archaeological nor textual evidence provides clear proof of the existence of Buddhist institutions in China at this early stage’) (2012, p. 41).

See Ma Chengyuan, ed., Shang Zhou qingtongqi mingwen xuan (Beijing: Wengwu chubanse, 1988), vol. 3, 118 note 6 (no. 180), in Allan (2016, p. 53).

There is a tomb tile with the Queen Mother of the West (detail), Eastern Han dynasty, 2nd C—this stamped earthenware tile is at the Sichuan Provincial Museum, Art Institute of Chicago.

Yucai Duan, Shuowen jiezi zhu, by Xu Shen (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji, 1981, p. 210) in Allan (2016, p. 53).

There is an age-old Chinese adage about how, for example, after the death of the First emperor, it was famously said that he ‘had the heart of a tiger and a wolf’—this wasn’t meant in courage but with a sense of nastiness and brutality (Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian of China, trans. Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, 1, p. 52 as quoted in Silbergeld 2016, p. 3).

Maholay-Jaradi goes on to argue ‘animals’ representation in Indic traditions is hardly theorized as an object of study external to the subject, it could be due to the deep Indian belief in monism (non-dualism) which does not distinguish between humans, nature and animals’ (2016, p. 107).

The Analects of Confucius, trans. Arthur Waley (New York: Vintage Books, 1938), 150 (as quoted in Silbergeld (2016, p. 8).

The Complete Works of Chuang-tzu, trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), 188–189, 49, 237 in Silbergeld (2016, p. 8).

‘Animal’ here can be extended to the ‘nonhuman’ as it would include mountains, rivers, rocks, trees as well as animals as these are all seen, along with humans, as being a connected part of a creative energy-matter cosmos.

This resonates with what Descola had argued in relation to Western modes of engaging with nature (which he calls ‘naturalism’) where nature needs to be conquered—as beautifully explained in his now seminal book edited with Gíslí Pálsson Nature and Society (1996).

‘The most commonly used classifiers in Barbarian ethnonyms were those indicating a bug or beast (chong) and a dog (quan)’ (Fiskesjö 2012, p. 57). To a certain extent, ethnic communities are still discussed in highly negative terms. See for example Tenzin’s descriptions of the way the Tibetans and other ethnic minorities are described by their neighbours (2017, p. 555).

This philosopher (372–289 BCE), says of events more than three-quarters of a millennium before his time: ‘After the sage-rulers Yao and Shun had passed away, the way of the sages fell into decay. Oppressive monarchs… abandoned the farmland to make it into gardens and hunting enclosures, and as a result the people could not get clothes or food… As the gardens and hunting enclosures, ponds, lakes, thickets, and swamps became numerous, the birds and the beasts moved in. By the reign of Zhòu [the ‘evil’ last sovereign of the Shang dynasty], the world was once again in great disorder. The Duke of Zhou assisted King Wu of the Zhou dynasty to destroy Zhòu… He drove the tigers, leopards, rhinoceroses, and elephants far away, and the world was greatly delighted’ (Elvin 2004, p. 11).

In a more recent study on landscape and comparisons between European and Chinese gardens, authors Zhang and Riemenschnitter argue that two cultures ‘have parallels in terms of their conceptions of the relations between art, nature and human nature’ and that ‘both Renaissance and Chinese scholars thus considered that through imitating idealized nature or following Dao, art cultivates human nature’ (2017, p. 15).

I am aware of the regional specificities of paintings and artworks such as those of tigers in the context of Tibetan Buddhism or ones from Southern China but have restricted myself to those from the Dunhuang caves painted during the Tang and Song dynasties as they are considered to be depictions of Buddhist monks bringing Buddhism from South Asia to China. These paintings are at the heart of my paper ‘The ‘Monk with Tiger’ Pantings in the Dunhuang Caves: from Persia, Central Asia or India?’ (presented at a History Seminar at NTU on the 19/10/17).

The citings are from Zeng Zhaoyue, Beijing, (1956, pp. 65–67) and Toshio Nagahiro & Seiichi Mizuno, Kyoto, (1953 pp. 80–81).

Wu goes on to argue: ‘One should not expect to determine the content of such art works by their forms only, nor by their limited similarities to comparable objects one must also pay attention both to the function of the works, and to the cultural tradition and the social context in which they were created’ (1986, p. 264).

The other animal sometimes associated with the Buddha’s Chinese pilgrim and disciple Xuanzang is the monkey Sun Wukong (Riemenschnitter 2011).

Xiangrui symbols included the phoenix, the unicorn, the white elephant.

“Although these elements came from Indian Buddhist art, in none of the examples discussed above do these elements have either an inherently Buddhist content, or a Buddhist religious function. Rather, as novel forms, they served to enrich the representations of Chinese indigenous cults and traditional ideas. It would be misleading to identify these works as early Chinese Buddhist art and take them as the true embodiment of the original Buddhist meaning. In fact, these works cannot even be seen as reflecting a fusion of Buddhism and the Chinese tradition. They only reflect a random borrowing of Buddhist elements by Han popular art. In my opinion, this was the dominant situation when Buddhist art was first introduced into China. In this tenuous way, nevertheless, Buddhist art gradually gained a foothold in a vast and unfamiliar land.” (Wu 1986, p. 273).

Paper on this has been recently submitted and will be added here when accepted.

India’s Buddhist roots in art are found in representations of the lions of Ashoka—the first Indian king to have converted to Buddhism and to have spread the religion in the region (especially Sri Lanka and Myanmar). Ashoka’s three lions represent power, courage, confidence and the Indian state emblems were the lion, the bull, the horse, and the elephant. The tiger, for the British, was the symbol of the ‘duplicitous’ Indian monarch and ‘often figured in colonial hunting narratives as an oppressive figure terrorizing the rural populace with the spectre of arbitrary violence’ (Pandian 2001, p. 84). This would explain the virulence in the description of tigers by British sport hunters they talk of it as ‘a cunning, silent, savage enemy’, ‘a pleasure to outwit and shoot’. This dual image of a ‘royal’ animal (because of both its association with South Asian kings and its qualities of beauty and intelligence) and flesh-eater that dared to eat people (emphasis in Rangarajan 2001, p. 25) must have brought the British some mental satisfaction as well as justification when engaging in a sport that was causing an alarming decline in the number of these felines (Jalais 2008b). Indeed, before the arrival of the British, the tiger was linked to Durga but does not seem to have any cultural connotations and one needs to remember that it only became India’s national animal in 1972 (before that it had been the lion!).

‘Farms replaced forests, and pigs and oxen replaced forest-loving tigers and elephants, at least in north China’ (Marks 2012, p. 100).

For descriptions of the drought prevention ceremonies, see de Visser (1913, pp. 119–120).

The persistence of Chinese attitudes about tigers to the present day can be found, most amazingly, in a 1994 Chinese text: “Large carnivorous animals (including the wolf, tiger, and leopard) and many kinds of poisonous snakes have done great harm to humans and livestock since ancient times. With the gradual clearing of lush forest and swamp vegetation and the rapid increase in population and settlements, harm from carnivorous animals and poisonous snakes has gradually been lessened. Some harmful animals, such as the tiger, have now even become endangered species and have been preserved in natural reserves. Wolves, however, still inflict havoc on human life and livestock in the extensive pastoral areas of China.” Zhao (1994, p. 162). (accessed 1/4/17). In 2013, the then president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, vowed to “hunt tigers and swat flies” (拍蝇打虎).

These are beings whose heads can detach themselves from their bodies, fly away and wander around while they are asleep, flapping their ears like wings. It’s vital not to cover the neck while they’re wandering, or the head will be unable to re-attach itself upon return, causing both head and body to perish. According to texts of the Jin (265-420 CE) era, these beings were a race that lived in the southern lands, where some insects were rumored to also have head-detaching abilities.

The far southern regions of China — known as the Lingnan regions, now known as Guangdong and Guangxi — were only accessible once Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) roads were built through the hitherto impenetrable Nan Mountains. This isolation helped create China’s historical fascination with the exoticism of the far south.

The Power of the Dragon’s Yang and the Tiger’s Yin

The dragon is a powerfully yang creature, while the tiger, despite connotations of strength associated with yang, is regarded as a very yin creature. In fact the belief that the tiger is extremely yin is responsible for it being hunted almost to the point of extinction, because in China yin blood diseases were thought to be treatable by powdered tiger bone. Probably it is the wiliness and stealth of the tiger that made it yin, or the fact that the White Tiger constellation in the west is opposite the Azure Dragon constellation in the east. The dragon and the tiger have always been traditional enemies.

The dragon and the tiger feature strongly in the I Ching, but they signify very different approaches to change. These two particular pathways I refer to as 'the ascent of the dragon lines' and 'changing like a tiger', concentrating in the former case on hexagram 1, 'The Creative', and, in the latter, on hexagram 49, 'Revolution'.

Each hexagram consists of six lines that are written upwards from the bottom line to the top in response to the tossing of three coins six times or more complex manipulations with yarrow stalks. The fact that the hexagram is constructed upwards contains within it an idea that many students of the oracle don't immediately tend to notice, that change moves upwards in the hexagram line texts too. In other words, when the hexagram deals with a single piece of concrete imagery, the second line shows a more developed stage of the change depicted than the bottom line, and as we go upwards through the lines we see a progression of the change, such that the fifth line is often the best possible manifestation of the change, while the top line frequently overbalances and becomes the point of reversion of the change.

Hexagram 1 consists of six solid yang lines, it is the most yang hexagram. The bottom line shows the dragon in winter, hibernating at the bottom of its pool in the mountains. The Chinese of this line actually reads 'Submerged dragon', though it is most often translated as a 'Hidden dragon'. This immediately calls up a connection to the tiger in the title of the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The hidden dragon there does in fact originally come from the first line of hexagram 1. The phrase 'hidden dragon' later came to mean an Emperor-in-waiting, but in general it is someone of great ability who hasn't yet been recognised. This implies that they can make use of their obscurity to be usefully underestimated, in martial-arts terms. In the first line of hexagram 1 it means a person biding their time, because the conditions are not yet right for emergence. The dragon is still in hibernation, and he is also not yet needed.

The function of the dragon from the earliest times was to bring rain for the spring crops. When he leaves his mountain pool he heads straight for the clouds, is immediately engulfed, and then the dark brooding cloud effectively becomes the cloak of the dragon. The dragon in China is a benevolent creature, a water dragon, flying without wings. By the principle of 'like attracts like', or harmonic resonance as it is termed in Chinese texts, 'Clouds follow the dragon, winds follow the tiger'.

One of the cloud-followed dragons from The Nine Dragons handscroll, painted by the artist Chen Rong in 1244 CE (located in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, USA).

There is a wonderful story from the Song Dynasty of early experimenters hoping to conjure up a storm by rowing out to the middle of a lake and dropping in a tiger bone to anger the dragon. They fortunately took the precaution of tying the bone onto a length of rope but all the same they could not haul it up fast enough to prevent the government buildings from being severely damaged in the instantaneous typhoon they whipped up on an otherwise sunny day.

This story illustrates how the Chinese have traditionally 'aroused the dragon' from its winter hibernation. It is actually through a ritualised act of sympathetic magic. After the crops have been sown, and coming spring days are perhaps more parched than one would like, villagers waited until darkish clouds naturally appeared on the horizon, which they took as a sign. Then they would go up into the mountains to the local 'dragon pool', a tucked-away tarn shrouded in mist, and they would chuck into the water all manner of things the dragon was thought to loathe and detest, such as lumps of iron, which stung its eyes, and, in some reports, 'the shoes of an old woman'. They would lay out a sacrificial feast for the dragon to allay the anger they had aroused in him, but now he was up from his winter sleep he would come thundering out of the water and into the dark clouds, which seemed to cling tight around him drawing in others from afar.

There are reports of people seeing a claw of the dragon or the tip of its tail sticking out of a storm cloud, because generally the dragon rose up so fast no-one could see him except those who were drunk. The second line of hexagram 1 is 'seeing a dragon in the field', probably the first sighting of storm clouds, whereas by the fourth line the dragon is 'leaping up from the depths'. And in the fifth line, we have a 'flying dragon in the sky'. This is a powerful line in the I Ching, just as is 'changing like a tiger' in the fifth line of hexagram 49. They are both pre-eminent positions of power and influence, yet of subtly different types.

The career path of a person rising from lowliness to power and influence can be mapped directly onto the rising lines of hexagram 1. By the fifth line, we have someone who has 'arrived'. Once they were a hidden dragon, but, confident in their ability, they let nothing put them off their goal in life and gradually they rose, the final stage between leaving the water and entering the clouds probably coming quickly, the kind of instant success that rarely takes into account the hard slog to get there. In the human world it would take at least a decade to 'ascend the dragon lines'.

The final sixth line of hexagram 1 is a dragon who tries to fly too high, who becomes haughty in power and his downfall is only a matter of time, commonly translated as the 'arrogant dragon'. Not a foregone conclusion, if one leaves hexagram 1 via the fifth line, the 'flying dragon', one gets to hexagram 14, 'Great possession'. Reversion inhering in the top line is avoided, power is consolidated, by a certain modesty in power that comes across as 'character'. Power can be sustained at its heights by a little deliberate lowering of oneself even when a flying dragon, rather than getting carried away on the upward surge as with the arrogant dragon. It is the difference between earning a long-term reputation as a person of standing and talent (flying dragon), in contrast to the sudden rise and fall of mediocrities enjoying 'celebrity' (arrogant dragon).

Now let us look at how one 'changes like a tiger'. The immediate difference here is that the change is not outward but inward, it is a camouflaged change that may suddenly come upon a person, without any 'ascent' necessarily being evident, as it always is with the dragon. We see the dragon's rise, it is only hidden from us for a certain time, the moment it begins to move we see it, it appears in weather omens, it forms a whirlpool from the depths, it soars like a rocket (the Chinese supersonic anti-ship FL-7 missile is the Feilong or 'Flying dragon'). But the tiger remains hidden until the very last moment, when it pounces on its prey. The fourth line of hexagram 27 pictures an earlier stage of the tiger's path: 'A tiger is watching – glaring, glaring. It is longing – pursue, pursue.' This line addresses an immense build-up of energy that hasn't found its outlet yet. One holds onto it, glaring like a tiger stalking its prey. Holding back awaiting the right moment is part of its skill. It is knowing one's power, but not being able to make a move yet. A 'crouching tiger' is a good strategic position.

Hexagram 10, 'Treading', is about treading on a tiger's tail, which may or may not bite the clumsy person. The only person who does get bitten, in the third line (a single yin line surrounded by five yang lines), is both blind and lame, hampered. Hexagram 10 arises from a change in the third line of hexagram 1, where the dragon (in the form of a man) is cautiously getting ready to soar. By following the moving line we can deduce that his caution is to avoid treading on the tiger's tail.

It is in the fifth line of hexagram 49, 'Revolution', where we see the true power of the tiger, the full manifestation of the tiger's yin as the 'flying dragon' is the full power of the dragon's yang. Hexagram 49 depicts a full-scale revolution, which in China is regarded as 'changing the mandate of heaven'. The nationalist revolution of 1911, which finished off the Qing Dynasty and with it Imperial China, was rather boldly called 'ending the mandate of heaven'.

In hexagram 49 the change as one rises up the lines begins with talk of revolution, at first just gossip and wishes. No-one can afford to commit themselves to change on that scale on the strength of mere words. They need a human leader to emerge. The call for revolution grows stronger, the leader has not emerged but people feel safer voicing their objection to the current regime, as it feels like a growing current. Then, in the fifth line, the tiger appears. This is a person who suddenly outwardly appears from nowhere with an incredibly strong action, drawing the winds or scatterblown peoples all about him in support. It is entirely an inner change that has permitted this. This person has 'changed like a tiger', much as did King Wu when he attacked and brought down the tyrannical Shang dynasty. The man who stopped the column of tanks on Beijing's Chang'an Boulevard (Avenue of Eternal Peace) near Tiananmen Square on June 5 1989 is a good example of a person who 'changed like a tiger', squaring off to the full force of state yang while still holding his shopping.

These are the two great power pathways in the I Ching, the yin way and the yang way, the tiger way and the dragon way. For some, the dragon may stay hidden all their lives only to rise and fly after their death, as with an overlooked writer or artist who nonetheless remains convinced of their own calling. And those who change like a tiger may do so in the privacy of their own room, understanding something at last of life. Sudden enlightenment after years of meditation can also be changing like a tiger.

Luigi Scapini's metal tiger.

A note on the terms yin and yang

These days solid and broken hexagram lines are referred to as being yang and yin lines, but when the I Ching was first set down, in about the eleventh century BCE, the philosophy of yin and yang hadn't yet come into existence. That came along around the fourth century BCE. Even in the Daodejing yin and yang appear only once (in chapter 42). The earliest way of referring to solid and broken lines is to call them gang, meaning 'firm' or 'hard', and rou, 'yielding' or 'soft', respectively.

[First published in 'Kindred Spirit' 104 (May/June 2010), pp 62󈞬.]

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