30 01 2008

Pixiu (貔貅 pí xiū)

A fabulously fierce beast called Pixiu (貔貅 pí xiū), is believed to be more powerful than the lion or any other animal, and in ancient literature, it is referred to as Mengshou (猛獸 měng shòu) or ‘Fierce Beast’ and enters into popular folklore and folk belief that it is a guardian animal that stands for fair-lay and right.

In the Shizhouji (十洲記 shí zhōu jì), contained in the huge Taoist compilation Daocang (道藏 dào cáng), it notes that: In the third year of the reign Zhenghe (征和 zhēng hé ) [90 B.C.], when the Han Emperor Hanwudi (漢武帝 hàn wǔ dì) visited An-ting, the King of the Western barbarians, offered a ‘Fierce Beast’ (Mengshou) that resembled a fifty or sixty day-old puppy, as large as a civet but brown in color. He ordered his envoy to present it to the Emperor. When the Emperor saw the envoy holding it as if it were a dog which looked emaciated, hairless and weak, he doubted the genuineness of the tribute.

He asked the envoy, “Can this little animal be trained? Why is it called a Fierce Beast?” “It is actually more fearsome than any of the hundred beast,” replied the envoy. “It must not be criticized on account of its size, for the divine unicorn’s kinship over the elephant, the phoenix’s precedence over the great bird, and the centipede’s dominion over the flying snake also do not depend on size. The ‘Fierce Beast’ exorcises demons [that cause] a hundred evils.” Ashamed and ill-at-ease, Emperor Wu then asked the envoy what method the ‘Fierce Beast’ used to attack other animals, what it ate, what its strength could be compared to, and what country it lived in.

The envoy replied, “As for the ‘Fierce Beast’s origins, some beasts live in Kunlun (崑崙 kūn lún), some in Xuanpu(玄圃 xuán pǔ), some in Jukuzhou (聚窟洲 jù kū zhōu), and some in Tianlu (天禄 tiān lù). It does not exhaust its life-span, it feeds on air and drinks dew, understand human speech, is humane, intelligent, loyal, and forgiving. As for its humanity, it loves and protects the lower orders so that they are not harmed by tigers and leopards. As for its fearsomeness, with a single cry it can subdue a thousand men, frighten the various domestic animals and the hundred creatures into breaking their tethers, and make soldiers lose their strength all at once. As for its wondrousness, it can put forth wind and clouds and cough up rain and dew, so that the hundred demons scatter in flight and river dragons jump out of the way. It resides in the stables of the Most High; it tames the lion and is named ‘Fierce Beast’. Its spirit-transformations without constancy, it can be considered the lord and master even of great birds; moreover, it is the primal king of the Chüeh-t’ien and the marshal of the Pixiu or griffin. ”

The Pixiu is always represented as a pair, both male and female. It is so fierce that it is a term used for brave troops. It is usually sculpt as ceramic figurines with curls for hair and oftentimes with little white pearl-like dots on the ends. It looks like a puppy with large eyes and seemed very innocent and tame. pixiu It is a symbol that brings good fortune so that gamblers usually have a pair prominently displayed in the gambling parlors and dens with a couple that fair play and no fear of any cheating, Pixiuzuozhen (貔貅坐鎮 pí xiū zuò zhèn). Also, small images in unglazed pottery are carried by gamblers for good luck. In addition, there is also a dance, which is similar to the Lion Dance called Wupixiu (舞貔貅 wǔ pí xiū).

By William C. Hu and David Lei

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29 01 2008

Admonisher Animal – Wangtienhou (望天吼 pinyin:wàng tiān hǒu)

In front of the main gate, Tienanmen (天安門 pinyin:tiān ān mén), the Gate of Heavenly Peace, of the Imperial palace in Beijin China, there is a tall and ornate pillar, which the Chinese call Huabiao (华表 pinyin:huá biǎo). High above on top of this carved stone column sits a fabulous creature called Wangtienhou (望天吼 pinyin:wàng tiān hǒu).Wantienhou It resembles a dragon but is not a dragon, nor is it claimed to be one of the nine descendants of the dragon.

It is, however, considered sacred and given esteemed reverence. Perched high on a carved column that resembles a totem pole with wings, this creature stands guard and watches every movement of the Emperor. In addition, whenever the Emperor should leave the Imperial palace, he becomes a reminder and an admonished for the Emperor not to indulge in recklessness and become un-cultivated, discarding and neglecting decorum and engage in being a profligate and dissipated, given to debauchery.

Since the Wangtienhou resembles a lion and it stands for all things auspicious, his messages from above, reflect the voice from Heaven. This has been symbolized by the populace in the Lion Dance of the lion climbing up on a tall pole and from the heights, drops from the lion’s mouth, a banner of good wishes and auspicious sayings.

– By William C. Hu and David Lei

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Justice Animal – Xiezhi

29 01 2008

Xiezhi (獬豸pinyin:xiè zhì)

A fabulous beast called Xiezhi (獬豸 pinyin:xiè zhì), by the Chinese, is described as being somewhat like a unicorn and a dragon, although with a singular horn and cleft-foot like a goat, which has the ability to discriminate between right and wrong and destroys the wicked by biting or goring them. It is believed to live in the wilds and is said to be fire-eating even to its own destruction. Since it also looks like a goat, it is also called Shenyang (神羊 pinyin:shén yáng).

This fabulous creature stood for justice and in the work on legal cases of the Tang (唐 pinyin:táng) dynasty, entitled, T’ang-yin pi-shih, it is recorded and described as a single-horned goat, that appears whenever there was a wrongly accused person who had been misjudged by the judicial system. In a much earlier work, by Wangchong (王充 pinyin:wáng chōng), entitled Lunheng (論衡 pinyin:lún héng), it is described also a a goat with a single horn, who is able to judge as to the innocent and guilty, and bites and gores the guilty. xiezhi During both the Ming (明 pinyin:míng) and Qing (清pinyin:qīng) dynasties, it was used as an insignia for civil officials, and a badge of Didu (提督 pinyin:dī dū) or circuit intendant.

In addition it was the emblem for governmental censors. The Xiezhi was the symbol of an upright and honest person, as well as a protector of the court in determining justice. It is a most auspicious symbol that has been both carved, sculpt and painted to decorate halls and courtrooms. This animal is revered and most endeared that there is a dance created, which is similar to the lion dance performed mostly in the South and called in Cantonese as Hai-zai.

This justice animal, is also used as a roof ornament and placed ont he ridge of the eaves, usually behind the Suanni (狻猊 pinyin:suān ní) and before the Douniu (鬥牛 pinyin:dòu niú) pottery roof figures.

-By William C. Hu and David Lei

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Avaricious Beast – Tan

29 01 2008

Tan (貪 pinyin:tān)

In ancient times, on the walls of the Yamen (衙門 pinyin:yá mén) or Chinese courthouses, there is a painting of a fabulous beast. This mythical beast has a head resembling a dragon, scaled body like a unicorn, hoofed feet like an ox and a long tail like that of a donkey. It bears no resemblance to any other specific animal, but a composite of several. tanThe beast is usually depicted with his fore feet placed guardedly on eight different precious objects babao (八宝 pinyin:bā bǎo), namely a large flaming pearl, lozenge, stone chime, pair of rhinoceros horns, coin, mirror, book and leaf. On the upper left hand corner of the picture is a large red sphere, representing a blazing sun. Although this beast had all these precious objects, he was unsatisfied and wanted to have the glowing sun as his possession, which led to his demise by drowning while attempting to get hold of its reflection in the water.

Although this depiction had been known earlier, it was not standardized until the Zhou (周 pinyin:zhōu) dynasty, 1122-221 B.C. and named formally as Tan (貪 pinyin:tān), or avaricious. In 221 B.C. when Qinshihuangdi (秦史皇帝 pinyin:qín shǐ huáng dì) unified the country and declared himself the first Emperor of a unified Empire, In order to govern the Empire with a centralized rule and laws, there was created a bureaucratic organization, of which were many Yamen or courthouses operating on various levels of governmental strata. In creating and dispersing the large number of magistrates and officials to various locales, it was ordered that on the wall behind each judicial bench, there was to have a large painting of which was called Tan, or ‘Avaricious’.

Like the Wangtienhou or Admonished Animal which is a symbol of The Emperor, the Tan was a reminder and warning against avariciousness for the officials and magistrates. These were considered auspicious beasts which admonishes of being aware of propriety and a good moral code of conduct.

– By William C. Hu and David Lei

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