9 sons of the dragon
Several Ming Dynasty texts list what were claimed as the Nine Offspring of the Dragon (龍生九子), and subsequently these feature prominently in popular Chinese stories and writings. The scholar Xie Zhaozhe (謝肇淛, 1567–1624) in his work Wu Za Zu (五雜俎, ca. 1592) gives the following listing, as rendered by M.W. de Visser:
A well-known work of the end of the sixteenth century, the Wuzazu 五雜俎, informs us about the nine different young of the dragon, whose shapes are used as ornaments according to their nature.
- The [pulao 蒲牢], dragons which like to cry, are represented on the tops of bells, serving as handles.
- The [qiuniu 囚牛], which like music, are used to adorn musical instruments.
- The [chiwen 螭吻/鴟吻], which like swallowing, are placed on both ends of the ridgepoles of roofs (to swallow all evil influences).
- The [chaofeng 嘲風], lion-like beasts which like precipices, are placed on the four corners of roofs.
- The [yazi 睚眦/睚眥], which like to kill, serve as ornaments of sword-grips.
- The [bixi 贔屭], which have the shape of the [chilong 螭龍], and are fond of literature, are represented on the sides of grave-monuments.
- The [bi'an 狴犴], which like litigation, are placed over prison gates (in order to keep guard).
- The [suanni 狻猊], which like to sit down, are represented upon the bases of Buddhist idols (under the Buddhas' or Bodhisattvas' feet).
- The [baxia 霸下], finally, big tortoises which like to carry heavy objects, are placed under grave-monuments.
Further, the same author enumerates nine other kinds of dragons, which are represented as ornaments of different objects or buildings according to their liking prisons, water, the rank smell of newly caught fish or newly killed meat, wind and rain, ornaments, smoke, shutting the mouth (used for adorning key-holes), standing on steep places (placed on roofs), and fire.
The Sheng'an waiji (升庵外集) collection by the poet Yang Shen (楊慎, 1488–1559) gives different 5th and 9th names for the dragon's nine children: the taotie (饕餮), which loves to eat and is found on food-related wares, and the jiaotu (椒圖), which looks like a conch or clam, does not like to be disturbed, and is used on the front door or the doorstep. Yang's list is bixi, chiwen or cháofēng, pulao, bi'an, taotie, qiuniu, yazi, suanni, and jiaotu.
Oldest known attestation of the "children of the dragon" list is found in the Shuyuan Zaji (椒园杂记, Miscellaneous records from the bean garden) by Lu Rong (1436–1494); however, he noted that the list enumerates mere synonyms of various antiques, not children of a dragon. The 9 sons of the dragon were commemorated by the Shanghai Mint in 2012's year of the dragon with 2 sets of coins, one in silver, and one in brass. Each coin in the sets depicts one of the 9 sons, including an additional coin for the father dragon, which depicts the 9 sons on the reverse.
The number nine is special in China as it is the largest possible single digit, and Chinese dragons are frequently connected with it. For example, a Chinese dragon is normally described in terms of nine attributes and usually has 117 (9x13) scales - 81 (9x9) Yang and 36 (9x4) Yin. This is also why there are nine forms of the dragon and there are 9 sons of the dragon. The Nine-Dragon Wall is a spirit wall with images of nine different dragons, and is found in imperial Chinese palaces and gardens. Because nine was considered the number of the emperor, only the most senior officials were allowed to wear nine dragons on their robes — and then only with the robe completely covered with surcoats. Lower-ranking officials had eight or five dragons on their robes, again covered with surcoats; even the emperor himself wore his dragon robe with one of its nine dragons hidden from view.
There are many places in China with the phrase "Nine Dragons" in their name, the most famous being Kowloon (in Cantonese) in Hong Kong. The part of the Mekong in Vietnam is known as Cửu Long, with the same meaning.
- de Visser 1913, pp. 101–102. The primary source is Wu Za Zu, chapter 9, beginning with "龍生九子...". The title of Xie Zhaozhe's work, Wu Za Zu, has been variously translated into English as Five Assorted Offerings (in Xie Zhaozhe), Five Sundry Bands (in "Disease and Its Impact on Politics, Diplomacy, and the Military ...") or Five Miscellanies (in Changing clothes in China: fashion, history, nation, p. 48).
- 吾三省 (Wu Sansheng) (2006), 中國文化背景八千詞 (Eight thousand words and expressions viewed against the background of Chinese culture), 商務印書館(香港) (Commercial Press, Hong Kong), p. 345, ISBN 962-07-1846-1 (Chinese)
- 九、龙的繁衍与附会——龙生九子 (1) ("Chapter 9, Dragon's derived and associated creatures: Nine children of the dragon (1)"), in Yang Jingrong and Liu Zhixiong (2008). The full text of Shuyuan Zaji, from which Yang and Liu quote, is available in electronic format at a number of sites, e.g. here: 菽園雜記
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