Four Symbols (China)

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The Four Symbols (Chinese: 四象; pinyin: Sì Xiàng) are four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations. They are the Azure Dragon, (Qing Long) of the East, the Vermilion Bird (Zhu Que) of the South, the White Tiger (Bai Hu) of the West, and the Black Turtle (Xuan Wu) of the North. Each one of them represents a direction and a season, and each has its own individual characteristics and origins. They have been portrayed in many historical Chinese and Korean mythological fiction, and also appear in many modern manga and anime.

History[edit]

The Four Symbols were given human names after Daoism became popular. The Azure Dragon has the name Meng Zhang (孟章), the Vermilion Bird was called Ling Guang (陵光), the White Tiger Jian Bing (監兵), and the Black Turtle Zhi Ming (執明).

In 1987, a tomb was found at Xishuipo (西水坡) in Puyang, Henan. There were some clam shells and bones forming the images of the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, and the Big Dipper. It is believed that the tomb belongs to the Neolithic Age, dating to about 6,000 years ago.[1]

The Rongcheng Shi manuscript recovered in 1994 gives five directions rather than four and places the animals quite differently: Yu the Great gave banners to his people marking the north with a bird, the south with a snake, the east with the sun, the west with the moon, and the center with a bear.[2]

Correspondence with the Five Elements[edit]

A Han-dynasty pottery tile emblematically representing the five cardinal directions

These mythological creatures have also been synthesized into the 5 element system. The Azure Dragon of the East represents Wood, the Vermilion Bird of the South represents Fire, the White Tiger of the West represents Metal, and the Black Turtle (or Dark Warrior) of the North represents Water. In this system, the fifth element Earth is represented by the Yellow Dragon of the Center.[3]

Correspondence with the Four Seasons[edit]

The four beasts each represent a season. The Azure Dragon of the East represents Spring, the Vermilion Bird of the South represents Summer, the White Tiger of the West represents Autumn, and the Black Turtle of the North represents Winter.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 孙德萱. 濮阳西水坡蚌壳龙虎图案研究述评 (in Chinese). XinHuaNet. Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  2. ^ Pines, Yuri. "Political Mythology and Dynastic Legitimacy in the Rong Cheng Shi Manuscript". Bulletin of SOAS, Vol. 73, No. 3 (2010), p. 515. Accessed 22 November 2013.
  3. ^ "A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations: Third Edition.", Schirokauer, Brown, Lurie, Gay. (2006) ISBN 0-534-64307-8

External links[edit]