Episode 46: Isle Of Dogs

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Eric and I watched the movie Isle of Dogs recently and dogs have been domesticated by human for thousands of years. Today we are going to talk about an important mythical dog-headed king called Panhu 盘瓠 in Chinese mythology.

This story is widely known in the south China and some minority ethic groups including Miao苗, Yao 瑶 and She 畲 groups. They consider PanHu as their ancestors and totem. The name Panhu sounded like the the name of god Pangu 盘古 who created the universe we talked in the past. Some people say the name Pangu was originally from the name Panhu.

So who is this dog-head king. There are a lot of variations of the story. The earliest record can be found in the books from Jin Dynasty 晋朝 ShanHaiJingZhu山海经 注and In Search of the Sacred 搜神记. It says during the time of the Emperor Ku 帝喾, who is one of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors 三皇五帝 of Chinese mythology, an old lady in the palace had tinnitus, ringing the the ears. With the help of a doctor, a bug was found in the ear. The old lady put the bug in a gourd as a pet. Weird thing happened, after not too long, the bug became a five-colored god. The Emperor Ku named the dog “Panhu”.


The kingdom had constant conflicts with the kingdom in the west and they had a genious General Wu who won a lot of battles. Emperor Ku gave out the words that whoever got the head of this general from the other kingdom could get tons of gold and the marriage with the princess as rewards. Guess what happened? The five-colored dog Panhu brought back the head of General Wu in his mouth.

Emperor Ku faced a real dilemma here and asked his chancellors for advises. The chancellors all strongly suggested that, “Pangu is a beast. How could we reward him with money and the marriage with the princess?” While the princess heard all about it, she met with his dad and said, “my dearest father, you have made the promise of giving the marriage of me to the hero. Panhu got the head of General Wu and saved the kingdom. This is the destiny not to say it is a dog who accomplished it. As an emperor, you should always keep your promises. Don’t worry about me. If you broke the promise , the kingdom would be in disasters. ” Clearly the princess was such a lady with political vision and was willing to sacrifice her marriage for the kingdom. Confirmed by his daughter, Emperor Ku married her with Pangu the dog.


Some version of the story says the dog started talking after bringing back the head and told the emperor that he could transform into human if being under a gold bell for 7 days . However, the princess was worried about him on the sixth day and opened the bell. Pangu already had a human body except the head. Slightly more reasonable.

The couple moved to the mountain in the south where there were no human and lived a cave. The Emperor Ku missed his daughter and sent people to visit her, however, nobody could get to the cave because every time they wanted to go there were storms. After 3 years, the couple had 6 boys and 6 girls. When Pangu the dog king died, their children married to each other. They used tree bark as materials for clothing and dyed with five-colored plants, so they could look like their dad. All their clothes have tails on them.

After the princess passed away, the Emperor Ku visited his grand kids. They dressed colorful and didn’t speak very clearly. When they were eating and drinking, they liked to squat like dogs. The Emperor named them “Manyi 蛮夷” and the mountain they lived as “Guangze 广泽”. These people they looked dumb and uncultivated however very intelligent. They were satisfied with their traditions and homeland.


盘瓠 Panhu

山海经 注 ShanHaiJingZhu

搜神记 In Search of the Sacred

帝喾 Emperor Ku

三皇五帝 Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

蛮夷 Manyi

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