It’s interesting to see today that on social media people like to tag themselves as foodies and loving food and eating becomes a cool thing to be proud of considering in the western culture and the eastern culture, gluttony is considered as a sin. Today we will talk about a real Foodie, a mythical creature in Chinese mythology called TaoTie 饕餮. In modern Chinese or more precisely in the modern language in Beijing, LaoTao 老饕 means foodie in a positive way, which is interesting because TaoTie is an greedy and cruel mythical creature in Chinese mythology.
We have mentioned it once in our episode 89 – nine sons of the dragon that in some myths it is one of dragon’s sons, which is questionable. Because in the book Spring and Autumn Annals 春秋, an ancient Chinese chronicle covering from year 722 BC to 481 BC likely complied in the 4th century BC, it says, TaoTie is the son from the family JinYun 缙云 not the dragon. JinYun is one of the oldest last name in China. In the book ZuoZhuan左传, an ancient Chinese narrative history as a commentary on the book Spring and Autumn Annals from the late 4th century BC , it also says TaoTie the family Jinyun has a shameful son that over indulges food and drinks. Moreover, he likes money. He extorts money and enjoys a luxurious life. For him, there isn’t word called more. He doesn’t have a compassion for the poor or the people who are in need. So people call him TaoTie, as one of “four evil creatures” along with other three evils HunDun 混沌, QiongQi 穷奇 and TaoWu 梼杌.
In the book ShenYiJing 神异经, a book from the Han dynasty 汉代, it says, there is a hairy person from the southwest wearing a pig on the head. He was greedy and evil. He loves collecting money and treasures but never uses them and robbed other people food and possessions.
From these texts, it seems like TaoTie was orginally a person or at least based on a person.
In the book Classics of Mountains and Seas 山海经 from the 4th century BC, it says, there is a mountain called GouWu 钩吾山 which is famous for the jade on the mountain and cooper under the mountain. There is a creature live in the mountain has a goat body and human face. Its eyes grow under its armpit. It has teeth of a tiger and hands of a person. Its voice sounds like a bady. This creature is called PaoXiao 狍鸮 and eats human. The historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋代 noted this part of the text and said this greedy creature is called TaoTie. I am sure if he mixed up two different creatures or not and it seems they both sound like some greedy creatures.
In the 2016 fantasy movie The Great Wall 长城, although I don’t recommend the movie, there was an evil monster in it which was supposed to be based on TaoTie. If you are interested, go ahead and check it out.
TaoTie is a motif on ritual bronze vessels since way back in Chinese history from the Shang 商朝 ans Zhou dynasty 周朝, which is around 1600 BC. The design usually consists of a symmetrical zoomorphic mask with a pair of eyes , brows, ears, and a nose, a mouth and a chin.
Although this design probably wasn’t called TaoTie 3000 or 4000 years ago at that time, in the book LvShiChunQiu吕氏春秋, a Chinese classic text compiled around 239 BC during the Qin dynasty 秦朝, it says, the pattern of TaoTie is found on the bronzes from the Zhou dynasty. TaoTie only has a head but no body. When it east people, it does not swallow them but harms them. So at least since 239 BC, people started call this kind of motif as TaoTie.
What does TaoTie really look like? What does this motif mean?
The modern Chinese scholar Li Zehou 李泽 厚commented, “it is hard to explain what is implied in this, as so many myths concerning the TaoTie have been lost, but the indication that it eats people accords fully with its cruel, fearful countenance. To alien clans and tribes, it symbolized fear and force, to its own clan or tribe, it was a symbol of protection. This religious concept, this dual nature, was crystallized in its strange, hideous features. What appears so savage today had a historical, rational quality in its time. ”
春秋 Spring and Autumn Annals
山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas