Episode 148: White Tiger

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We have talked about many mythical creatures in our podcast that most of them are from people’s imagination. Today we will talk about an animal in Chinese mythology that also exists in the real world- whiter tiger 白虎.

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The real whiter tiger is a pigmentation variant of Bengal tiger from India. In the book Classics of Mountains and Seas 山海经 from the 4th century BC, on the mountain Yu 盂山, there were many white tigers. In the book SunShiRuiYingTu 孙氏瑞应图 from the Southern dynasty , between the year 420 ~ 589, it mentions that the white tiger is a sign of good omen. Since the Han dynasty 汉朝, the fierce white tiger started represents army and appear on flags in the army and names of places where battles took place. They can be seen as the mythical god of wars. In the history, there are a few famous generals are believed to be the reincarnation of the white tiger.

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Why people worship white tigers? Some historians think it is from the worshiping of stars. In the book ShangShu 尚书, a book from around 5th century BC recorded history from the prehistoric times, it says the star Mao 昴 is in the constellation of white tiger. This is related to a complex topic Twenty-Eight Mansions 二十八星宿, part of the Chinese constellations system. We need a whole episode to talk about it. I will give a general introduction here that it is similar to the zodiacal constellations in Western astronomy. Ancient Chinese astronomers divided the sky into four regions with four symbols and four mythical animal. They are Azure Dragon 青龙on the east, Black Tortoise 玄武 on the north, White Tiger on the west and Vermilion bird 朱雀 on the south. Each part contains seven mansions, which in total making of 28 mansions which is based on the cycle of 27.3 days of the moon orbiting the earth. White tiger is one of the four symbols. It is on the west.

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Some historians think the worshiping of white tiger started with the people of Qiang 羌族,a Tibeto-Burman group along China’s northwestern frontier. Today, some other minority groups in China including the Yi people 彝族, Bai people 白族, Buyi people 布依族 and Tujia people 土家族 still claim to be the descendants of Whiter Tiger.

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Mentioned:

山海经 Classics of Mountains and Seas

孙氏瑞应图 SunShiRuiYingTu

尚书 ShangShu

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