Episode 193: Dragon Tattoo

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Today we will talk about a story about a person getting a dragon tattoo. The story is from the book GengSiBian 庚巳编from the Ming dynasty 明朝 around the 16th century.

In the book, it says, there was a Buddhist practitioner from the Temple Jinshan 金山 in the place called ZhenJiang 镇江. The temple is on the Mountain Jin. He didn’t really care about his behaviors as much.

 

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One day he was sleeping during the day. Some people in the room did a prank on him by drawing a dragon on one of his arms. The dragon had a head, horns, scales, whistles and looked like alive.

 

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The Buddhist practitioner woke up and found the dragon. He thought it was from the heaven and he was the chosen one. So he tattooed it. After several months, the black ink color of the tattoo became purple and after another few months, the lines of the tattoo rose to 1 cm high. Every stormy nigh, the tattoo dragon felt like flying and moving and the arm would move along out of control.

 

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After a few day, the Buddhist practitioner was showering in a river. Suddenly, the water split apart for a few meters and his arm started moving and flapping again. He followed the arm’s movement and dived into the water. He could see everything under the water, turtles, fish, shrimps, crabs… He has a thought, since the Mountain Jin 金山 is in the center of the river, why not to check what’s underneath the mountain? So he kept diving until he reached the bottom of the river. He saw the “root” of the mountain which could be held by a few people. It supported the mountain like a pillar. He shook the pillar with his arms. The whole Mountain Jin started to shake and trembling and the monks in the temple on the mountain thought it was earthquake and started to pray. After a meal’s time, the shake stopped.

 

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The Buddhist practitioner had a lot of fun under the water and when he was back in the temple and heard about what happened in the temple. He snicked and told the people in his room. Those people told the abort. The abort though he was an evil spirit and sued him. The judge didn’t buy the story. Monks had no way but kicked him out of the temple after making him drunk. After that, the dragon never appeared and everything went back to normal.

 

Mentioned:

庚巳编 GengSiBian

Episode 89: Nine Sons Of The Dragon

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I know we haven’t really talked about dragon yet. Since there are so much about the dragon in Chinese mythology, today I decide to talk about the nine sons of the dragon. Why are there nine sons? In Chinese, besides the number, nine also means many like in English a couple of means a few. Nine also was considered the number of the emperor.

There is a Chinese saying called nine sons of the dragon are all different. The myth about that the dragon has nine sons started from the Ming dynasty 明朝 in the book HuaiLuTangJi 怀麓堂集 and ShengAnWaiJi 升庵外集.

There are different variations of the nine sons. According to the book HuaiLuTangJi by the author Li DongYang 李东 阳, it says,

The first son is called QiuNiu 囚牛, a mythical creature that likes music and can be found as a decoration to adorn musical instruments like a string instrument HuQin 胡琴. Niu means cows but I am sure if QiuNiu is a hybrid of a cow and a dragon.

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The second son is called 睚眦 YaZi (二 四声), a mythical creature that is aggressive. He likes to fight and can be found as decorations on the cross-guard of swords. It looks like YaZi is having the blade in its mouth. YaZi’s eyes are always widely open and looks like a hybrid of a wolf and a dragon.

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The third son is called 嘲风 ChaoFeng, a mythical creature that likes adventures and can be found on the corners of roofs. ChaoFeng represents good luck and power and of course ward off evil spirits.

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The fourth son is called 蒲牢 PuLao, a mythical creature that likes to scream and can be found as decorations on the top of bells. So the bells can be heard far away. It says PuLao is scared of whales so the bell hammer sometimes is carved as a whale.

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The fifth son is called 狻猊 SuanNi (一 二声), a mythical creature that is quite and likes to sit down and can be found on the bases or at the feet of a Buddhist idols or a Buddhist incense burner. SuanNi looks like a hybrid of a lion and a dragon. Like we talked about in the episode 13 guardian lions that there are no lions in China. The lion symbolism is from Indian culture through Buddhism. The name SuanNi is said a translation of lion from some language from the central Asia. Maybe that’s also a reason that SuanNi can be found around Buddhism statues.

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The sixth son is called 赑屃 BiXi (四四声) or BaXia 霸下,a mythical creature with a hard shell looking like a hybrid of a turtle and a dragon. People sometimes misinterpret them as turtles however BiXi has teeth. It is able to carry heavy objects like tombstones.

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The seventh son is called 狴犴 BiAn (四四声), a mythical creature that looks like a hybrid of a tiger and a dragon. BiAn likes litigation and stands for justice. It can be found in the court room and prisons.

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The eighth son is called 负屃 FuXi (四四声), a mythical creature that likes literature and can be found on the top of tombstones. FuXi looks like dragon itself.

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The ninth son is called ChiWen 鸱吻 (一三声), a mythical creature that has a wide throat and likes to swallow. ChiWen looks like a hybrid of a fish and a dragon. It can be found on both ends of the ridgepoles of roofs and looks like they are swallowing the ridgepoles. Since ChiWen is half fish, it can put off fire. So the wooden structured buildings are protected not being caught on fire.

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According to the book ShengAnJi, there are some variations. There is son called TaoTie 饕餮, a mythical creature that likes to eat and its head pattern can be found on cooking wares.

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There is a son called BaXia 虫八 虫夏 (一四声), a mythical creature that like water and can be found on bridges and outlets of sewage.

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There is a son called JiaoTu 椒图, a mythical creature that looks like a clam and doesn’t like to be disturbed and can be found on the front door as decorations of door knobs.

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Mentioned:

怀麓堂集 HuaiLuTangJi

升庵外集 ShengAnWaiJi

Episode 6: The Finishing Touch

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The meaning of the finishing touch is a final detail or action completing and enhancing a piece of work. Today I am going to tell a story of how the finishing touch enhance the work from the book LiDaiMingHuaJi历代名画记. ZhangSengYou张僧繇(yóu ) is a famous artist in the Northern Dynasty 南朝, from the year 420 ~ 589. He painted four dragons in the Temple Anle安乐寺in JinLin 金陵. Strangly he never drew eyes for the dragons. People got confused and asked him why. He always replied, “ if I did draw the eyes, the dragons would fly away.” Of course, nobody believed him and thought he was crazy. In the end, in order to show people he was serious, he drew eyes for one of the dragons and after a little while, that dragon became alive and flew away into the clouds. People around were shocked and when they looked back the other three dragons without eyes were still on the wall. What a legendary artist! The dragons were so real that if he put extra details on them they would actually come to life. The moral of this story is that don’t give your robots an extra part of intelligence cause they might take over the world.

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This reminds me of another story from the book ZhanGuoCe战国策, which contains anecdotes of political manipulation and warfare during the Warring States period 战国时期, from 5th to 3rd centuries BC. There was a nobleman in the kingdom of Chu 楚国. One day, after worshiping his ancestors, he awarded a bottle of wine to his servants. These servants discussed about how they should share the wine. Since a bottle was not enough for all of them but a little more for one person, they decided that they would have a competition of drawing a snake. Whoever finished first would get the wine as a prize. One of the people finished really fast. When he was holding the wine in his left hand, he said “I still have enough time to add feet to the snake” and began to draw with his right hand. However, before he finished the feet, another person had completed drawing and snatched the wine from him and said,” A snake does not have feet. Why do you add feet to it? I won!” and drank the wine immediately. The person who added feet lost the wine. This is definitely not the best finishing touch. This idiom drawing a snake with feet 画蛇添足refers to spoiling things by doing things unnecessary. Sometimes more is less. For sure adding eyes to dragons is not unnecessary, but it is dangerous!

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Mentioned:

历代名画记 LiDaiMingHuaJi

张僧繇 ZhangSengYou

南朝 Northern Dynasty

安乐寺Temple Anle

金陵 JinLin

战国策 ZhanGuoCe

楚国 kingdom of Chu

画蛇添足 drawing a snake with feet

Episode 4: Dragon Gate

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If I am going to ask you one Chinese mythical animal, what is your first reaction? Of course the dragons. There are so many things and stories to say about dragons. Today I am going to tell two short stories about dragons that are most well-known. But don’t worry. We will get to know more in the future.

In the book TaiPingGuangJi 太平广记, a collection of stories compiled in the early Song dynasty the year 978, it says, the dragon gate was in the region of the east of Yellow River 黄河, Yu the Great , who is a legendary ruler in Xia Dynasty, from the year 2200- 2101 BC, known for his flood control, separated the mountain, and opened the so called dragon gate, a waterfall, which is one li long. Li is a ancient length unit, equls to around 400 ~ 500 meters or 1312 ~ 1640 feet. Yellow River flushed through the gate. Every late spring, there were yellow carps from seas and rivers swimming against the flow. As soon as they jumped over the dragon gate, they became dragons. It wasn’t easy. Only 72 carps out of thousands of thousands of carps could jump over the dragon gate every year. The process is a little dramatic. The moment a carp jumps over the gate, clouds and rains would follow it. Afterwards, fire from the sky would burn its tail and voila a carp is transformed into a dragon. The phrase carps jumping over the dragon gate 鲤鱼跳龙门 is to describe a person get a high ranking in the imperial examination which meant they would get a high position the government and work for the emperor in ancient China. We still use the phrase now when a person get into a famous college or a good job. From the scientific perspective, fish hurtle into the air to confuse a pursuer instead of trying to transform into dragons. In the story those fish were carps. Some people say because carps pronounced as LiYu鲤鱼. Li pronounced the same with the last name of the emperor in Tang Dynasty. Carps was popular pattern on decorations at that time too. For a certain time, carps were forbidden to hunt due to the same reason. You know Japanese art and culture was greatly influenced by China especially from Tang Dynasty. So you can find carp shaped wind socks, or koinobori in Japanese, flown in Japan to celebrate Children’s day and other holidays in the hope that children will grow up healthy and have a good future.

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It seems like everyone likes dragons and wants to be dragons in China. People even try to conceive on certain days to have a baby born in the year of the dragon. Lord Ye 叶公 is no exception. In the book XinXuZaShi新序杂事written around year 200 BC, it says there was a person named ShenZhuLian沈诸梁, we call him Lord Ye because of his title and region he was in charge of . He lived in the Spring and Autumn period 春秋时期, which was a period in Chinese history from year 771 to 476 BC. Lord Ye was so found of dragons. You could find dragons on his drinking containers, his decorations and there were carved dragons on the beams, pillars, windows and roofs of his houses too. He was a fan of dragons like today people put posters of Justin Biber everyone on the wall. The real dragon from the sky knew about it and decided to fly down to Lord Ye’s place and visit. When the gaint dragon came, his head was in front of the window while his tail was wagging in the hallway. Lord Ye saw it and guess what? He was scared out of his wits and darted away. Be careful of what you are wishing for! I never understood this story when I was a kid. We were told the moral was Lord Ye doesn’t love the real dragon but things looked like dragons. What does that mean? When I grow up, I just began to realize the philosophy of this story. People always say be yourself and do what you love. It’s not a easy thing to find the thing you really love. There is a simple way to ask a couple quesitons to yourself to find out. First, if you can get all the benefits without doing certain things, will you still do it? Second, if you can do it without telling any body you did it , will you still do it?

叶公好龙

Mentioned:

太平广记TaiPingGuangJi

Yu the Great

鲤鱼跳龙门 carps jumping over the dragon gate

Song Dynasty

Xia Dynasty

Tang Dynasty

Li

新序杂事XinXuZaShi

春秋时期Spring and Autumn period

叶公 Lord Ye