Episode 119: One-Foot Bird

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Today we will talk about a mythical animal in Chinese mythology, a one-foot bird. The creature is called ShangYang 商羊. In the nature, some birds like herons or cranes sometimes stand with one foot so I assume this mythical animal ShangYang might be based on those birds. This mythical one-foot bird always dances before the rain. So since rain normally was regarded as beneficial in the agriculture society like ancient China, ShangYang was a lucky mythical animal.

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In the book KongZiJiaYu 孔子家语from the early Han dynasty around 206 BC ~ 220 AD, a collection of sayings of Confucius as a supplement to the book Analects 论语. I am not sure how much the stories in this book KongZiJiaYu really are about Confucius. It says, there was a kind of one-foot bird in the place Qi 齐. The bird jumped and danced around in the palace and people were upset and invited Confucius to solve the problem. Confucius said, “this bird is called ShangYang , a lucky bird to bring water. In the old times, kids like to jump around with one foot like the bird and singing a song about the coming rain. Now the bird shows up. We need to inform people the coming rain and repair dikes to prevent flooding. ” A few days after Confucius’ words, heavy rains fell in the place.

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There is a ritual of praying for rain in the ancient China maybe in some places today that people would dress up as a bird with a mask and jump with one foot. There is a pose with one foot jumping in some traditional Chinese dance called ShangYang dance.

 

Mentioned:

孔子家语 KongZiJiaYu

论语 Analects

Episode 112: Snow Spirit

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It is winter time in the north hemisphere.Today we will talk about the Snow Spirit, a mythical animal in Chinese mythology.

Snow Spirit 雪精 is the name of this mythical animal. Guess what animal is the Snow Spirit? A white donkey. In the book TaiPingQingHua 太平清话from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says, Mr. HongYa 洪崖先生 rides a white donkey called the Snow Spirit. Mr. HongYa as an ancient musician and also a Taoist immortal.

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In the book GuJinTuShuJiCheng 古今图书集成from the Qing dynasty 清朝, it says, after Mr. HongYa became a Taoist immortal, he rode his Snow Spirit and rose to the sky from a maple tree.

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In the book GuJinXiaoShuo 古今小说 from the Ming dynasty 明朝, it says, GuShenZhenRen 姑射真人, an immortal is the god of snow, who has a white donkey called Snow Spirit. Whenever the white donkey shed, it snows. A hair of the Snow Spirit falls one inch of snow. Mr. HongYe takes care of the Snow Spirit and usually put it in a gourd which he carries around. Once Mr. HongYa attended a banquet and got drunk. The white donkey ran away from the gourd and shed all over in the world. There was a heavy snow.

 

 

Mentioned:

太平清话 TaiPingQingHua

古今图书 集成 GuJinTuShuJiCheng

古今小说 GuJinXiaoShuo

Episode 100: Chinese phoenix

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Today is our Episode 100! Thank you for all the listeners who like and support us all the way! What are we going to talk about today?

There is a phrase in Chinese called BaiNiaoChaoFeng 百鸟 朝凤, which means hundreds of birds worshiping the Chinese phoenix. It is from the book TaiPingYuLan 太平预览 from the Song dynasty 宋朝. In the book, it mentions a scene saw by people a Chinese phoenix followed by hundreds of birds while singing, which is a good omen.

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Today we will talk about the mythical creature FengHuang 凤凰, Chinese phoenix. The Chinese translation of the Greek mythical creature phoenix is FengHuang and the English translation of the Chinese mythical creature FengHuang is Chinese phoenix. So they are similar, however, quite different.

First, phoenix is associated with the sun that obtains new life by arising from the ashes and dies in a show of flames. FengHuang however, the name Feng 凤 is from the character Feng 风 meaning wind and doesn’t reborn. One represents the worshiping of the sun fire and one represents the worshiping of wind.

Second, the Greek word phoenix derives the name of its purple-red hue that phoenix is the color of red and yellow. There are variations about the coloration of phoenix. FengHuang however is five-colored.

Third, phoenix is as similar in size to an eagle or even larger than ostrich. FengHuang however, according to the historian GuoPu 郭璞 from the Jin dynasty 晋朝, is around 6 chi 尺,which is about 180 cm pretty long but also light since it is based on the a peacock or a golden pheasant.

The image and meaning of FengHuang evolved through history. The earliest description is from the book Classics of the Mountains and Seas 山海经from the 4th century BC, it says there is a five-colored bird called HuangNiao 皇鸟, or LuanNiao 鸾鸟 or FengNiao 凤鸟. The bird is in a shape similar to a chicken. It eats and drinks, sings and dances. When it is seen, the world would be peaceful.

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In the book ShuoWenJieZi 说文解字from the Eastern Han dynasty 东汉时期 around the 2nd century, it says, Feng is a holy bird. It represents the wind. It has the neck of a snake, the tail of a fish , the forehead of a stork, the “whiskers” (a handful of red feathers around the neck looking like whiskers) of a Mandarin duck, the pattern of a dragon, the back of a tortoise, the beak of a rooster, and the jaw of a swallow.

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In the early times, FengHuang represented power sent from the heavens to the emperors and people used the word FengHuang to represent noble people or more accurately noble men in the ancient times. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. FengHuang likes to land on the Chinese parasol tree. That’s one reason Chinese people the parasol trees.

Since the Tang dynasty, the word has been more causally used. In the early times, Feng represents the male bird and Huang represents the female bird and has the meaning of love and couples. Since the Han dynasty 汉朝 , dragon started to represent royalty and the emperor. FengHuang was gradually feminized and used to represent empresses. The dragon-and-phoenix design is the symbol of harmony relationship between husband and wife.

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Mentioned:

太平预览 TaiPingYuLan

山海经 Classics of the Mountains and Seas

说文解字 ShuoWenJieZi

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 87– God With A Third Eye

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We talked about the Heavenly Dog in our last episode. In Chinese mythology, people sometimes  get confused about the Heavenly Dog with another holy dog called XiaoTianQuan 哮天犬, Howling Celestial Dog . Maybe due to they are both furious mythical dog living in the heaven. Today we are going to talk about the owner of XiaoTianQuan. His name is ErLangShen 二郎神. ErLang means the second boy. Shen means god.

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ErLangShen is a god with a third eye and is a folk god related with hydrology and agriculture. He is well-known maybe also due to some famous myths about him including his epic fight with the Monkey King in the book Journey to the West 西游记,which we will talk about in the future.

There are a few variations about who he is. Some historians think the origin of worshiping ErLangShen was based on the governor LiBing 李冰 and his son who contributed to the constructions of the irrigation system DuanJiangYan 都江堰 that also prevented flooding the region of ChengDu Plain 成都平原 . This is backed to Warring States period about the year 250 BC. Local people built temples dedicated to the Two Kings Temple to honor them.

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In the book Journey to the West , he is the nephew of the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝, the second son of the Jade Emperor’s sister YaoJi 瑶姬. His father is a normal person whose last name is Yang 杨. That’s why his name is ErLang Shen. There are some interesting stories about ErLangShen saved his mom that we can talk in the future.

The most popular version of ErLangShen is based on the book Investiture of the Gods 封神演义 , a 16th century Chinese novels in gods and demons during the Ming dynasty 明朝. The stories is set from Shang dynasty 商朝 to Zhou dynasty 周朝, around 1046 BC ~ 256 BC. A lot of stories we talk about are and will be from this book so we will mention it in the future.

In the book Investiture of the Gods, it says ErLanShen’s name is Yang Jian 杨戬. He is depicted as a Chinese warrior. Different from Journey to the west, he is the second son of Jade Emperor’s brother instead of his sister. He is the apprentice of YuDingZhenRen 玉鼎真人, a Taoist immortal. He was a general working for JiangZiYa 姜子牙, a Chinese noble helping King Wu 武王of Zhou dynasty 周朝 overthrow the Shang dynasty 商朝. JiangZiYa has a lot of interesting stories that we can talk about in the future. So far you can see ErLangShen is in a lot of stories. Today we are just giving some general information about him.

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His is usually depicted as a noble and powerful warrior god that vanquishes demons and monsters and who embodies justice. He has enormous strength and is capable of 72 transformations like the monkey king. His weapon is a three-pointed spear with double-edged saber 三尖两刃枪. His best companion is his faithful dog Howling Celestial Dog 哮天犬 that has the ability to attack and subdue demons. In the book Investiture of the Gods , it is a white dog with a thin waist however for some reasons, in most pictures you see today they appear to be black. Now we are finally talking about his third eye on his forehead, “the Eye of Heaven” 天眼. It differentiate truth from lies and sees through deceptions and disguises. It can also fire highly destructive energy blasts of power that destroy anything it hits like a laser gun. If you have seen the Japanese cartoon Dragon Ball, and know the character Tien Shinhan who is based on ErlangShen, you will understand more about what I was talking about.

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Mentioned:

哮天犬 Howling Celestial Dog

西游记 Journey to the West

李冰 LiBing

都江堰 DuanJiangYan

成都平原 ChengDu Plain

玉皇大帝 Jade Emperor

瑶姬 YaoJi

封神演义 Investiture of the Gods

杨戬 Yang Jian

玉鼎真人 YuDingZhenRen

姜子牙 JiangZiYa

King Wu 武王of Zhou dynasty 周朝

Tien Shinhan

Dragon Ball