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Oriental China - The Fabulous Animals And Goddesses

( Originally Published 1911 )

WE have dealt shortly with the religions of China, and it is necessary to note in this connection how the emblems of the various religions became embodied as part of the decoration of porcelain; in fact, figures of the gods and goddesses were made associated with the symbols which seemed to indicate their work, and these comprised the dragon, the kylin, the lion, and the Fung-Hwang, Fwang-Hwang, Fong-Hoang or Ho-Ho Bird. N.B.—Variously spelt.


The dragon is a familiar object on Chinese porcelain, and being the Imperial arms it typifies all that is powerful and indeed terrible. Especially sacred is the dragon of heaven—lung; but li, the dragon of the sea, and kiau, the dragon of mountains and marshes, are also worshipped and feared. The dragons are either scaly, winged, horned, hornless, or rolled up before rising to the sky in spring, or plunging into the water in autumn. The Imperial dragon is armed with five claws on each of its four members, and is used as an emblem by the Emperor's family, and by princes of the highest two ranks. The four-clawed dragon is used by princes of the third or fourth class. Mandarins and princes of the fifth rank have, as an emblem, the four-clawed serpent. The three-clawed dragon —the Imperial dragon of Japan—is, in China, the one commonly used for decoration. The sacred pearl, adorned with the Yang and the Yin, representing the male and female elements in nature, always appears to be attracting the dragon.


The kylin, or k'i-lin, was an animal symbolising longevity and good government. It is often found upon porcelain as a part of the decoration. Its form is more like a deer than anything else, though it has the hoofs of a horse and the tail of an ox. Its head is like that of the dragon, and the body may or may not be covered with scales. In its mouth a bundle of scrolls or some symbol may often be found. Other monsters, notably the Corean lion, also called the Dog of Buddha or the Dog of FO, are called kylins, but the true kylin is as described above. Though hideous in aspect, it shows the kindest disposition, and is so gentle that it would not step upon a worm.


This animal, often miscalled kylin, is the habitual defender of Buddhist altars and temples, hence its name, the Dog of Buddha or the Dog of FO. Its appearance is almost always menacing with its sharp, powerful teeth and claws. In reality it is a sort of lion transformed. It has a bushy, often a bristling, mane and a tufted tail. It is found painted on vases, or modelled in relief on the top of the covers for vases. When found as a figure the lion is usually playing with a ball, the lioness with a cub. He is one of four animals representing power and energy. The others are the elephant, leopard, and tiger.


This bird, pre-eminent for elegance and benevolence, seems to have been a kind of pheasant, or some say a bird of paradise. It would neither injure living insects nor growing herbs, but lived in the highest regions of the air, and only descended to earth as the harbinger of good tidings—happy events to individuals, prosperous reigns to emperors. On Chinese porcelain either one or two birds are used with a decoration of rocks, trees, and flowers, and in such decorations it is known as the Fong-Hoang, or Ho-Ho bird. It is frequently represented carrying a scroll. In the illustration this scroll has fillets around it.

Amongst the goddesses were two who were especially esteemed. Si-Wang-Mu, the goddess of the Kuen-lung mountains, was a being of the female sex, the head of troups of genii who held from time to time intercourse with favourite disciples amongst the emperors. She is usually represented as riding upon the Ho-Ho amongst the clouds with her attendants, or she rests by the borders of the Lake of Gems, where grows the peach-tree of the genii, whose fruit confers the gift of immortality which Si-Wang-Mu bestows upon those favourite beings who for self-abnegation and devotion to the needs of others have deserved to be admitted into her presence. From this Lake of Gems, too, she sent out winged birds with azure blue feathers who served as her attendants and messengers.

Perhaps even more popular than Si-Wang-Mu was Kwan-Yin, to whom full reference will be made later. Both Si-Wang-Mu and Kwan-Yin are found as decorations upon Oriental porcelain and also as figures, some of the finest of which, shown in our illustrations, date from the Ming period. The eight Immortals will also be spoken of later. These are found in sets of figures or in a group of eight or nine. In the group of nine, Lao-tseu, the founder of Taoism, is the ninth figure.

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