The story appears on

Page A16

February 5, 2017

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Sunday » Now and Then

Enter the dragon’s nine children

WHEN indicating the natural differences that exist among people, most Chinese will bring up the proverb, “The dragon has nine sons, none of which are alike.”

Probably out of respect and deference to the powerful dragon of Chinese myth, the Chinese also created nine legendary children for him. Yet, there is hardly a consensus around the composition of this legendary brood. Some scholars believe that the number “nine” in the proverb is just a plural indicator rather than an exact figure. Such vague use of numbers is common in the Chinese literary tradition.

According to one anecdote, the Emperor Xiaozong of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was once struck by curiosity regarding the nature of the dragon’s nine sons. He posed his question to Li Dongyang, the Minister of Rites and a man known for his extraordinary knowledge. But even Li could not satisfy the emperor’s curiosity. Soon after, he composed a list of the nine dragons, which he named and characterized.

Li’s isn’t the only such list in existence. But among the various versions, there is one commonality: every dragon has its own personality, which is distinct from the rest.

One of the most frequently-referenced list of dragons today was created by the author Wang Wenyuan in 2008. Here’s a look at the beasts and their supposed traits.


Qiu Niu 囚牛

Qiu Niu is said to be a yellow Chinese dragon with a gentle nature and a love for music. His image is often craved onto the heads of musical instruments, especially those of the stringed variety.


Chao Feng 嘲风

Chao Feng’s image is often found standing guard on cornices in traditional Chinese architecture. Because Chao Feng loves adventure, he often climbs high where he can gaze into the distance.

He is frequently accompanied by other guardian beasts, like the phoenix, lion and heavenly horse. There are 10 guardian beasts in total, yet the full compliment of animals can be found only on high-ranking royal structures, such as the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City. The number decreases with the standing of the building. Ordinary families were prohibited from adding images of these beasts to their houses.


Pu Lao 蒲牢

Pu Lao usually appears in a contorted, twisted posture. He is known for his booming voice, which can be heard for miles. Legend has it that Pu Lao dwells in the sea, where his great nemesis is a whale. Whenever the whale attacks, he will roar out of fear.

His image often graces the top of bells matched with wooden knockers shaped like a whale. When the “whale attacks,” the bell is though to roar out with the sound of a fearful Pu Lao.


Suan Ni 狻猊

Though appearing like a martial lion, Suan Ni rarely stirs. Rather, he loves mediation accompanied by burning incense. It is said that even Buddha appreciates his patience, and thus rides on Suan Ni when he needs to get around.

The image of Suan Ni is often decorated on incense burners or the seat of Buddha statues.


With a shell on his back, Bi Xi looks like a turtle with a dragon’s head. His image is often found at the bottom of huge monuments, with his head raised eagerly, as if trying to move.

Blessed with stupendous strength, Bi Xi loves moving mountains and manipulating waters. Subdued by the legendary hero Da Yu, Bi Xi helped reshape the landscape and rivers of China by taming the water.

But regardless of his great feats, Da Yu was still concerned that the dragon might again change the landscape. Thus, Da Yu created a huge stone monument on which Bi Xi’s deeds were recorded. But he had Bi Xi carry the monument on his back, so he could no longer freely travel about.

Ya Zi 睚眦

Ya Zi has a dragon’s head and wolf’s body. He is combative and blood thirsty. He is often found inscribed on various weapons meant for both ceremonial use and actual combat. Long tun kou (literally “dragon swallow mouth”) refers to a particular decorative pattern used on traditional weapons that features Ya Zi’s head with a wide-open mouth at the end of a blade. The design is meant to give the impression that the blade is coming right from Ya Zi’s mouth.


Bi An 狴犴

Bi An, also known as Xian Zhang, is a great judge with an appearance much like a tiger.

It is said that Bi An is firm when it comes to truth and falsehood and always speaks boldly in defense of justice. Therefore, his image is often used in law courts and jail gates.


Fu Xi is a scholar who is infatuated with poetry, literature and calligraphy.

He looks similar to his father, and is often found near inscriptions on stone or wood tablets.


Chi Wen 螭吻

Chi Wen has a dragon’s head, a fish’s body and a big open mouth ready to swallow anything that gets too close.

Legends suggest that Chi Wen is capable of bringing rains by splashing waves with his tail. For this reason, his image often appears on the ends of the central ridge of traditional Chinese roofs, where he is meant to guard against fire.

In some Buddhist temples, Chi Wen is also seen on the Rain God’s seat.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend