Chinese Ceramic Dog

Chinese Ceramic Dog

How to Use Fu Dogs for Good Feng Shui

Feng shui Fu Dogs or Imperial Guardian Lions are a strong feng shui protection symbol. Fu Dogs were traditionally placed in front of Imperial palaces, temples, and government offices. They were also a traditional feng shui symbol of family wealth and social status and were placed in front of wealthy homes.

Fu Dogs are usually displayed as a couple. The male Fu Dog is holding a globe under his right paw, which signifies control over his domain and protection of his home. The female Fu Dog is holding a cub under her left paw, signifying strong maternal protective instincts.

It is interesting to note that the lion is not an animal indigenous to China. It is believed that travelers to China brought stories about lions as Buddhist protectors of Dharma. Statues of lions were modeled in feng shui based on the travelers' descriptions and drawing inspiration from native dogs.

Today, there are Fu Dog feng shui cures to suit any taste and any home. The color, size, and material can influence where and how to use a Fu Dog—from guarding a front door to adding a sense of calm and good luck to your home's interior.

The History of Foo Dogs

The use of carved stone lions to guard an entrance to a home or sacred space goes back to the year 206 BC. These imposing beasts were said to have magical protective powers that would protect the inhabitants from harm. The presence of the roaring lions, real or not, was said to keep thieves and negative energy from entering the property. The animals also conveyed the wealth and power of the owners.

Chinese Foo Dogs started as similar massive lion statues that were placed at the entrance to Chinese temples as a symbol of wealth and protection. The lions were traditionally carved from marble and granite, or cast in iron or bronze. Foo Dogs differ from traditional lions in that the face of the animal has a mischievous or devilish look. The eyes are usually large and wide open with a tiny hole in the middle. The bodies are ornately carved with flowing manes and often draped with jewels. This menacing appearance is what conveys the idea that these statues have the power to keep evil at bay. Because of the high cost of making the statues, the presence of these lions was also associated with wealth. Today, lions and Foo Dog statues are mass-produced from concrete and resin products and can be purchased by anyone regardless of their financial or social standing.

Uses For Chinese Chops

Chinese seals are used by individuals as signatures for many kinds of official documents, such as legal papers and bank transactions. Most of these seals simply bear the owners name and are called 姓名印 (xìngmíng yìn). There are also seals for less formal uses, such as signing personal letters. And there are seals for artworks, created by the artist and which add a further artistic dimension to the painting or calligraphic scroll.

Seals which are used for government documents usually bear the name of the office, rather than the name of the official.

New Porcelain Marked Nippon

Since the mid-1990s there have been a wide number of faked Nippon marks appearing on new porcelain.

The first fake marks of the 1980s were on blanks with decorations unlike that of original Nippon and were relatively easy to identify. Recent fakes have improved tremendously and have many of the features of originals such as heavy raised gold, pastel colors and very accurate copies of original marks.

The manufacture and decoration of pottery and porcelain has been a Japanese tradition for hundreds of years. Japanese porcelain has been commercially imported into the United States from the mid-19th century. By the turn of the century, large quantities of Japanese porcelain were being imported and sold throughout the U. S. The amount increased dramatically when WW I cut off the U.S. from European porcelain factories.

One of the reasons Japanese porcelain was popular in the U.S. was because it was usually less expensive than porcelain from Europe or England. The low cost was not based on low quality, however. It was due to Japanese workers being paid very little for the time and skill they brought to their work.

Japanese porcelain made for export to the United States from 1891 to 1921 is called "Nippon Porcelain" because the word "Nippon" was on each piece. The word "Nippon" was required by the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890. This law stated that all manufactured goods imported to the United States be marked with the country of origin. Since "Nippon" was the Japanese word for the country of Japan, porcelain made there for the U.S. market was marked "Nippon" to comply with the new law. American trade officials accepted "Nippon" as the name of the country of origin until 1921. At that time, it was ruled that "Nippon" was a Japanese word. Since the law required the country of origin to be an English word, the use of "Nippon" was forbidden from 1921 on.

The period between the passage of the McKinley Act in 1890 and the English word ruling in 1921 is the only time "Nippon" appeared in authentic marks. For years, this knowledge was an easy rule of thumb collectors used to their benefit. Any mark with "Nippon" had to be made before 1921 when the word was banned from U.S. imports. This rule held true until the early 1980s when new porcelain began appearing with marks containing the word "Nippon". Did the law change?

No, the McKinley Act did not change nor was it interpreted differently. Goods imported into the U.S. still must be marked with the English name of the country of origin. However, new porcelain, imported from Taiwan for example, meets all current U.S. Customs requirements with a simple "Made in Taiwan" paper label. The appearance of other names on a piece, such as Nippon or R.S. Prussia, Limoges, etc., is not illegal.

Why? The majority of words collectors associate with age or quality--like Nippon, Prussia, Limoges, etc.--are generally place names for countries or regions that no longer exist. For U.S. Custom's purposes, old place names are ignored as long as the present day country of origin is stated. In other words, a confusing mark including the word Nippon is not illegal as long as the piece is also marked "Made in Taiwan (or China, Indonesia, etc.)". Unfortunately most "Made in. " country of origin markings are usually removable paper stickers. New marks with Nippon and other confusing words and symbols are usually under glaze and are not removable. Persons who want to misrepresent a new piece simply remove the country of origin label. It is then up to the buyer to detect the often subtle differences between new and old marks.

Detecting new and old

Detecting fake marks from memory alone can be difficult. No one rule can be used to detect all the new marks. What may be an indication of a fake in one mark, may not be of help when examining another mark. Most marks need to be examined on a case by case basis. Apply the guidelines for new and old only to the specific mark being discussed. Study and familiarize yourself with the key features of original marks listed by the photographs and illustrations in this article. Don't be misled by large areas of raised gold or what appears to be genuine old colors and old decorations. The overall appearance of the latest reproductions is becoming more and more like Nippon originals.

The differences between new and old marks appear below. A summary chart of new and old marks appears at the end.

Fig. 1 A sample of new Nippon marks. All are copied from genuine pre-1921 marks.

Fig. 2 RS (Reinhold Schegelmilch) Prussia vases as shown in 1914 Butler Bros. catalog. Vases are 9" to 10 1/4" high price 85 cents to $1.35 each. Compare to similar 9" Nippon vases shown in Fig. 3 which are $4.50 per dozen or 38 cents each which is about only half the cost of the European porcelain.

Fig. 3 Nippon 9" vases from Butler Bros. catalog, 1913. Price $4.50 per dozen

Fig. 5 Many place names associated with age or quality are permanently marked on new porcelain made in Taiwan, Japan, India, etc., The new hatpin holder in Fig. 5 was made in Japan and originally had a "Made in Japan" paper label. However, it is permanently marked with the confusing new Limoges mark in Fig. 4.

New wreath marks

Fig. 6 New wreath: mark (A) -- Wreath turned upside down an hour glass was never used in old mark.

Fig. 7 New weath: mark (B) -- Wreath is closed at top no stem on 3-leaved figure at base of wreath.

Fig. 8 New wreath: mark (C) -- Wreath turned upside down letter "K" was never used in old mark.

Original wreath

Fig. 9 Original mark -- The wreath is open at the top. All lines are quite solid and distinct.

Details in original wreath marks There are distinct decorative flourishes in the letters H and P of Hand Painted. The three leaf figure at the base of the wreath should have a stem.

New maple leaf mark

Fig. 10 The leaf in the new mark is about 1/2" wide. The leaf itself is poorly shaped and the lines tend to be broken and weak.

Original maple leaf mark

Fig. 11 The leaf in the old mark is only about 1/4" wide. All lines in the old mark are solid and heavy.

New rising sun marks

Fig. 12 New rising sun: mark (A) There is a white space between the jagged edge of the rays and the solid body of the sun. (Sample unavailable for photographing.)

Fig. 13 New rising sun: mark (B) The semi-circle of the sun is shown in outline (hollow). Rays are straight lines.

Original mark

Fig. 14 Original rising sun mark: Solid rays extend from the solid body of the sun.

New RC mark

Fig. 15 New RC mark: New mark entirely green. R C poorly formed RC barely recognizable as English letters. Printing is weak.

Original RC mark

Fig. 16 Old RC mark: The words "Hand Painted" are in red "RC" and "Nippon" appear in green. Letters RC are distinct.

New spoke mark

Fig. 17 New spoke mark: The words "Hand Painted" form a semicircle at the top. (Sample unavailable for photographing)

Old spoke mark

Fig. 18 Old Spoke mark: The words "Hand Painted" are set in a straight horizontal line at the top. (Sample unavailable for photographing).

Examples of new pieces with new Nippon marks

Fig. 19 4" hatpin holder with new style B wreath mark. Decorated with raised gold similar to original decorations.

Fig. 20 8" vase with new RC mark. The same decoration appears on the bowl in Fig. 24 below. No specific mark is found on any specific shape or any particular decoration. Any new mark can appear on almost any new shape.

Figs. 21-23 Vase in Fig. 21 is 12" high has new rising sun mark. Decoration includes use of raised gold shown in close up in Fig. 23 above. Opposite side of vase appears in Fig. 22.

Fig. 24 Bowl above is 3 x 2 1/2" new rising sun mark. Same decoration as vase in Fig. 20 with new RC mark.

Fig. 25 6" vase with new maple leaf mark

Fig. 26 8" vase with new spoke mark.

Fig. 27 A 8" porcelain box with metal hinges and trim. Marked with new K in wreath mark.

Fig. 28 A 4" two-piece covered box marked with hour glass in wreath mark.

Summary of new Nippon marks

The entire mark is green . The R and C do not appear as distinct letters. Lines forming the mark are very weak and thin.

"Hand Painted" curves around the top of the circle.

This mark is considerably larger than the original. The leaf is approx. 1/2" wide.

There is white space between the body of the sun and the bottom of the rays.

The body of the sun is an outline. The rays simply straight lines.

Wreath turned upside down an hour glass in the center, (hour glass was never used in an old mark)

Wreath is closed at top no stem on 3-leaf figure at base of wreath.

Wreath turned upside down letter "K" in center. (K was never used in old mark).

Summary of old Nippon marks

The original mark is in two colors . The words "Hand Painted" are red "RC" and "Nippon" are green . Letters R and C should be well formed and distinct. Look for the curled loop in the P in painted.

"Hand Painted" is set in a straight line. There is a loop in the cross bar of the letter "H"

The width of the leaf in the old mark is approx. l/4"wide.

The body of the sun in the old mark is solid.

The letter "M" in the center. Note that the wreath is open at top.

There is a stem at the base of the 3-leaf figure at the bottom of the wreath.

Note the decorative flourishes in the crossbar of the letter H. There are also decorative strokes at the end of each line of the letter P.

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Kaolin, also called china clay, soft white clay that is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of china and porcelain and is widely used in the making of paper, rubber, paint, and many other products. Kaolin is named after the hill in China (Kao-ling) from which it was mined for centuries. Samples of kaolin were first sent to Europe by a French Jesuit missionary around 1700 as examples of the materials used by the Chinese in the manufacture of porcelain.

In its natural state kaolin is a white, soft powder consisting principally of the mineral kaolinite, which, under the electron microscope, is seen to consist of roughly hexagonal, platy crystals ranging in size from about 0.1 micrometre to 10 micrometres or even larger. These crystals may take vermicular and booklike forms, and occasionally macroscopic forms approaching millimetre size are found. Kaolin as found in nature usually contains varying amounts of other minerals such as muscovite, quartz, feldspar, and anatase. In addition, crude kaolin is frequently stained yellow by iron hydroxide pigments. It is often necessary to bleach the clay chemically to remove the iron pigment and to wash it with water to remove the other minerals in order to prepare kaolin for commercial use.

When kaolin is mixed with water in the range of 20 to 35 percent, it becomes plastic (i.e., it can be molded under pressure), and the shape is retained after the pressure is removed. With larger percentages of water, the kaolin forms a slurry, or watery suspension. The amount of water required to achieve plasticity and viscosity varies with the size of the kaolinite particles and also with certain chemicals that may be present in the kaolin. Kaolin has been mined in France, England, Saxony (Germany), Bohemia (Czech Republic), and in the United States, where the best-known deposits are in the southeastern states.

Approximately 40 percent of the kaolin produced is used in the filling and coating of paper. In filling, the kaolin is mixed with the cellulose fibre and forms an integral part of the paper sheet to give it body, colour, opacity, and printability. In coating, the kaolin is plated along with an adhesive on the paper’s surface to give gloss, colour, high opacity, and greater printability. Kaolin used for coating is prepared so that most of the kaolinite particles are less than two micrometres in diameter.

Kaolin is used extensively in the ceramic industry, where its high fusion temperature and white burning characteristics makes it particularly suitable for the manufacture of whiteware (china), porcelain, and refractories. The absence of any iron, alkalies, or alkaline earths in the molecular structure of kaolinite confers upon it these desirable ceramic properties. In the manufacture of whiteware the kaolin is usually mixed with approximately equal amounts of silica and feldspar and a somewhat smaller amount of a plastic light-burning clay known as ball clay. These components are necessary to obtain the proper properties of plasticity, shrinkage, vitrification, etc., for forming and firing the ware. Kaolin is generally used alone in the manufacture of refractories.

Substantial tonnages of kaolin are used for filling rubber to improve its mechanical strength and resistance to abrasion. For this purpose, the clay used must be extremely pure kaolinite and exceedingly fine grained. Kaolin is also used as an extender and flattening agent in paints. It is frequently used in adhesives for paper to control the penetration into the paper. Kaolin is an important ingredient in ink, organic plastics, some cosmetics, and many other products where its very fine particle size, whiteness, chemical inertness, and absorption properties give it particular value.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

The history

In China, there is an interesting legend of how cloisonné came to be popular. During the first year of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), a major fire broke out in the imperial palace. All the treasures were damaged. However, a vase alone remained intact. The officials gifted it to the emperor, who ended up being very fond of it.

“The emperor thought that it was a precious gift given by the god[s], and asked all the craftsmen in the capital city to learn the making methods and imitate it. Therefore, [in] the beginning, all cloisonn é wares were owned by the royals. Cloisonn é became a courtly art and an important part [of] Chinese royal culture,” according to Top China Travel .

When the Yuan Mongol army conquered West Asia in the late 13 th century, they brought with them the enamels popular in the region. Craftsmen who were taken as prisoners are believed to have contributed to the cloisonné tradition back in China. In his book Ge Gu Yao Lun, author Cao Zhao mentions cloisonné as “Dashi” or “Muslim” ware.

Craftsmen who were taken as prisoners are believed to have contributed to the cloisonné tradition back in China. (Image: pschemp via wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), cloisonné work in China reached its peak. Under emperor Jingtai’s rule, cloisonné came to be known as “jingtai blue,” since the enamelware from the period tended to be blue in color. During this time, there was a major innovation in cloisonné work as craftsmen increasingly started using white porcelain as the substrate material.

“It combined their skill with making the translucent, light, and strong white porcelain that had been highly prized abroad for many centuries with the Western technique of decorating with cloisonné artwork. Porcelain withstood the high heat firing needed to produce the layers of glass enamel,” according to China Highlights .

During the Qing Dynasty (1664-1911), the quality of cloisonné work is said to have dropped. However, gold objects decorated with cloisonné art were very much valued in the court. Today, the fusion of modern technology with cloisonné techniques has allowed craftsmen to create artwork that is very colorful.

Identifying Chinese Porcelain

Before the last Chinese dynasty ended the expression of crafts and arts followed mostly tradition and was limited to some degree by imperial guidelines and other factors. One of the latter were possibly the methods with which arts and crafts were taught in Far Eastern societies in ancient times, not allowing for free expression and creativity. Apprentices would rather be copying the works of their master or others rather than creating their own works.

Only from the republic period onwards, after the old ways declined, artistic expression became possible, and shapes and decorations slowly became more variegated. A major cause of this was possibly the increased exposure to foreign cultures.

Accordingly, the 20th century became for ceramics a new era of innovation, with new shapes and decorations. Potters and factories started producing items that were more and more different from the traditional wares, incorporating creative influences from abroad.

The identification and authentication of Chinese porcelain is a complex process of an overall verification of a number of factors. All experienced collectors know that with Chinese porcelain the mark is the last to be looked at.

Identifying Chinese porcelain items, including evaluation of age and/or manufacturing period, always involves, among other, shape, decoration and other reference points. These are important for further evaluation, once an item is established a genuine antique.

The overall evaluation takes into account the following points:

  • Shape
  • Colors
  • Decoration style
  • Foot (foot rim & inner area)
  • Glaze
  • Age signs
  • Mark

Since porcelain was first produced, assumedly in the Song dynasty, its forms were limited to certain shapes. Although shapes may have had some minor variations during different dynasties or reigns, deviations within a single reign or dynasty were usually relatively limited. This is one of the factors which helps us identify Chinese porcelain.

The shapes usually remained more or less the same with kitchen or table wares due to their utilitarian purpose and association with our eating and drinking habits.
Decorative items like vases, jars and ceramic containers of all sizes and forms were more subjected to change.

When visually identifying Chinese porcelain, the Shape is the first thing meeting the eye. A short glance over a vase or jar, for example, often allows an expert of Chinese ceramics to assert or discard the possibility of a Chinese object being antique.

Some shapes or curves, like those found in Japanese Sake jars or tea cups, are rare or non-existent among Chinese ceramics of old, yet they can be found on modern fakes.
Another example is the Europen plate shape, which was virtually unknown in China before production for European clients started, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

If the shape passes this first step of inspection, the expert will most likely do a short evaluation of the decoration's color(s). Here again, certain colors (pigments) or combinations of these were not available in earlier times, or were out of supply at times, due to trading prohibitions during certain periods. Therefore, the presence of a color or colors that will not fit a specific period of production, will result in an item being classified as a later reproduction or fake.

The very earliest porcelain decorations of porcelain were made in਋lue on white ground. But, even the blue color tone differed depending on whether the blue dye was imported, sourced domestically, or was a mix of both. As imports weren't available at all times, this color itself may also help identification of Chinese antiques.  See antique china categories for color information according to decoration type.

If the item passes color inspection, then the decoration will probably be scanned for any signs of acceptable or unacceptable styles or patterns. Different painting styles may also give some era-specific hints.

Looking at the bottom of an item provides the most relevant indications in view to age and/or approximate time of production. The production process was subject to a continuous improvement over the centuries. The presence or absence of signs or features pointing to certain techniques can be an important means to clarify authenticity of porcelain.

The glaze provides some hints as to the age, as it was different and evolving over time, and may have been subjected to elements (soil, sea, air). 

As with the glaze the clay/slip was gradually refined and in the 18th century its quality was at the peak. However, it declined somewhat after that. Some defects therefore may not show in porcelain of the 18th century.

Age signs

Finally, the whole item is checked for the appropriate age signs. Here again, some points involving the techniques (e.g. kiln firing, etc.) developed over time can be included in the overall evaluation when identifying Chinese porcelain.

If there is a mark, the experienced collector will know if the period of the mark and that of the item itself (the points mentioned above) fit into the same picture. Please see the section on marks.

Chinese Ceramic Dog - History

Jp. = Shishin 四神 Chn. = Sì Shòu 四獸
Four Guardians of the Four Compass Directions
Celestial Emblems of the Chinese Emperor
Shishin 四神. Also read Shijin. Also known in Japan
as the Shijū 四獣, Shishō 四象, or Shirei 四霊.

Origin = China

Click images to jump to specific creatures.

Tortoise (Black Warrior) = North, Winter, Black, Water
White Tiger (Kirin) = West, Fall, White, Metal
Red Bird (Phoenix) = South, Summer, Red, Fire
Dragon = East, Spring, Blue/Green, Wood
Each is associated with seven constellations. See 28 Constellations.

In Japan, the four creatures have
been supplanted by the SHITENNŌ

Lit. = Four Heavenly Kings (of Buddhism)
Four Guardians of the Four Compass Directions.
Associated closely with China’s Five Element Theory.

At the heart of Chinese mythology are four spiritual creatures (Sì Shòu 四獸) -- four celestial emblems -- each guarding a direction on the compass. In China, the four date back to at least the 2nd century BC. Each creature has a corresponding season, color, element, virtue, and other traits. Further, each corresponds to a quadrant in the sky, with each quadrant containing seven seishuku, or star constellations (also called the 28 lunar mansions or lodges for charts, see this outside site). Each of the four groups of seven is associated with one of the four celestial creatures. There was a fifth direction -- the center, representing China itself -- which carried its own seishuku. In Japan, the symbolism of the four creatures appears to have merged with and been supplanted by the Shitennō (Four Heavenly Kings). The latter four are the Buddhist guardians of the four directions who serve Lord Taishakuten (who represents the center), and are closely associated with China’s Theory of Five Elements. In any case, the four animals are much more prevalent in artwork in China than in Japan, although in Japan one can still find groupings of the four creatures. The four were probably introduced to Japan from China sometime in the 7th century AD, for their images are found on the tomb walls at Takamatsuzuka 高松塚 in Nara, which was built sometime in the Asuka period (600 - 710 AD). They are also found on the base of the Yakushi Triad 薬師三尊像 at Yakushi-ji Temple 薬師寺, also in Nara.

SHISHIN 四神. Below Text Courtesy JAANUS
Ancient Chinese mythical animals associated with the four cardinal directions: green/blue dragon (Chn: Qinglong 青龍, Jp: Seiryuu) of the east white tiger (Chn: Baihu 白虎, Jp: Byakko) of the west red phoenix (Ch: Zhuque 朱雀, Jp: Suzaku) of the south and black warrior (Chn: Xuan Wu 玄武, Jp: Genbu) of the north, a tortoise-like chimera with the head and tail of a serpent. The pictorial theme developed around the Warring States to Early Han period in China. Frequently painted on the walls of early Chinese and Korean tombs, the animals served primarily an apotropaic function warding off evil spirits. In Japan notable examples of the shishin are found on the walls of the tomb chamber in the tumulus Takamatsuzuka 高松塚 of the Asuka period, and on the base of the Yakushi Triad, Yakushi Sansonzō 薬師三尊像 at Yakushiji Temple 薬師寺, both in Nara.

Exerpt from “Chinese Mythology:
An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend”
by Derek Walters. ISBN: 1855380803
Writes Walters: “The four directions, east, south, west and north, represent the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Together with the Center, which in Chinese is synonymous with China itself, they form the five cardinal points. The Four Directions have been represented at least since the second century BC by four celestial animals, the Dragon for the East, the Bird for the South, the Tiger for the West, and the Tortoise for the North. Each animal has its own color: the Dragon is the Green of Spring, the Bird the red of Fire, the Tiger of Autumn the glittering white of metal (of ploughshares or swords), and the Tortoise Black, for night, or water. The four celestial animals, which have no connection with the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, are also the names of the four divisions of the sky [note. each with seven constellations, see 28 Constellations]. The Dragon's Heart, the Pleiades, and the Bird Star are the names of three of the lunar mansions which marked the central position of the Dragon, Tiger and Bird. As there was no identifying star at the centre of the Black Tortoise, the appropriate place (the eleventh mansion) was called Void.”

Phoenix vs. Red Bird, Ch’i-lin (Kirin) vs. White Tiger. Why the Confusion ?
In the same book, Walters explains: “However, it seems that before the adoption of the Four Celestial Emblems, there were only three -- the Feng Bird (or Phoenix), the Dragon, and the Ch’i-lin (or unicorn). Bronze mirrors usually portray cosmological patterns and symbolism on the back. Those of the Tang period (618 - 906 AD) show all twelve, or sometimes the 28 or even 36 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and those of an earlier period depict the four celestial emblems referred to above. But the very earliest mirrors show only the three: the Ch’i-lin, the Feng-huang, and the Dragon. Because of the astronomical significance, the White Tiger replaced the Ch’i-lin, and the Phoenix gave way to the Red Bird, which is of uncertain identity. Thus the Tortoise was a later but not the last addition, for many mystical texts refer to the northern constellation not as the tortoise, but as the Black Warrior.” < end quote from Derek Walters >

NOTE: The Chinese Ch’i-lin is known in Japan as KIRIN. Many web sites replace the White Tiger with the mythological KIRIN in groupings of the four animals. Many web sites also list the Phoenix, not the Red Bird, as the celestial emblem of the south. This confusion is entirely forgivable, as the composition of this group of four has changed over the centuries to reflect ever-changing traditions.

Attributes of the Four
China and Japan Myths and Legends
by Donald A. Mackenzie ISBN: 1851700161

    . East, Spring, Wood, Planet Jupiter, liver & gall (Phoenix). South, Summer, Fire, Planet Mars heart and large intestines . West, Autumn, Wind, Metal, Planet Venus, lungs and small intestine . North, Black, Winter, Cold, Water, Planet Mercury, kidneys and bladder

Represents the yang principle often portrayed surrounded by water or clouds. In Chinese mythology, there are five types of dragon: (1) the celestial dragons who guard the abodes of the gods (2) dragon spirits, who rule over wind and rain but can also cause flooding (3) earth dragons, who cleanse the rivers and deepen the oceans (4) treasure-guarding dragons and (5) imperial dragons, those with five claws instead of the usual four.

The dragon is a mythical creature resembling a snake -- reflecting its membership in the NAGA (Sanskrit) family of serpentine creatures. It is also a member of the Hachi Bushu (the eight protectors of Buddhism). Dragons are said to be shape shifters, and may assume human form. In contrast to Western mythology, dragons are rarely depicted as malevolent. Although fearsome and powerful, they are equally considered just, benevolent, and the bringers of wealth and good fortune. Click here for much more on the Asian dragon.

Editor’s Note. Despite the dragon’s close association with water and the watery realm, in the Shishin Grouping of Four Celestial Emblems (this page), the dragon is associated with the element WOOD. The turtle is associated with the element WATER. See Five Elements.

  1. Su Boshi
  2. Ami Boshi
  3. Tomo Boshi
  4. Soi Boshi
  5. Nakago Boshi
  6. Ashitare Boshi
  7. Mi Boshi

  • See Dragon star charts at this outside site.
  • Jump to Dragon Main Page

Red Bird, Big Bird, Suzaku, Phoenix
Jump to Main Phoenix Page for More Details
Chinese = Zhū Qiǎo 朱雀 or Zhū Niǎo 朱鳥
Korean = Chujak 주작
Japanese = Suzaku, Sujaku, Shujaku 朱雀
Japanese = Shuchō 朱鳥 or Suchō, Akamitori, Akamidori aka the Vermillion Bird. Shuchō was also a Japanese era name for a few months between 686 and 687 AD.

In Japan, the term “Suzaku” is translated as “Red Bird” or “Vermillion Chinese Phoenix.” In both Japan and China, the symbolism of the red bird seems nearly identical to or merged with that of the mythological Phoenix. At this site, I consider the Suzaku and the Phoenix to be the same magical creature, although I am not certain if this is entirely true. Scholar Derek Walters (see resources) says the Phoenix was supplanted (replaced) by the Red Bird, for the Red Bird more accurately reflected the astronomical iconography associated with the southern lunar mansions.

Corresponds to summer, red, fire, and knowledge makes small seeds grow into giant trees (need to give source). Often paired with the dragon, for the two represent both conflict and wedded bliss dragon (emperor) and phoenix (empress). Portrayed with radiant feathers, and an enchanting song only appears in times of good fortune. Within the ancient Imperial Palace in Japan, there was a gate known as Suzakumon 朱雀門 (Red Bird Gate). See JAANUS for a few more details on this gate.

Suzaku’s seven seishuku 星宿 (constellations) are:

  1. Chichiri Boshi (Chn. = Ching 井)
  2. Tamahome Boshi (Chn. = Kuei 鬼)
  3. Nuriko Boshi (Chn. = Liu 柳)
  4. Hotohori Boshi (Chn. = Hsing 星)
  5. Chiriko Boshi (Chn. = Chang 張)
  6. Tasuki Boshi (Chn. = Yi 翼)
  7. Mitsukake Boshi (Chn. = Chen 軫)

The Red Bird of the South (Suzaku)
Found on tomb wall at Kitora Kofun
Photo courtesy Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Nara
Archaeological dating places its construction to the
Asuka period (7th to early 8th centuries)

Suzaku, The Red Bird, Modern Drawing. Available for Online Purchase

Jpn = Byakko 白虎, Chn = Baihu. Guards Buddha’s teachings and mankind observes world with clairvoyance corresponds to the season fall, the color white, wind, the element metal, and the virtue righteousness. Says Donald Mackenzie: "The White Tiger of the West, for instance, is associated with metal. When, therefore, metal is placed in a grave, a ceremonial connection with the tiger god is effected. According to the Chinese Annals of Wu and Yueh, three days after the burial of the king, the essence of the element metal assumed the shape of a white tiger and crouched down on the top of the grave. Here the tiger is a protector - a preserver. As we have seen, white jade was used when the Tiger god of the West was worshipped it is known as 'tiger jade' a tiger was depicted on the jade symbol. To the Chinese the tiger was the king of all animals and lord of the mountains, and the tiger-jade ornament was specially reserved for commanders of armies. The male tiger was, among other things, the god of war, and in this capacity it not only assisted the armies of the emperors, but fought the demons that threatened the dead in their graves." <end quote>

Byakko, Takamatsu Zuka Tombs
Learn more at this outside site.

  1. Tokaki Boshi (Chn. = K’uei 奎)
  2. Tatara Boshi (Chn. = Lou 婁)
  3. Ekie Boshi (Chn. = Wei 胃)
  4. Subaru Boshi (Chn. = Mao 昴)
  5. Amefuri Boshi (Chn. = Pi 畢)
  6. Toroki Boshi (Chn. = Tsui 觜)
  7. Kagasuki Boshi (Chn. = Shen 參)

PHOTO: From Research Report of Cultural Heritage in Asuka Village Vol. 3. A primary center of power in Japan in the 6th and 7th centuries, Asuka lies about 12 miles south of Nara in the Kinki District home to many ancient temples and tombs. The Takamatsu Zuka Tombs 高松塚 were discovered the early 1970s and date back to Japan’s Asuka Period (600 - 710 AD).

In Japan, the tiger is sometimes confused with the mythological Chinese Ch'i-lin (Qilin), which is rendered Kirin 麒麟 in Japan. Scholar Derek Walters says the Ch’i-lin was supplanted (replaced) by the White Tiger, for the Tiger more accurately reflected the astronomical iconography associated with the western lunar mansions.

The Kirin, which often appears tiger-like in artwork (see photos below), is a different creature entirely from the White Tiger. The Kirin is said to have the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the hooves of a horse, a body covered with the scales of a fish, and a single horn. The Kirin appears only before the birth or death of a great and wise person. Said to live in paradise, the Kirin personifies all that is good, pure, and peaceful can live to be 1,000 years old.

Below text courtesy of
A mythical horned Chinese deer-like creature said to appear only when a sage has appeared. It is a good omen associated with serenity and prosperity. Often depicted with what looks like fire all over its body. In most drawings, its head looks like that of a Chinese dragon (see dragon above). Japanese art typically depicts the Kirin as more deer-like than its Chinese counterpart. Kirin is sometimes translated in English as "unicorn," because it looks similar to the unicorn -- the later a hoofed mythological horse-like beast with a single horn on its head. Some accounts describe it as having the body of a deer and the head of a lion. <end quote>

Below: Images of the Kirin

NORTH - The Tortoise / Turtle / Snake
Genbu 玄武 in Japanese in Chinese Gui Xian, Kuei Hsien, Zuan Wu, Zheng Wu, Xuanwu. Genbu is always listening, and is thus portrayed as completely versed in Buddha’s teachings corresponds to winter, cold, water, black, earth, and faith. The tortoise is a symbol of long life and happiness. When it becomes one thousand years old, it is able to speak the language of humans. Able to foretell the future. In artwork, often shown together with the snake.

In Japan, the turtle’s Buddhist counterpart is known as Tamonten, the most powerful of the Shitennō (Four Buddhist Protectors of the Four Directions). Tamonten is also known as the Black Warrior and is also called Bishamonten like the tortoise, his imagery corresponds to north, winter, black, and the element water.

Says Derek Walters: "One of the Celestial Emblems, the symbol of longevity and wisdom. It is said that its shell represents the vault of the universe. A common symbol for longevity is the Tortoise and Snake, whose union was thought to have engendered the universe. The reason why tortoise symbolism has been superseded by the Black Warrior as the emblem of the North, is probably due to the fact that 'tortoise' is a term of abuse in China." <end quote by Walters>

Turtle Entwined with Snake
Wood, Date Unknown
Photo courtesy of

Says Donald Mackenzie: "In China the tortoise had divine attributes. Tortoise shell is a symbol of unchangeability, and a symbol or rank when used for court girdles. The tortoise was also used for purposes of divination. A gigantic mythical tortoise is supposed, in the Far East, to live in the depths of the ocean. It has one eye situated in the middle of its body. Once every three thousand years it rises to the surface and turns over on its back so that it may see the sun." <end quote Mackenzie>

A turtle’s shell (plastron) also symbolizes a suit of armor, hence the turtle is also called the Black Warrior or Dark Warrior. The Dark Warrior represents the Northern Palace or northern constellations of the Chinese zodiac. Genbu’s seven seishuku 星宿 (constellations) are:

  1. Hikistu Boshi (Chn. = Tou 斗)
  2. Inami Boshi (Chn. = Niu 牛)
  3. Uruki Boshi (Chn. = Nü 女)
  4. Tomite Boshi (Chn. = Xū 虚)
  5. Umiyame Boshi (Chn. = Wei 危)
  6. Hatsui Boshi (Chn. = Shih 室)
  7. Namame Boshi (Chn. = Pi 璧)

  • See star charts for the Turtle at this outside site.

Tortoise and Snake Symbolism
Below text courtesy
Gabi Greve

    Tortoise and Snake 亀と蛇
    In Chinese culture, especially under the influence of Taoism (道教) the tortoise is the symbol of heaven and earth, its shell compared to the vaulted heaven and the underside to the flat disc of the earth. The tortoise was the hero of many ancient legends. It helped the First Chinese Emperor to tame the Yellow River, so Shang-di rewarded the animal with a life span of Ten Thousand Years. Thus the tortoise became a symbol for Long Life. It also stands for immutability and steadfastness.

Tomb with Turtle Body with Snake Head

Tomb of Oe Hiromoto (in Kamakura 1225 AD). Oe was Yoritomo Minamoto’s celebrated counselor during the founding of the Kamakura Shogunate. He was a distinguished scholar credited with conceiving and organizing the Kamakura system. Another nearby tomb, with similar turtle / snake design, is that of Shimazu Tadahisa, the illegitimate son of Yoritomo .

The Chinese Dark Lord of the North - Xuan Wu
Below Text Courtesy of: The Online Journal of the I Ching, Yi Jing
The Dark Lord of the North (Xuan Wu Da Di) is a deity that comes from the pre-history of shamanic times (c. 6000 BC). In relatively modern Chinese prehistory (c. 1200 BC) the Dark Lord has become the human figure of a warrior with wild, unruly black hair, dressed in the primitive clothing of the tribal peoples of Neolithic times. He is powerful and strong deity capable of powerful punishments and redemptive deliverance. He is frequently depicted as the black tortoise who rules over the direction North in Chinese cosmology. He is called " Xuan" for the color black and " Wu" meaning "tortoise.

Prehistory: The Snake and the Tortoise
The Dark Lord speaks to a more ancient myth, that of the snake and the tortoise, in religious prehistory. Very ancient drawings of a black snake and tortoise together symbolize the Dark Lord. These reptilian creatures, the snake and tortoise, were probably themselves worshipped or were powerful medicine to help in overcoming one's enemies. From Shang times onward, the flag bearing this symbol (snake and tortoise) was part of the king's color guard. In Neolithic prehistory the tortoise -- also known as the somber warrior -- and snake together are the symbols or totems of a powerful shaman who fights evil against the demons of the Invisible World. According to ancient tradition, the black tortoise is yin the snake yang. <end quote by Online Journal of the I Ching>

Old Chinese spelling pronounced “kame” in Japan means turtle. PROVERB: The rareness of meeting a Buddha is compared with the difficulty of a blind sea-turtle finding a log to float on, or a one-eyed tortoise finding a log with a spy-hole through it." [from soothill]

Below text courtesy
The story of the Historical Buddha’s birth as a tortoise (in his past lives, before becoming the Buddha) is featured in Indian reliefs of the first gallery balustrade, where a total of five panels present the culminating scenes from a story called the Kaccapavadana. In the Hindu scriptures, the great sage Kasyapa (Sanskrit for toroise) is the father of Aditya, the Sun. The solar nature of Kasyapa is particularly appropriate representation for a past life of the Sakyamuni, who was sometimes called the "Kinsman of the Sun" (Adityabandu).

CENTER, Synonymous with China itself
Tenkyoku (Chinese = Pangu, Pan Ku, P’an Ku).
Associated with virtue of benevolence. The seishuku (constellations) are:

  1. Taishi Boshi
  2. Tei Boshi
  3. Shoshi Boshi
  4. Koukyuu Boshi
  5. Kyoku Boshi
  6. Shiho Boshi
  7. .

P’an Ku
Exerpt from “Chinese Mythology: An Encyclopedia
of Myth and Legend” by Derek Walters, ISBN: 1855380803
The legendary architect of the universe. Oddly enough, the story of how P’an Ku created the universe is now so firmly established in Chinese folklore, it would be forgivable to assume that the story of P’an Ku was one of China’s earliest legends. However, the great philosopher Ssu-ma Ch’ien makes no mention of it, and in fact P’an Ku does not make his appearance until the 4th century AD. The legend, ascribed to the brush of Ko Hung (Kung) is likely to have been a tale imported from Southeast Asia. It is highly unlikely that it would have been fabricated by a Taoist writer such as Ko Kung, because it would have been second-nature to an educated Chinese writer to introduce established characters of Chinese mythology, but none are present. The date of its composition may be even later, as its first appearance may not be earlier than the 11th century Wai Chi (Records of Foreign Lands). The substance of the legend is that P’an Ku chiselled the universe for eighteen thousand years, and as he chiselled, so he grew himself, six feet every day. When his work was complete, his body became the substance of the universe: his head became the mountains, his breath the wind. From his eyes the sun and moon were made, while the stars were made from his beard. His limbs became the four quarters, his blood the rivers, his flesh the soil, his hairs the trees and plants, his teeth and bones the rocks and minerals, and his sweat the rain. Finally, the lice on his body become the human race. In China, he holds the hammer and chisel with which he formed the universe, and is surrounded by the Four Creatures (tortoise, phoenix, dragon, and unicorn. <end quote by Derek Walters >.

Pangu (Chinese Adam) & the Four Mythical Creatures
Text courtesy

China has a history longer than that of any other present day nation. We have plenty of myths and legends. The first figure in our history is Pangu, regarded as the Chinese Adam by westerners. According to legend, in the beginning there was only darkness and chaos. Then an extremely large egg appeared. This vast egg was subjected to two opposing forces or principles. The interaction of the two forces -- yin, the passive or negative female principle, and yang, the active or positive male principle -- caused the egg to produce Pangu, and the shell to separate. The upper half of the shell formed the heaven, and the lower half the earth.

Pangu has been depicted in many ways. He sometimes appears as a dwarf with two horns on his head, clothed in skin or leaves. He may be holding a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other, or perhaps the symbol of yin and yang. He may also be shown holding the sun in one hand and the moon in the other. He is often depicted with his companions the four supernatural animals - the phoenix, the dragon, the unicorn and the tortoise. In any case, Pangu grew rapidly and increased his height by six to ten feet daily. He hammered and chiseled a massive piece of granite floating aimlessly in space, and as he worked, the heavens and the earth became progressively wider. He labored ceaselessly for eighteen thousand years and finally he separated heaven from earth. His body dissolved when his work was done.

    This site. Learn more about each of the four quarters (north, south, east, west) and the seven constellations in each group. All 28 represent points in the moon’s monthly path, and each was deified.
    Chinese Mythology: Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend
    By Derek Walters. A-to-Z format. Very useful resource, but no Chinese language characters are given, only English equivalents. First published by The Aquarian Press, 1992. Pages = 191 pages. ISBN = 1855380803.

Modern reproductions of old Chinese imagery.
Photo from this Japanese eStore.

Modern Artwork of the Four. Photo courtesy

SHITENNŌ. Lit. = Four Heavenly Kings (Buddhist)
Four guardians of the four compass directions in Buddhism. Associated closely with China’s Five Element Theory. The four celestial emblems (dragon, red bird, tiger, turtle) can be associated with the iconography of the Shitennō, who also guard the four cardinal directions.

Four Shitennō, Horyuji (Hōryūji) Temple 法隆寺, Nara
Mid-7th Century. Oldest extant set of the four.
Kōmokuten 広目天, Zōchōten 増長天, Tamonten 多門天, Jikokuten 持国天
Painted Wood, Each Statue Approx. 133.5 cm in Height
Photos from Comprehensive Dictionary of Japan's Nat’l Treasures
国宝大事典 (西川 杏太郎. ISBN 4-06-187822-0.

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