“仙人走兽” The mythical auspicious creatures, why are they on the roof of the Forbidden City?

Housing construction often reflects the traditions, cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles of the residents. For example, Thai people usually pay homage to the shrine of the household god because Thais believe that the residents will be safe. Today, ACU PAY will take you to know about 10 mythical creatures and the reason why they are placed on the roof of the Forbidden City, including the reason why the Dragon is stabbed with a knife on the roof of the Forbidden City.

The origin of the name “仙人走兽”

Animals in fairy tales and a Great Master riding on a Swan on the roof of the Forbidden City which is called Xian Ren Zou Shou or 仙人走兽 is nearly 1,000 years old. 仙人走兽 is a combination between 仙人 – Xian Ren which mean angel or the great master and 走兽 – Zou Shou which means fairytale animals.

Why are the mythical creatures on the roof?

The reason why there are fairytale animals on the roof of the palace is because there was a lightning strike on the roof that caused fire. Therefore, a group of 10 animals was created to protect the Royal Palace from various disasters. However, not all palaces have the same group of 10 animals because they are in a certain order. Sometimes the owner of the palace is demoted but not ordered to move out. The statues of animals will be reduced, but not any of them can be removed. The removal must be done from the last animal statue to the first one of the row.

Nevertheless, the Great Master riding on a Swan and the Dragon Fish cannot be removed. The color of Zou Shou also represents different priorities. If it is the palace where the Experor stays in, the main color will be gold or yellow with other colors such as green. If it is the palace where the prince stays, the color will be blue, purple and black. The mythical animals on the roof have different names. Also, the  Great Master riding on a Swan and the Dragon Fish are not included in the Zou Shou group.

What are the names of each creature?

  1. Long (龍) = Dragon: The chief of the Zou Shou Mythical Animals procession, the symbol of the leader of the Guardians.
  2. Fong (凤) = Female Swan: The deputy chief of the Zou Shou Mythical Animals procession, a symbol of the noble, sacred, and beautiful above all animals.
  1. Shih Tzu (狮子) = Chinese Lion: A symbol of courage and the great power on earth
  1. Tian Ma (天馬) = Heaven Horse: A symbol of great virtue to reach the sky and leap in all directions
  1. Hai Ma (海馬) = Sea Horse: The symbol of the power of the sea and the struggle against the raging waves, and swims in every direction to show prestige.
  1. Xia Yu (狎鱼) = Lion with fish tail: Monsters in the Sea The legend tells that Xia Yu is a creature that can control water and rain. When windstorms or floods occur, it can make those disasters detour from where Xia Yu lives.
  1. Xuan Ni (狻猊) = Fire Lion: One of the nine legendary dragon children. In ancient mythology, it is said to be a lion-like beast that likes to eat tigers, leopards, and other animals which means it can defeat all kinds of beasts.
  1. Xia Tzu (獬豸) = Kirin with one horn (Unicorn Kirin): A legendary beast which resemble to kirin but some said it looks like goat. Said, “There is a beast that lives in the northeast wilderness of Tian Shan Mountain. According to the legend, it can distinguish between good and bad by shaking its horn on its head, and it is also called “Goat God” It symbolizes courage and unbiased justice.
  1. Dou Niu (斗牛) = Dragon Horse or Chinese Unicorn (but its Chinese name means bull): In legend, it is a type of dragon with a face resembling horses and cows. According to ancient records, it can control rain and steam fog. If there is a fire, Dou Niu will force the steam fog to extinguish the fire.
  1. Xing Chen (行什) = Thunder God: Lui Gong’s son. A symbol of preventing the demon, and is also capable of controlling lightning or thunder. His special ability is to prevent the thunder from striking the place where Xing Chen lives.

The front and rear of a procession

At the front  of the procession, 仙人-Xian Ren or the Great Master riding on a Swan in the front. There is a legend that during the war between Zhan Guo State. Qi Min, the heir of Qi Xuan Prince, ascended to the throne after his father died. While fighting a war with the Chu State, his enemies, and was about to lose, he had to retreat his armies to the deep river. Qi Min had two options: jump in the water or be killed by enemies.

But then a large swan bird flew in front of him. Qi Min quickly jumped on the swan’s back and was able to ride it across the river. Qi Min was able to survive and return to Qi State to avenge and defeat Chu State. So, the angel riding on the swan’s back at the end of the roof has an implicit meaning that riding a swan can change misfortune into good luck.

At the rear of a procession, 鸱吻-Shi Wen/ Shi Wei/ Hao Wang or Dragon Fish have its shape like a dragon but have no spine, wide mouth, love adventures, and like to swallow fire. Shi Wen is said to live in the sea. It can spray water to extinguish fire and it is believed that it can prevent evil by catching the devils flying to the roof with its wide mouth. If you notice, you will see that there is a knife stuck on it so that dragon fish do not escape and will stay and guard the palace.

That’s it about the 仙人走兽-Xian Ren Zou Shou, mythical auspicious animals on the roof of the Forbidden City. Are you having fun? You will enjoy the history of the Forbidden City more when you go there.

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