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Mythical Monsters, by Charles Gould, [1886], at

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WE now approach the consideration of a country in which the belief in the existence of the dragon is thoroughly woven into the life of the whole nation. Yet at the same time it has developed into such a medley of mythology and superstition as to materially strengthen our conviction of the reality of the basis upon which the belief has been founded, though it involves us in a mass of intricate perplexities in connection with the determination of its actual period of existence.

There is no country so conservative as China, no nation which can boast of such high antiquity, as a collective people permanently occupying the same regions, and preserving records of their polity, manners, and surroundings from the earliest date of their occupation of the territory which still remains the centre of their civilization; and there is none in which dragon culture has been more persistently maintained down to the present day.

Its mythologies, histories, religions, popular stories, and proverbs, all teem with references to a mysterious being who has a physical nature and spiritual attributes. Gifted with an accepted form, which he has the supernatural power of casting off for the assumption of others, he has the power of influencing the weather, producing droughts or fertilizing

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rains at pleasure, of raising tempests and allaying them. Volumes could be compiled from the scattered legends which everywhere abound relating to this subject; but as they are, for the most part, like our mediaeval legends, echoes of each other, no useful purpose would be served by doing so, and I therefore content myself with drawing, somewhat copiously, from one or two of the chief sources of information.

As, however, Chinese literature is but little known or valued in England, it is desirable that I should devote some space to the consideration of the authority which may be fairly claimed for the several works from which I shall make quotations, bearing on the Chinese testimony of the past existence, and date of existence, of the dragon and other so-called mythical animals.

Incidental comments on natural history form a usual part of every Chinese geographical work, but collective descriptions of animals are rare in the literature of the present, and almost unique in that of the past. We are, therefore, forced to rely on the side-lights occasionally afforded by the older classics, and on one or two works of more than doubtful authenticity which claim, equally with them, to be of high antiquity. The works to which I propose to refer more immediately are the Yih King, the Bamboo Books, the Shu King, the ’Rh Ya, the Shan Hai King, the Păn Ts’ao Kang Muh, and the Yuen Kien Léi Han.

As it is well known that all the ancient books, with the exception of those on medicine, divination, and husbandry, were ordered to be destroyed in the year B.C. 212 by the Emperor Tsin Shi Hwang Ti, under the threatened penalty for non-compliance of branding and labour on the walls for four years, and that a persecution of the literati was commenced by him in the succeeding year, which resulted in the burying alive in pits of four hundred and sixty of their number, it may be reasonably objected that the claims to high antiquity which some of the Chinese classics put forth,

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are, to say the least, doubtful, and, in some instances, highly improbable.

This question has been well considered by Mr. Legge in his valuable translation of the Chinese Classics. He points out that the tyrant died within three years after the burning of the books, and that the Han dynasty was founded only eleven years after that date, in B.C. 201, shortly after which attempts were commenced to recover the ancient literature. He concludes that vigorous efforts to carry out the edict would not be continued longer than the life of its author—that is, not for more than three years—and that the materials from which the classics, as they come down to us, were compiled and edited in the two centuries preceding the Christian era, were genuine remains, going back to a still more remote period.


The Yih King is one of those books specially excepted from the general destruction of the books. References in it to the dragon are not numerous, and will be found as quotations in the extracts from the large encyclopædia Yuen Kien Léi Han, given hereafter. This work has hitherto been very imperfectly understood even by the Chinese themselves, but the recent researches of M. Terrien de la Couperie lead us to suppose that our translations have been imperfect, from the fact that many symbols have different significations in the present day to those which they had in very ancient times, and that a special dictionary of archaic meanings must be prepared before an accurate translation can be arrived at, a consummation which may shortly be expected from his labours. I find in my notes, taken from the manuscript of a lecture given before the Ningpo Book Club in 1870, by the Rev. J. Butler, of the Presbyterian Mission, that "the way in which the dragon came to represent the Emperor and the Throne

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of China * is accounted for in the Yih King as follows:—The chief dragon has his abode in the sky, and all clouds and vapours, winds and rains are under his control. He can send rain or withhold it at his pleasure, and hence all vegetable life is dependent on him. So the Emperor, from his exalted throne, watches over the interests of his people, and confers on them those temporal and spiritual blessings without which they would perish." I abstain from dwelling on this or any other passages in the Yih King, pending the translation promised by M. De la Couperie, the nature of whose views on it are condensed in the note  attached, being extracts from his papers on the subject.

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These are annals from which a great part of Chinese chronology is derived. Mr. Legge gives the history of their

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discovery, as related in the history of the Emperor Woo, the first of the sovereigns of Tsin, as follows:

"In the fifth year of his reign, under title of Hëen-ning * [=A.D. 279], some lawless parties, in the department of Keih, dug open the grave of King Sëang of Wei [died B.C. 295] and found a number of bamboo tablets, written over, in the small seal character, with more than one hundred thousand words, which were deposited in the imperial library."

Mr. Legge adds, "The Emperor referred them to the principal scholars in the service of the Government, to adjust the tables in order, having first transcribed them in modern characters. Among them were a copy of the Yih King, in two books, agreeing with that generally received, and a book of annals, in twelve or thirteen chapters, beginning with the reign of Hwang-te, and coming down to the sixteenth year of the last emperor of the Chow dynasty, B.C. 298."

The reader will be conscious of a disposition to reject at once the account of the discovery of the Bamboo Books. He has read so much of the recovery of portions of the Shoo from the walls of houses that he must be tired of this

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mode of finding lost treasures, and smiles when he is now called on to believe that an old tomb opened and yielded its literary stores long after the human remains that had been laid in it had mingled with the dust. From the death of King Sang to A.D. 279 were 574 years."

Against this, however, which is not a very weighty objection, if we consider the length of time that Egyptian papyri have been entombed before their restoration to the light, Mr. Legge ranges preponderating evidence in favour of their authenticity, and concludes that "they had, no doubt, been lying for nearly six centuries in the tomb in which they had been first deposited when they were then brought anew to light."

The annals consist of two portions, one forming what is undoubtedly the original text, and consisting of short notices of occurrences, such as, "In his fiftieth year, in the autumn, in the seventh month, on the day Kang shin [fifty-seventh of cycle] phœnixes, male and female, arrived," &c. &c. It also records earthquakes, obituaries, accessions, and remarkable natural phenomena. The other portion is interspersed between these, in the form of rather diffuse, though not very numerous, notes, which by some are supposed to be a portion of the original text, by others, to have been added by the commentator Shin Yo [A.D. 502-567].

In the latter, frequent references are made to the appearance of phœnixes (the fang wang), ki-lins (unicorns), and dragons.

In the former we find only incidental references to either of these, such as, "XIV. The Emperor K‘ung-kea. In his first year (B.C. 1611), when he came to the throne, he dwelt on the west of the Ho. He displaced the chief of Ch‘e-wei, * and appointed Lew-luy  to feed the dragons."

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According to the latter, Hwang Ti (B.C. 2697) had a dragon-like countenance; while the mother of Yaou (B.C. 2356) conceived him by a dragon. The legend is: "After she was grown up, whenever she looked into any of the three Ho, there was a dragon following her. One morning the dragon came with a picture and writing. The substance of the writing was—the Red one has received the favour of Heaven. . . . The red dragon made K‘ing-teo pregnant."

Again, when Yaou had been on the throne seventy years, a dragon-horse appeared bearing a scheme, which he laid on the table and went away.

The Emperor Shun (B.C. 2255) is said to have had a dragon countenance.

It is also said of Yu (the first emperor of the Hia dynasty) that when the fortunes of Hia were about to rise, all vegetation was luxuriant, and green dragons lay in the borders; and that "on his way to the south, when crossing the Kiang, in the middle of the stream, two yellow dragons took the boat on their backs. The people were all afraid; but Yu laughed, and said, 'I received my appointment from Heaven, and labour with all my strength to nourish men. To be born is the course of nature; to die is by Heaven's decree. Why be troubled by the dragons?' On this the dragons went away, dragging their tails."

From these extracts it will be seen that the dragon, although universally believed in, was already mythical and legendary, so far as the Chinese were concerned.


is, according to Dr. Legge, simply a collection of historic memorials, extending over a space of one thousand seven hundred years, but on no connected method, and with great gaps between them.

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It opens with the reign of Yaou (B.C. 2357), and contains interesting details of the polity of those remote ages.

It contains a record of the great inundation occurring during his reign, which Mr. Legge does not identify with the Deluge of Genesis, but which Dr. Gutzlaff and other missionary Sinologues consider to be the same.

It is interesting to find in this work, claiming so high an antiquity, references to an antiquity which had preceded it—a bygone civilization, perhaps—as follows, in the book called Yih and Ts‘ih* The emperor (Shun, B.C. 2255 to 2205) says, "I wish to see the emblematic figures of the ancients—the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountain, the dragon, and the flowery fowl, which are depicted on the upper garment; the temple cup, the aquatic grass, the flames, the grains of rice, the hatchet, and the symbol of distinction, which are embroidered on the lower garment. I wish to see all these displayed with the five colours, so as to form the official robes; it is yours to adjust them clearly." Here the dragon is chosen as an emblematic figure, in association with eleven others, which are objects of every-day knowledge, and this, I think, establishes a presumption that it itself was not at that date considered an object of doubtful credibility.

Similarly, we find the twelve symbolical animals, representing the twelve branches of the Horary characters (dating, see Williams' Dictionary, from B.C. 2637), to be the rat, the ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog, boar, where the dragon is the only one about whose existence a question can be raised. From this latter we learn that there was no confusion of meaning then between dragons and serpents; the distinction of the two creatures was clearly recognized, just as it was many centuries afterwards by Mencius (4th century B.C.), who, in writing of these early periods, says, In the time of Yaou, the waters,

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flowing out of their channels, inundated the Middle Kingdom. Snakes and dragons occupied it, and the people had no place where they could settle themselves"; and again, "Yu dug open their obstructed channels, and conducted them to the sea. He drove away the snakes and dragons, * and forced them into the grassy marshes."


The ’Rh Ya or Urh Ya also transliterated Eul Ya and Œl Ya, a dictionary of terms used in the Chinese classics, but more especially of those in the Shi King, or "Book of Odes," a collection of ancient ballads compiled and arranged by Confucius.

There is a tradition that it was commenced by the Duke of Chow 1100 B.C., and completed or enlarged by Tsz Hia, a disciple of Confucius.

Dr. Bretschneider suggests that each heading or phrase in the original book merely represents the book names and the popular names of the plants and animals.

The bulk of the work at present extant consists of the commentary by Kwoh P‘oh (about A.D. 300) and, in some editions, of additional commentaries by other authors.

The illustrations selected from it for the present volume are reduced from those in a very fine folio copy, for the loan

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of which I am indebted to Mr. Thomas Kingsmill, of Shanghai.

These profess to date back so far as the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960 to A.D. 1127), and it is interesting to observe that

FIG. 41.—THE BANNER CALLED TSING K’I. (<i>From the ’Rh Ya</i>.)
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FIG. 41.—THE BANNER CALLED TSING K’I. (From the ’Rh Ya.)

the representations of tools of husbandry then in use (Fig. 50, p. 232), and of the methods of hawking (, p. 225), fishing (Fig. 47, p. 227), and the like, are such as might be taken without alteration from those of the present day.

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The drawings made by Kwoh P‘oh appear to have been lost in the sixth century A.D.

Notices of the dragon only appear incidentally in the ’Rh Ya as forming part of the decoration of banners, &c.; but

FIG. 42.—THE K’I WITH BELLS. (<i>From the ’Rh Ya</i>.)
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FIG. 42.—THE K’I WITH BELLS. (From the ’Rh Ya.)

descriptions and figures of the Chinese unicorn are given and of other remarkable animals, of which I shall eventually take notice.

These figures of dragons in the drawings of banners (Figs. 41-44) are especially interesting; as there is fair reason to suppose that they at least have been reproduced

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time after time from pre-existing ones with tolerable accuracy; and that they give us a good notion of the general character of the animal they purport to represent.

I have appended a few fac-similes of wood engravings from the ’Rh Ya on general subjects, in anticipation of others

FIG. 43.—THE CHAO BANNER.<br>   (<i>From the ’Rh Ya</i>.)
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(From the ’Rh Ya.)

FIG. 44.—THE K’I OR KIAO LUNG<br>   STANDARD. (<i>From the San Li Tu</i>.)
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STANDARD. (From the San Li Tu.)

dealing with specialities, which will be found in their appropriate positions; they will serve to correct the notion that the Chinese are entirely devoid of artistic power and imagination (Figs. 46-49).

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Short notices of this remarkable work are given by Mr. Alexander Wylie * and Dr. Bretschneider,  and a more exhaustive one by M. Bazin. 

FIG. 45.—ONE OF THE EAVE TILES FROM THE OLD IMPERIAL PALACE OF NANKIN, showing the Five-clawed or Imperial Dragon, an emblem which cannot be borne by any outside of the Imperial service, under the penalty of death. Commoners have to be satisfied with a four-clawed dragon.
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FIG. 45.—ONE OF THE EAVE TILES FROM THE OLD IMPERIAL PALACE OF NANKIN, showing the Five-clawed or Imperial Dragon, an emblem which cannot be borne by any outside of the Imperial service, under the penalty of death. Commoners have to be satisfied with a four-clawed dragon.

FIG. 46.—RETURN FROM THE CHASE. (<i>From the ’Rh Ya</i>.)
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FIG. 46.—RETURN FROM THE CHASE. (From the ’Rh Ya.)

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It is also largely quoted by Williams in his valuable Chinese dictionary. Otherwise Sinologues appear to have entirely ignored it.

Mr. Wylie remarks that "it has long been looked upon with distrust; but some scholars of great ability have recently investigated its contents, and come to the conclusion that it is at least as old as the Chow dynasty, and probably of a date even anterior to that period."

M. Bazin speaks of it as a fabulous description of the world, and attributes it to Taouist writers in the fourth century of our era, who forged the authority of the great Yü and Peh Yi. He thinks it would be useless to attempt the identification of the localities given in it, and offers a translation of a portion of the first chapter in support of his views.

The value of his translation is impaired by his making no distinction between the text and the commentary, and he appears to have possessed an inferior and incomplete version.

In an editorial article in the North China Herald of May 9, 1884 (presumably by Mr. Balfour, an excellent Sinologue), it is referred to the date of Ch'in Shih Huang, who connected the Heptarchy into a single kingdom, and conquered Cochin China about B.C. 222.

Kwoh Po‘h * (A.D. 276-324), who prepared an edition which has descended to us, ascribes a date to it 3,000 years anterior to his time.

Liu Hsiu, * of the Han dynasty (B.C. 206 to A.D. 25), states that the Emperor Yü, the founder of the Hia dynasty (B.C. 2205), employed Yih and Peh Yi as geographers and natural historians, who produced the " Book of Wonders by Land and Sea." While Yang Sun, * of the Ming dynasty

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FIG. 47.—ONE MODE OF CAPTURING FISH. (<i>From the ’Rh Ya</i>.)
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FIG. 48.—SUMMER. (<i>From the ’Rh Ya</i>.)
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FIG. 48.—SUMMER. (From the ’Rh Ya.)

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[paragraph continues] (commencing A.D. 1368), states in his after-preface that the Emperor Yü had nine metal vases cast, on which all wonderful or rare animals were engraved, the commoner ones being recorded in the annals of Yü; and that K‘ung Kiah (of the Hia dynasty, B.C. 1879), included this varied information in the present work.

It is to be hoped that at no distant date some competent Sinologue will be induced to furnish a full translation of this remarkable work, with an adequate commentary.

There is no doubt that many would be deterred from doing so by an impression that a collection of fabulous stories, treating of supernatural beings and apparently impossible monsters, is unworthy the consideration of mature intellect, and only fit to be relegated to the domain of Jack the Giant Killer and other childish stories. After a close examination of the book, I apprehend that this view of it can hardly be maintained. That such stories or descriptions are interspersed throughout the work is not to be disputed; but a large proportion of it consists of apparently authentic geographical records, including, as is customary with all works of a similar nature in China, descriptions of the most remarkable objects of natural history occurring in the different regions. I think it will be found possible to identify many of these at the present day, some may be conjectured at, and the residue are not more numerous in proportion than the similar fables or perverted accounts which figure in the western classic volumes of Ctesias, Aristotle, Pliny, and even much later writers. So far as the supernatural portions are concerned, it must be remembered that, even so late as the days of the childhood of Sir Humphrey Davy, pixies were still supposed by the lower classes to trace the fairy rings in Cornwall; that quite lately, and perhaps among certain classes to the present day, the existence of the banshee in Ireland, of the kelpie in Scotland, and of persons gifted with the mysterious and awe-inspiring power of second sight,

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was religiously believed in. There are few important houses in England whose ancestral walls have not concealed an apparition connected with the destinies of the family, appearing only on fatal or eventful occasions; and in the days of the sapient James I. in England, and among the Pilgrim Fathers in the American States, the existence of wizards and witches was universally accepted as an undeniable fact, proved by hundreds of instances of extorted or voluntary confession, and supplemented by the concurrent testimony of a still greater number of witnesses who genuinely believed themselves to have been the spectators or victims of the supernatural powers of the accused.

An historian of these later times might well have described such things as realities, and we should not be disposed, on account of his having done so, to question the validity of his description of other objects or creatures existing at the period, presuming them to be more consistent with our present notions of possibility.

No one, now-a-days, would discredit the veracity of Marco Polo because he speaks of enormous serpents in Carajan, possessing two feet, each armed with a single claw. That there was a solid foundation for his story is admitted, and commentators are only at variance as to whether the basis was a large species of python, such as still exists in Southern China, or a gigantic alligator, of which he might have seen a mutilated specimen.

It must also be borne in mind that the existence of some gigantic saurian, now extinct, possessing two limbs only, in place of four, is not an impossibility; as the small lizard, Chirotes, is in that condition, and also the North American genus Siren, belonging to the Newts.

I notice that Retzoch, in his designs to illustrate Schiller's poem, "The Fight with the Dragon," makes the monster have only two fore-legs, and this appears to have been a common mediaeval conception of it. Aldrovandus and Gesner

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FIG. 50.—TOOLS OF HUSBANDRY. (<i>From the ’Rh Ya</i>.)
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FIG. 50.—TOOLS OF HUSBANDRY. (From the ’Rh Ya.)

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both give figures of biped dragons. There is also a curious drawing in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1749—which is transferred into the pages of the Encyclopædia of Philadelphia, apparently a piracy of an English Cyclopædia, of what is styled a sea-dragon, four feet long, which stands bolt upright on two legs, and, like Barnum's mermaid, was probably a triumph of art.

Aldrovandus was probably imposed on by some waggish friend, in reference to the biped dragon without wings, two cubits long, which was said to have been killed by a countryman near Bonn in 1572 A.D., and which he first figured and

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then placed in his museum; and he evidently fully believed in the Ethiopian winged biped dragon, of which he gives two figures, but without quoting his authority.

FIG. 52.—DRACO ÆTHIOPICUS. (<i>Aldrovandus</i>.)
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FIG. 52.—DRACO ÆTHIOPICUS. (Aldrovandus.)

Gesner gives a similar figure, after Belon, of the winged dragon of Mount Sinai; but Athanasius Kircher is more liberal, and gives his dragon not only wings but four legs.

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In poetry we find Ashtaroth described as appearing to Faust in the form of a serpent with two little feet.

As to the mysterious powers imputed throughout the Shan Hai King to different creatures, of controlling drought, rain, and fire, or acting, when partaken of, as remedies for sundry ills and ailments, it may be asked whether we ourselves are free from analogous superstitious beliefs? Will a sailor view without uneasiness the destruction of a Mother Carey's chicken, or a Dutchman, of a stork? Or is the Chinese pharmacopoeia of the present day much more trustworthy as to many of its items?

As to the human-visaged creatures, both snakes and four-footed beasts, may we not perhaps put them on a par with other fancied resemblances, which hold to the present day, of (for example) the hippopotamus, to a river-horse, of the pipe-fish, known as the hippocampus, to a sea-horse; of the manatee to a merman, and the like?

And, lastly, are the composite creatures, partly bird and partly reptilian, occasionally referred to, so entirely incredible? Is it not barely possible that some of those intervening types which we know from the teaching of Darwin, must have existed; which we know, from the researches of palæontology have existed; types intermediate to the Struthionidæ, the most reptilian of birds, and the Chlamydæ, the most avian of reptiles—is it not possible that some of these may have continued their existence down to a late date, and

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that the tradition of these existing as the descendants or the analogues of the Archaeopteryx, and the toothed birds of America, may be embalmed in the pages in question? Is it impossible? Do not the Trigonias, the Terebratulas, the Marsupials, and, in part, the vegetation of Australia, form the spare surviving descendants of the forms which characterised the oolitic period on our own shores? Why, then, may not a few cretaceous and early tertiary forms have struggled on, through a happy combination of circumstances, to an aged and late existence in other lands.

After long, repeated, and careful examination of the Shan Hai King, I arrive at a very different conclusion from M. Bazin. I hold it to be an authentic and precious memorial which has been handed down to us from remote antiquity, the value of which has been unrecognised owing to the book being unfortunately a fusion of two and perhaps three distinct works.

FIG. 54.—THE PA SNAKE. (<i>From the Shan Hai King</i>.)
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FIG. 54.—THE PA SNAKE. (From the Shan Hai King.)

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The oldest was the Shan King, and consists of five volumes, devoted respectively to the northern, southern, eastern, western, and central mountain ranges. This is devoid of all reference to persons and habited places. It is simply an abstract of the results of a topographical survey which may not impossibly have been, as it claims, the one conducted by Yü.

It contains lists of mountains and rivers, with valuable notes on their mineral productions, fauna and flora. It also gives lists of the divinities controlling or belonging to each mountain range, and the sacrifices suitable to them. There are few extravagances in this portion of the work.

The remainder is devoted to a history of the regions without and within the four hai or seas bounding the empire, and those constituting what is called the Great Desert. Here extravagant stories, myths, accounts of wonderful people, references to states, cities, and tribes are mingled with geographical notices which, from their repetition, show that this portion is itself resolvable into two distinct works of more modern date, whose origin was probably posterior to the wave of Taouist superstition which swept over China in the first six centuries of our era. I must add that the term, "within the four seas" does not imply the arrogant belief, as is generally supposed, that this Empire extended to the ocean on every side, the archaic meaning being the very different one of frontier or boundary region; while the word "desert" has a similar signification.

In that more credible portion of the work which I believe to have been the original Shan King, references to dragons are infrequent. In some instances the kiao (which I interpret as the gavial) is specifically referred to; in others the word lung is used; thus, it speaks of dragons and turtles abounding in the Ti River, flowing from one of the northern mountains east of the Ho. From the context, however, an aquatic creature, and probably an alligator, is indicated.

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(Shan Hai King.)

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[paragraph continues] From the entire text I gather that the true terrestrial dragon was not an inmate of China, at all events after the period of Yü. I further infer that it was a feared and much respected denizen of the more or less arid highlands, whence the early Chinese either migrated or were driven, and from which point the dragon traditions flowed pretty evenly east and west, beat against the Himalayan chain on the south, and only penetrated India in a later and modified form.

There is a short reference to the Ying Lung or winged dragon; it is as follows:—

“In the north-east corner of the Great Desert are mountains called Hiung-li and T’u K’iu. The Ying Lung lives at the south extremity.

“[Commentary.—The Ying Lung is a dragon with wings.]

“He killed Tsz Yiu and Kwa Fu.

“[Commentary.—Tsz Yiu was a soldier.]

“He could not ascend to heaven.

“[Commentary.—The Ying Lung dwells beneath the earth.]

“So there is often drought.

“[Commentary.—Because no rain was made above.]

“When there is a drought, the form of the Ying dragon is made, and then there is much rain.

“[Commentary.—Now the false dragon is for this purpose, to influence (the heaven); men are not able to do it.]”

The better printed copies of this work are illustrated with a very truculent-looking dragon with outspread wings. A stone delineation of a dragon with wings forms the ornamentation of the bridge at Nincheang Foo. In the interior of China, it was observed by Mr. Cooper, and is given in his Travels of a Pioneer of Commerce. These are the only cases in China in which I have come across illustrations of dragons with genuine wings. As a rule, the dragon appears to be represented as having the power of translating itself without mechanical agency, sailing among the clouds, or rising from the sea at pleasure.

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FIG. 56.—PING I (ICY EXTERMINATOR), A RIVER DEITY (?). From within the Sea and North. (<i>Shan Hai King</i>.)
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FIG. 56.—PING I (ICY EXTERMINATOR), A RIVER DEITY (?). From within the Sea and North. (Shan Hai King.)

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FIG. 57.—THE EMPEROR K’I, OF THE HIA DYNASTY. From without the Sea and West. (<i>Shan Hai King</i>.)
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FIG. 57.—THE EMPEROR K’I, OF THE HIA DYNASTY. From without the Sea and West. (Shan Hai King.)

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The Shan Hai King contains valuable notices of winged snakes and gigantic serpents, as, for example, the so-called singing snakes. Speaking of the Sien mountain (one of the Central Mountains), it says: "Gold and jade abound. It is barren. The Sien river issues and flows north into the I river. On it are many singing snakes. They look like snakes, but have four wings. Their voice is like the beating of stones. When they appear there will be great drought in the city."

FIG. 58.—YÜ KIANG (A GOD). Without the Sea and North. (<i>Shan Hai King</i>.)
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FIG. 58.—YÜ KIANG (A GOD). Without the Sea and North. (Shan Hai King.)

The Pa snake, already spoken of, is described as capable of gorging an elephant. The Ta lien mountains were reputed uninhabitable on account of the presence of gigantic serpents (pythons?), which were said to have been of the colour of mugwort, to have possessed hairs like pig's bristles projecting between the lines of their ribaud-like markings. Rumour had magnified their length to one hundred fathoms, and they made a noise like the beating of a drum or the striking of a watchman's wooden clapper. The Siong Jan mountains were infested by serpents, also gigantic, but of a different species.

The annexed wood-cuts (Figs. 56, 57) of Ping I (Icy exterminator), and the Emperor K’i (B.C. 2197), each in cars, driving two dragons, are interesting in connection

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with the later fable of Medea and Triptolemus. The two stories were probably derived from a common source; the Chinese version, however, being much the older of the two.

FIG. 59.—THE TYPHOON DRAGON.<br> (From a Chinese Painting.)
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(From a Chinese Painting.)

The text as to K’i is:—"K’i of the Hia dynasty danced with Kiutai at the Tayoh common. He drove two dragons. The clouds overhung in three layers. In his left hand he grasped a screen; in his right hand he held ear ornaments; at his girdle dangled jade crescents. It is north of Tayun mount; one author calls it Tai common." The commentator says Kiutai is the name of a horse, and "dance" means to dance in a circle. [Probably this is the earliest reference extant to a circus performance.]

Ping I is supposed to dwell in Tsung Ki pool near the fairy region of Kwa-Sun, to have a human face, and to drive two dragons.

Cursorily examined, the Shan Hai King is a farrago of falsehood; read with intelligence, it is a mine of historical wealth.


Descending to late times, we have the great Chinese Materia Medica, in fifty-two volumes, entitled Păn Tsao Kang Mu,

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made up of extracts from upwards of eight hundred preceding authors, and including three volumes of illustrations by Li Shechin, of the Ming dynasty (probably born early in the sixteenth century A.D.). It was first printed in the Wăn-leih period (1573 to 1620). I give its article upon the dragon in extenso.

“According to the dictionary of Hü Shăn, the character lung in the antique form of writing represents the shape of the animal. According to the Shang Siao Lun, the dragon is deaf, hence its name of lung (deaf). In Western books the dragon is called nake (naga). Shi-Chăn says that in the ’Rh Ya Yih of Lo-Yuen the dragon is described as the largest of scaled animals (literally, insects). Wang Fu says that the dragon has nine (characteristics) resemblances. Its head is like a camel's, its horns like a deer's, its eyes like a hare's, * its ears like a bull's, its neck like a snake's, its belly like an iguanodon's (?), its scales like a carp's, its claws like an eagle's, and its paws like a tiger's. Its scales number eighty-one, being nine by nine, the extreme (odd or) lucky number. Its voice resembles the beating of a gong. On each side of its mouth are whiskers, under its chin is a bright pearl, under its throat the scales are reversed, on the top of its head is the poh shan, which others call the wooden foot-rule. A dragon without a foot-rule cannot ascend the skies. When its breath escapes it forms clouds, sometimes changing into rain, at other times into fire. Luh Tien in the P’i Ya remarks, when dragon-breath meets with damp it becomes bright, when it gets wet it goes on fire. It is extinguished by ordinary fire.

“The dragon comes from an egg, it being desirable to keep it folded up. When the male calls out there is a breeze above, when the female calls out there is a breeze below, in

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consequence of which there is conception. The Shih Tien states, when the dragons come together they are changed into two small serpents. In the Siao Shwoh it is said that the disposition of the dragon is very fierce, and it is fond of beautiful gems and jade (?). It is extremely fond of swallow's flesh; it dreads iron, the mong plant, the centipede, the leaves of the Pride of India, and silk dyed of different (five) colours. A man, therefore, who eats swallow's flesh should fear to cross the water. When rain is wanted a swallow should be offered (used); when floods are to be restrained, then iron; to stir up the dragon, the mong plant should be employed; to sacrifice to Küh Yuen, the leaves of the Pride of India bound with coloured silk should be used (see Mayers, p. 107, § 326) and thrown into the river. Physicians who use dragons’ bones ought to know the likes and dislikes of dragons as given above.”

Dragons’ Bones*—In the Pieh luh it is said that these are found in the watercourses in Tsin (Southern Shansi) and in the earth-holes which exist along the banks of the streams running in the caves of the T‘ai Shan (Great Hill), Shantung. For seeking dead dragons’ graves there is no fixed time. Hung King says that now they are largely found in Leung-yih (in Shansi?) and Pa-chung (in Szchuen). Of all the bones, dragon's spine is the best; the brains make the white earth strive, which when applied to the tongue is of great virtue. The small teeth are hard, and of the usual appearance of teeth. The horns are hard and solid. All the dragons cast off their bodies without really dying. Han says the dragon-bones from Yea-cheu, Ts’ang-cheu

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and T’ai-yuen (all in Shansi) are the best. The smaller bones marked with wider lines are the female dragon's; the rougher bones with narrower lines are those of the male dragon; those which are marked with variegated colours are esteemed the best. Those that are either yellow or white are of medium value; the black are inferior. If any of the bones are impure, or are gathered by women, they should not be used.

“P’u says dragons’ bones of a light white colour possess great virtue. Kung says the bones found in Tsin (South Shansi) that are hard are not good; the variegated ones possess virtue. The light, the yellow, the flesh-coloured, the white, and the black, are efficacious in curing diseases in the internal organs having their respective colours, just as the five varieties of the chi * plant, the five kinds of limestone, and the five kinds of mineral oil (literally, fat), which remain still for discussion in this work.

“Su-chung states: 'In the prefecture of Cheu kiün, to the "East of the River" (Shansi), dragons’ bones are still found in large quantities.'

“Li-chao, in the Kwoh-shi-pu, says: 'In the spring floods the fish leap into the Dragon's Gate, and the number of castoff bones there is very numerous. These men seek for medicinal purposes. They are of the five colours. This Dragon's Gate is in Tsin (Shansi), where this work (Kwoh-shi-pu) is published. Are not, then, these so-called dragons’ bones the bones of fish? '

"Again, quoting from Sun Kwang-hien in the Poh-mung Legends: 'In the time of the five dynasties there was a contest between two dragons; when one was slain, a village hero, Kw’an, got both its horns. In the front of the horns was an object of a bluish colour, marked with confused lines,

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which no one knew anything about, as the dragon was completely dead.'

“Tsung Shih says: 'All statements [concerning dragons’ bones] disagree; they are merely speculations, for when a mountain cavern has disclosed to view a skeleton head, horns and all, who is to know whether they are exuviæ or that the dragon has been killed? Those who say they are exuviæ, or that the dragon is dead, then have the form of the animal, but have never seen it alive. Now, how can one see the thing (as it really is) when it is dead? Some also say that it is a transformation, but how is it only in its appearance that it cannot be transformed?'

“Ki, in the present work, says that they are really dead dragons’ bones; for one to say that they are exuviæ is a mere speculation.

“Shi Chăn says: 'The present work considers that these are really dead dragons’ bones, but To Shi thinks they are exuviæ. Su and Kan doubt both these statements. They submit that dragons are divine beings, and resemble the principle of immortality (never-in-themselves-dying principle); but there is the statement of the dragon fighting and getting killed; and further, in the Tso-chw‘en, in which it is stated that there was a certain rearer of dragons who pickled dragons for food [for the imperial table?].'

“The I-ki says: 'In the time of the Emperor Hwo, of the Han dynasty, during a heavy shower a dragon fell in the palace grounds, which the Emperor ordered to be made into soup and given to his Ministers.'

“The Poh-wuh-chi states that a certain Chang Hwa 'got dragon's flesh to dry, for it is said that when seasoning was applied the five colours appeared, &c. These facts prove that the dragon does die, an opinion which is considered correct by [the writers of] the present work.'”

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This is an encyclopædia in four hundred and fifty books or volumes, completed in 1710. More than eighty pages are devoted to the dragon. These, with all similar publications in China, consist entirely of extracts from old works, many of which have perished, and of which fragments alone remain preserved as above.

I have had the whole of this carefully translated, but think it unnecessary to trouble the reader, in the present volume, with more than the first chapter, which I give in the Appendix. There is also a description of the Kiao, of which I give extracts in the Appendix, together with others relating to the same creature, and to the T‘o lung, from the Păn Tsao Kang Mu.


215:* In China the dragon is peculiarly the emblem of imperial power, as with us the lion is of the kingly. The Emperor is said to be seated on the dragon throne. A five-clawed dragon is embroidered on the Emperor's court-robes. It often surrounds his edicts, and the title-pages of books published by his authority, and dragons are inscribed on his banners. It is drawn stretched out at full length or curled up with two legs pointing forwards and two backwards; sometimes holding a pearl in one hand, and surrounded by clouds and fire.

215:† The Yih King—extracts from papers by Monsieur De la Couperie, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.

"The Yih King is the oldest of the Chinese books, and is the mysterious classic which requires 'a prolonged attention to make it reveal its secrets'; it has peculiarities of style, making it the most difficult of all the Chinese classics to present in an intelligible version."

“We have multifarious proofs that the writing, first known in China, was already an old one, partially decayed, but also much improved since its primitive hieroglyphic stage. We have convincing proofs (vide my 'Early History of Chinese Civilization,' pp. 21-23, and the last section of the present paper) that it had been borrowed, by the early leaders of the Chinese Bak families [Poh Sing] in Western Asia, from an horizontal writing traced from left to right, the pre-cuneiform character, which previously had itself undergone several important modifications.

“At that time the Ku-wen was really the phonetic expression of speech. (By au analysis of the old inscriptions and fragments, and by the help of the native works on palæography, some most valuable, I have compiled a dictionary of this period.)

“If the kwas, which were a survival of the arrows of divination p. 216 known to the ancestors of Chinese culture before their emigration eastward," &c. &c.—Vol. xiv. part 4.

“This mysterious book is still avowedly not understood, and we assist, now-a-days, at a most curious spectacle. There are not a few Chinese of education among those who have picked up some knowledge in Europe or in translations of European works of our modern sciences, who believe openly that all these may be found in their Yih. Electricity, steam power, astronomical laws, sphericity of the earth, &c., are all, according to their views, to be found in the Yih King; they firmly believe that these discoveries were not ignored by their sages, who have embodied them in their mysterious classics, of which they will be able to unveil the secrets when they themselves apply to its study a thorough knowledge of the modern sciences. It is unnecessary for any European mind to insist upon the childishness of such an opinion. Even in admitting, what seems probable, that the early leaders of the Bak people (Poh Sing) were not without some astronomical and mathematical principles, which have been long since forgotten, there is no possible comparison between their rude notions and our sciences.

“It is not a mysterious book of fate and prognostics. It contains a valuable collection of documents of old antiquity, in which is embodied much information on the ethnography, customs, language, and writing of early China.

“Proofs of various kinds—similitude of institutions, traditions and knowledge, affinities of words of culture; and, in what concerns the writing, likenesses of shapes of characters, hieroglyphic and arbitrary, with the same sounds (sometimes polyphons) and meanings attached to them, the same morphology of written words, the same phonetic laws of orthography—had led me, several years ago, to no other conclusion than that (as the reverse is proved impossible by numerous reasons), at an early period of their history, and before their emigration to the far East, the Chinese Bak families had borrowed the pre-cuneiform writing and elements of their knowledge and institutions from a region connected with the old focus of culture of south-western Asia.

“Numerous affinities of traditions, institutions, and customs, connect the borrowing of script and culture by the Chinese Bak families with the region of Elam, the confederation of states of which Susa was the chief town, and the Kussi the principal population.

“What are the historical facts of this connection we do not know. p. 217 Has the break-up which happened in those states and resulted in the conquest of Babylonia by the Elamite king, Kudur Nakhunta, at the date, which is certain, of 2285 B.C., been also the cause of an eastern conquest and a settlement in Bactria? and would this account for the old focus of culture coeval with the earlier period of Assyrian monarchy said to have existed in Central Asia?

“The two ethnic names, which, as we have pointed out, were those of the Chinese invaders, Bak and Kutti or Kutta, are not altogether foreign to those regions. The Chinese Kutti and the Kussi, the Chinese Bak and Bakh, the ethnic of Bakhdi (Bactria), will be, most likely, one day proved to be the same ethnic names. Had not the Chinese, previous to my researches, and quite on different reasons, been traced back westerly to the regions of Yarkand and Khotan? This is not far distant from the old focus of culture of Central Asia, and the connection cannot be objected to by geographical reasons.”—Vol. xv. part 2.

217:* Dr. Williams, Hien-ning.

218:* Williams, Shi-Wéi.

218:† Williams, Liu-Léi.

219:* Williams, Shu King.

220:* Williams, Yih and Ts‘ih.

221:* I am under the impression that the dragons to which Mencius refers were probably alligators, of which one small species still exists, though rare, in the Yang-tsze-kiang. So also we may regard as alligators the dragons referred to above in the annals of the Bamboo Books on the passage of the Kiang by Yu. Mr. Griffis, in his work on Corea, says, "The creature called a-ke, or alligator, capable of devouring a man, is sometimes found in the largest rivers."

221:† For a full account of this work, see au Article by E. C. Bridgman in Chinese Repository, xviii. (1849), p. 169; and Botanicon Sinicum, by Dr. E. Bretschneider, in the Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, vol. xvi. 1881.

225:* Notes on Chinese Literature, A. Wylie, Shanghai and London, 1867.

225:† "Bot. Sin." in Journal of N. China Branch R. A. S., 1881.

225:‡ Journal Asiatique, Extr. No. 17 (1839).

226:* The three prefaces by these authors are given in extenso in the Appendix to this Chapter.

242:* The reader is referred, for a careful précis of the contents of this valuable work, to an exhaustive paper entitled "Botanicon Sinicum," in the Journal of North China Branch Royal Asiatic Society, 1881, by B. Bretschneider, M.D.

243:* The character for a hare is very like the character for a devil. The Japanese, in quoting this passage, have fallen into this error.

244:* The dragons’ bones sold by apothecaries in China consist of the fossilized teeth and bones of a variety of species, generally in a fragmentary condition. The white earth striæ, or dragons’ brains, here referred to, are probably asbestos. The asbestos sold in Chefoo market, under the name of Lung Ku or dragons’ bones, is procured at O-tzu-kung.

245:* The boletus, supposed to possess mystic efficacy.

Next: Chapter VIII. The Japanese Dragon