In Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology is a collection of cultural history, folktales, and religions that have been passed down in oral or written tradition. These include creation myths and legends and myths concerning the founding of Chinese culture and the Chinese state...
, Joseph Campbell
Joseph John Campbell was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience...
identifies four benevolent animals Si Ling
四靈 that took abodes in the gardens of the palace of the Chinese Empire
Early Imperial China begins in the Iron Age with the unification of China by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC. It ended five centuries of feudal warfare, similar to that of Western Europe, that plagued the Eastern Zhou dynasty. The short-lived Qin introduced centralized government under the absolute...
during the legendary period of the Yellow Emperor
The Yellow Emperor or Huangdi1 is a legendary Chinese sovereign and culture hero, included among the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. Tradition holds that he reigned from 2697–2597 or 2696–2598 BC...
- The qilin
The Qilin is a mythical hooved Chinese chimerical creature known throughout various East Asian cultures, and is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a wise sage or an illustrious ruler. It is a good omen that brings rui . It is often depicted with what looks like fire all over...
(麒麟), lord of furred quadrupeds.
- The dragon
Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and folklore, with mythic counterparts among Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Western and Turkic dragons. In Chinese art, dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs...
(龍), lord of scaly animals.
- The tortoise
Tortoises are a family of land-dwelling reptiles of the order of turtles . Like their marine cousins, the sea turtles, tortoises are shielded from predators by a shell. The top part of the shell is the carapace, the underside is the plastron, and the two are connected by the bridge. The tortoise...
(龜), lord of shelled animals.
- The Fenghuang
Fenghuang are mythological birds of East Asia that reign over all other birds. The males are called Feng and the females Huang. In modern times, however, such a distinction of gender is often no longer made and the Feng and Huang are blurred into a single feminine entity so that the bird can be...
(鳳凰), lord of birds.
The image might be an opposite of the "Four Perils" Si Xiong
:zh:四凶, ambiguously described in the classics as the monsters of the early age, barbarians, or assistants and progenitors.
Animal imagery was related to the four cardinal directions (Four animal symbols
The Four Symbols are four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations. They are:*Azure Dragon of the East *Vermilion Bird of the South *White Tiger of the West *Black Tortoise of the North...
), however, the relationship was not stable until canonization in Han period. Thus, Rong cheng shi
, a 4 c. BCE excavated text, refers to the snake as a symbol of the South, bird, of the North; and bear, of the center. East and west were symbolized by the sun and the moon. All the symbols appeared on the banners created by Yu the Great
Yu the Great , was a legendary ruler of Ancient China famed for his introduction of flood control, inaugurating dynastic rule in China by founding the Xia Dynasty, and for his upright moral character....
- Four Saintly Beasts (Vietnam)
- Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors