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Nines, Dragons,and the Book of Changes

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Winter Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(4) pages: 17 to 18

Why and where is the number nine important to the Chinese? The square of three is found in The Book of Changes, in Chinese known as the Yi Jing. In The Book of Rites, known as the Li Ji, they enumerate nine at the appearance of nine dragons for marriage, an audience, burial, sacrifice, some hospitality, ceremonial drinking, military traditions, for the opening of an embassy, or the naming of a male child.

In the earliest Chinese encyclopedia called the Spring and Autumn by Beu-wei, the heavens had nine fields, the earth had nine regions, the country nine mountains, the mountains nine mountain passes, the sea nine islands. The mythical emperor Yu is said to have subdued nine big rivers with a nine-headed dragon. He traveled to nine provinces, divided the earth into nine squares, then divided them into nine square fields. He knew, as did other royals, that in Imperial times only the emperor could wear a dragon robe, the only one to wear a yellow robe.

During the Han Dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE), hell was the realm of the dead and called ‘nine wells.’ It had nine door handles, each a gilded dragon. Also, on the ninth day of the ninth month, men went to the mountains to drink chrysanthemum wine. Thus, nine and illustrations of it were special for the Chinese.

Were these not enough, China’s Son of Heaven occupied an apartment to the left of Ching Yang or the Imperial Palace. Audiences were given there, sacrificial rites, too, and this area was divided into nine squares. In the ninth month, sparrows are said to have dived into the water and became molluscs, then all field labor ceased, officers were given duties, and the calendar for the next year was published and distributed.

We hear now that eight is an important number, and it is, but it is not the only special number. Mention Fried Rice, or another vegetarian dish and many are made with eight ingredients. We know a family that makes theirs with nine ingredients. We know another family that makes theirs with eight ingredients. Do you know families that do one or the other?

The Chinese dragon has nine attributes, and there are nine different dragons. This mythical animal has nine sons, and there is a nine dragon wall. It is a spirit wall with images of nine dragons. No one wants to think or speak poorly of this or any spirit; would you? When visiting China, many cities have such a nine-dragon wall, and the Chinese think all of them are important. A special one was completed in 1244 during the Song Dynasty (950 - 1279 CE). It was painted by a famous artist, Chen Rong. There is also a special place called Nine Dragons; it is in Hong Kong.

Not eight or nine, the dragon is one of twelve animals reporting to Buddha. It has a place in naming years and is the fifth in the cycle of twelve. The ninth year is the Monkey Year; your editor was born in a monkey year. Dragon years are popular for those planning children. Did you know more children are born in Dragon years than in any other animal years? You may recall that Dragon Boat racers use to have nine paddling their boats but now there are two sets of eight. The Dragon Boat Festival is when rowers take to the water and try to win these races.

In Chinese, nine is jiu, and alcoholic beverages are jiu. Is that what makes them honorific? Chinese dragons are legendary, honorific in folklore and mythology. Many are depicted as snakes with nine pairs of legs. In Yin and Yang thinking, they symbolize potent powers and provide strength and good luck. The emperor of China used a dragon as his symbol of power; his imperial robes were always yellow with dragons on them, usually nine of them.

In 1912, the flag of China had a dragon on it, and there were two dragons on the emblem of China from 1913 to 1928. Great people are compared to a dragon; the Chinese see themselves as great people, lesser ones they see as worms. Fathers hope their sons will become great people, and until the Imperial years were over, neither they nor anyone could have a dragon on their garments.

The origin of the dragon is not certain. Some say it dates back to the fifth millennium BCE. We know ancient Chinese did refer to it in those early years when they unearthed bones; they called ‘dragon bones.’ We also know that villagers in Central China used these bones in their traditional medicine; they called them ''dragon bones.''

When people painted a dragon shape in Imperial China, they often did it with a horse’s head and a snake’s tail so as not to anger the emperor. They said there were nine parts to a dragon, including antlers resembling a stag, the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the neck of a snake, the belly of a clam, the scales of a fish, the claws of an eagle, the soles of a tiger, and the ears of a cow. One Sinologist had his own list. He saw antlers of a deer, the heart of a crocodile, the eyes of a demon, the neck of a snake, viscera of a tortoise, claws of a hawk, palms of a tiger, and ears of a cow. How do you see a dragon; does it have nine parts?

Many pictures show a flaming pearl under a dragon’s chin. Pearls are associated with wealth, good luck, and prosperity; so are dragons. They are also associated with water. The earliest emperors, Huang Di and Yang Di are closely related to Long, the name of the dragon. One is named Yangdi, said to be born to his mothers telepathy.

The Chinese refer to themselves as ‘descendants of the dragon’ and often show one with five claws on each foot. If yellow, it is from the Manchu Dynasty, if red it is from the Ming Dynasty. The earliest depictions of dragons were found at neolithic sites; and those at Yangshao in Xian were depicted on clay pots.

Chinese rulers and scholars did not see them this way. They saw them differently with Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty saying they were azure and compassionate. Seen as vermillion, they would bestow blessings on lakes, if yellow they heard petitions favorably, white ones were virtuous, and black dragons lived in the depths of mystical waters. Ming Dynasty texts spoke of nine dragon offspring.

Puao liked to cry. Qiuniu ones liked music, Chiwen liked to eat, Chaofeng was seen as lions, etc. Poet Yanf Shen (1488 - 1559) gave names for 5th and 9th sons and stated that dragon children, known as taotie, loved to eat, that jiaotu or those that looked like clams should not be disturbed, etc.

There are many relationships to nines and to dragons. Do you know of others, particularly those relating to food and eating?

The Chinese dragon is a symbol of strength and prosperity, able to breathe fire, call for rain, and see the sea disguised as a pinhead. All had nine children, each with a different personality. Bixi was the eldest and boss-like. Yazi had a snake belly and a leopard head, and Chaofen liked adventure. Chiwen lived in the sea and liked to devour creatures, Bian had a fancy for lawsuits, Suanni liked smelling incense, and Pixiu was fierce and majestic; his job was to keep heaven safe by guarding its gates.

The dragon’s job was to bring luck to those that sought it and believed in it. It reminds people of their ancestry, and provides a happy life to those born in Dragon years. For example, to those born in the Shang Dynasty (1600 1046 BCE) it was ferocious and mysterious. In the Zhou Dynasty, (1046 - 221 BCE), it was weakened because the phoenix appeared. In the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BCE, it became more powerful and masculine. When Qin Shi Huang (259 - 210 BCE) was in power, he claimed he was the son of the dragon so it acquired monarchial powers.

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