Dogs get a raw deal in China's ancient legends

Updated 2018-02-13 14:18:01

As the Year of the Rooster takes its leave, it is only days before the Year of the Dog arrives. (This year, the Chinese New Year starts on February 16.)

In the Chinese zodiac, the dog is the second to last, ahead of the pig. As in many other parts of the world, dogs have been loyal companions for thousands of years.

However, they are not commonly portrayed in ancient texts or art like horses, ox or sheep, often carrying lucky connotations in phrases or folklore legends. Dogs, though considered loyal friends at home, are associated with characters such as flattery or sneakiness.

In many ancient phrases, the word "dog" is used along with rooster or pig.

Ji ming gou dao, or crow like a rooster and snatch like a dog, means worthless tricks. It comes from the story of Tian Wen, a royal figure in the Warring States Period (5th century BC-221 BC) known for his generosity which helped him enlist thousands of followers.

When he was kidnapped by an enemy king, one of his people posed as a dog to steal a fur coat to bribe the king's concubine while another imitated the sound of a rooster. All roosters in the city started crowing and the guards at the gate thought it was past curfew and opened the doors.

Danshen gou, a bachelor dog, is a common phrase referring to a single man or woman. Many single people refer to themselves as a bachelor dog in a self-sarcastic way.

Unlike birds, turtles or tigers, or patterns resembling such animals, dogs or dog patterns are not often found in ancient paintings or crafts.

Some ceramic dog statues have been discovered in tombs from about 2,000 years ago, when the tradition was to prepare a large comfortable tomb for the dead, accompanied with everything they used when alive.

There are some famous mythical dogs in folklore, such as Xiaotianquan, the sky-barking hound. It served as the ride and weapon of Erlangshen, a general at the heavenly court who had a third-eye in the middle of his forehead.

The general and the hound, both famous from ancient legends, are portrayed in many popular novels from olden times, most famously in "Journey to the West," first as the Monkey King's enemy and later fighting comrades.

Tiangou, or the heavenly dog, is another famous myth that involves a dog, which can be traced back to "The Classic of Mountains and Seas," a book that includes many legendary beasts that have existed for more than 2,000 years. In the book, the heavenly dog is described as having a white head and frightening bark to threaten evil beasts or spirits.

In some ancient Chinese legends, the heavenly dog is accused of having eaten the sun or moon to cause the eclipses.

In Chinese culture, people born in the Year of the Dog are known to be loyal, just and good at making observations. They are said to get along well with those born in the Year of the Tiger, Rabbit or Horse.

Celebrities born in the Dog Year includes Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (born 1898), US President Donald Trump (1946), Prince William of the UK (1982) and pop icon Madonna (1958).

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