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Chinese white horse and symbolism

Since the Emperor of Japan rode around on a white horse (the symbol of divine authority), I assumed that it had a counterpart in China. Paul Simon says it does not, so perhaps the emperor's horse was a European borrowing. However, the white horse does may a role in China: "The White Horse does play a role in Chinese lore, but not as the bearer of the commander. The white horse, especially the small and stunted ones of Southeast China, is particularly efficacious as medicine. The late Ming Materia Medicina of 1596 has great detail on what white horse organs and bits should be used to treat what and how to prepare the remedies. This all is according to Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs, 3rd revised addition, by C.A.S. Williams, published in Shanghai in 1941 (but available in later paperback volumes, I believe). I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Chinese art, artifacts, or culture.

I also recommend you not just "ask someone Chinese" and assume you are getting the right answer. Yesterday my wife had a Sichuanese carpenter help her put up two carved wooden corner brackets which had some sort of pair of gilt beasts, one with a ball, the other with a smaller beast. They were so stylized that they weren't immediately identifiable so she asked the workman what they were. Without hesitation, he replied, "hozi" (monkeys). That evening we cracked open the aforementioned volume, and there is no doubt they are lions, as the male lion always is depicted with a ball and the female tending a cub. Further research on lions led us to discover that the "fu dogs" often at the beginning of a stairway or front entrance in China are actually also lions. Previously, I always assumed this was the Mandarin 'fu", either the fu for luck, the fu for wealth, or the fu for happiness. Instead it was bad old romanization schemes at work again. The correct Mandarin is Fo, for Buddhism. The beasts are Fo Shi, Buddha Lions, so called because such statuary was always at temple gates".

My comment: As for white horse as medicine, there is or was a whisky by that name. which is probably more effective. To this discussion, Ron Bracewell adds this scholarly note: "Who was Eric the Green?" Answer: a Norse of a different color". This is a cockney joke, with a silent h in horse.

Today, the lion, now found only in Africa, existed in Asia, but it survives only in the Gir wildlife sanctuary in India. Male lions look fierce with their mane, but they are really very lazy. It is the lioness who does the hunting. I am surprised that the lions symbolize peaceful Buddhism. Perhaps the male lion symbolizes a lazy monk.

Ronald Hilton - 1/9/02