A Kaleidoscope of Chinese Culture-Part Ⅱ
At the Forbidden City, dragon decorations are everywhere, to the point where nobody knows exactly how many. A survey carried out at the Taihe Palace found that there were 13,844 dragons in that building alone. Bearing in mind there are 9,999 rooms at the Forbidden City as believed, the total number of dragons must be an astronomical figure. During the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, all dragons in the imperial palaces were depicted with five claws. The five-clawed dragons were used exclusively in the imperial household and anybody else who dared to use it would, somewhat drastically, have their entire family executed.
In recent times, dragons and phoenixes have also been considered a sign of auspiciousness. The dragon dance has become a part of festival celebrations. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, dragon boat races are held in the south of China to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.
Many idioms and phrases include mentions of the dragon and the phoenix, such as 龙凤呈祥，龙飞凤舞，攀龙附凤，龙腾虎跃，生龙活虎，龙马精神，望子成龙，百鸟朝凤，凤鸣朝阳，凤毛麟角。 This often refers to a sense of auspiciousness, power or rarity.
Apart from mythical creatures such as the dragon and phoenix, Chinese people also value other kinds of animal that are thought to help address their cultural bent of seeking happiness and auspiciousness.
According to folklore, magpie, which in Chinese literally means joyful bird, is a harbinger of good and happy things. “Happiness comes when the magpie sings” is a folk saying. Magpies perched on plum trees are painted in New Year pictures to represent a homophonic metaphor of radiance with happiness. According to legend, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month the cowherd Niu Lang and his lover, the weaver girl Zhi Nv, go to the Milky Way for their once annual meeting. To assist them in making their way there, a group of magpies form a bridge so they can be reunited. As a result, the idiom 鹊桥相会, meeting at the magpies’s bridge, was created to mean the reunion of a couple or lovers after a long separation. For some reason, swallows also enjoy a similarly favorable status in Chinese culture. If swallows nest in the roof of a Chinese family’s house, the hosts will never disturb them, because it’s believed that it will bring luck to the family.
In Chinese fortune is a homophone for the word bat. Likewise, deer is a homophone of 禄 （lu）, which means something like official rank and salary. The crane was thought to be divine and represent longevity. In the world view of Chinese tradition, one cannot aim higher in life than to have fortune, high rank, good salary and a long life.
The peacock is also admired in china, for both its beauty and auspicious implications. By way of contrast, in the UK it was believed to be unlucky to have the feathers of a peacock in one’s home. The peacock’s beauty and carriage led its name to become synonymous with vanity and the expression “as proud as a peacock”.
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