Monday, December 17, 2012

My Guardian Tortoise


Look what Marianne bought for me over the weekend!  A Chinese tortoise.  Marianne says it will stay in my office until the next Darger & Surplus novel is done.

The only question I have is:  Exactly what does the tortoise mean

There are a number of readers here who know a lot about China, so I'm asking this publicly:  What the heck?

Knowledgeable responses are welcomed.



Ken Houghton said...

"Knowledgeable responses are welcomed."

Well, that rules me out, but, uh, Michael, er, have you, hmm, noticed something a touch odd about your tortoise?

For instance, have you tried feeding it water and seeing if it exhales hydrogen?

David Stone said...

After poking around on the Chinese Internet for a few minutes I am more confused that enlightened about this guy. As you might have guessed it's an auspicious beast that is supposed to bring good fortune and ward of harmful cosmological effects/bad luck when utilized in Feng Shui, according to where and how you place it on, in or around your house or whatever. Is it made from glazed clay? Maybe it was on a rooftop at one point?

According to one source the dragon turtle might be a variant of the "Bi xi", which are found all over the place in China as a statues of a giant turtle which serve as plinths for stone stelae. The bi xi is apparently part of a larger folk-motif called "the dragon's nine sons". This nine sons business goes back to the early Ming dynasty, but the odd thing is that while the number of sons doesn't vary from one source to another, exactly who or what these sons are does.

Another theory I read about is that the dragon turtle motif evolved from the imagery of the Xuanwu, aka the Black Tortoise, a northern constellation which is supposed to resemble a turtle with a snake wrapped around it. The idea here is that the attributes of the snake (dragon) melded with that of a turtle resulting in what you have here. The constellation has a whole set of associations and so-forth related to ancient Chinese cosmology and hermetic systems and so on that I can't even begin to understand, sorry to say.

Folk motifs and legends like this from China (any anywhere else I'm sure) are always a huge mess of conflicting and vague sources... Still, if it was used in architecture it must have had pretty good currency with the kind of people with enough clout to build large structures, so maybe it's not as vague as I imagine it to be.

Wish I knew more about it... as much as I'd love to show off, chances are the same info is readily Internet in English.

Unknown said...

Your Guardian Tortoise


Michael Swanwick said...

My thanks for your help, all. This is a great start for my investigations.