From my base in Shenzhen, over 11 years of travel across
the Middle Kingdom to find what's ancient in a modern land

(more about my travels in China)

Tiger and Dragon, Tian Hou Temple, Sungang Village, Shenzhen

You probably remember one of the most famous Chinese films of recent years, Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

What you may not realize is that the tiger and the dragon represent the Chinese concepts of yin and yang.

"Yin" is the female, the dark, the passive. The tiger is a stalker, a quiet hunter who knows how to be patient, lying in wait. The tiger is also West, the withdrawal place of the sun.

"Yang" is male, light, active. The dragon comes in with drums banging and bells ringing, with a "ho ho HOOOO." He is also East, from which the sun expands its power.

In many Daoist (folk) temples, we can see this symbolism embodied in picture panels. In a May, 2009, visit to the Tian Hou Temple in Sungang Village, Shenzhen, we saw this quite clearly.

The temple is a typical "two hall, one courtyard" style, although the central courtyard is covered.

On the left wall of the courtyard, we see this panel of the tiger:

Given that the front doors of temples are supposed to face south, this would be the west. (This temple is actually askew, but we can call the front door "liturgical south," as the altar in some Christian traditions is said to be located at the "liturgical east.")

Opposite this, of course, is the dragon. This is "liturgical east," in keeping with the proper symbolism.

Each panel is three to four feet wide. An interesting touch on both panels is that the larger figure is accompanied by a "child."

This temple, by the way, has one of the finest collections of folk statues I've seen anywhere in China. I'll be publishing more of them later.

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