Legends of Pixiu or Pi Yao
According to ancient text, pixiu (貔貅) or pi yao (皮休) is a fierce but auspicious beast. Originally, there was male and female pixiu; the male is called ‘pi’ and female ‘xiu’.
In addition, pixiu was divided into two types. The one with a horn is known as “Tian Lu” (天禄) and the other with two horns is “bi xie” (辟邪). However, the common image today is a representation of a single sex, usually with one horn.
The southerner Chinese like to call this creature as “pixiu” while their counterparts in the North refer to it as “bi xie”. Other names for this mystical beast include Tian Lu, Weird Creature (四不像) or Strange Beast (怪兽).
In the “Western Regions Biography” of the Book of Han (汉书西域传), reference was made to Tian Lu and Bi Xie as “Tao Ba” (桃拔) or “Fu Ba” (符拔). Hence, there is also the belief that these are foreign beasts that originated from the Western Regions or Xiyu (西域). Upon introduction to China, they were given the Chinese names.
The pixiu is a hybrid of some real and mythical creatures. There are 26 different images and 49 incarnations.
The beast is usually depicted as exceptionally fierce and mighty-looking. It has a dragon’s head with horn(s) and a horse’s body with a big abdomen. The mouth is wide open, revealing large fangs. The eyes are protruding. Curly fur covers its forehead. The long neck fur is often entwined with the chest’s fur or fur on the back. The body’s scales and hooves are those of a qilin. It has a curly, furry tail. Its shape is said to resemble a lion.
The pixiu has white-grayish fur and a pair of short wings. It is often shown to be walking in giant strides. Its posture projects a sense of strength, elegance and mobility.
The main characteristic of the pixiu is that it has a voracious appetite for gold, silver and jewels but has no anus for excretion. Hence, the pixiu is a symbol of acquisition and preservation of wealth.
The pixiu of today comes in various sizes and different images (with or without wings). Different kinds of materials are used to produce the figurines. These include brass, copper, jade, Liuli (crystal glass), porcelain, stone, wood, Zisha clay, and even cloth.
Pixiu carved from jade is usually in a prostrate position, with a coin in its mouth. It is sometimes depicted as lying on top of some coins.
There are many interesting folk tales about the pixiu, such as the following:
(1) Pixiu and Battle of Zhuolu
There is a legend about the pixiu being conferred the title “Tian Lu Beast” (天禄兽) by the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) for contributing to the victory of the Battle of Zhuolu (涿鹿之战). The battle was fought between Huang Di and Chi You in Zhuolu, and was recorded as the second battle in Chinese history in the Records of the Grand Historian.
The words “Tian Lu” means “Heaven bestows good fortune and wealth”. This beast became the symbol of the imperial family and was also termed “Emperor’s Treasure” (帝宝). It guarded treasures solely for emperors.
(2) Jade Emperor sealed pixiu’s anus
Pixiu is believed to be an offspring of the Dragon King. As its staple food is gold, silver and jewels, the pixiu has a noble temperament which helped it to win the love of the Dragon King and the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝).
The pixiu was responsible for guarding heaven from demons and monsters, as well as from plague disease. One day, after having over-eaten, it could not control its bowels and excreted in the palace of the Jade Emperor. In his anger, the Jade Emperor slapped its buttock. This resulted in its anus being sealed. From then on, whatever the pixiu consumed will not be passed out. Due to this incident, it was banished from Heaven.
When the story spreads, the pixiu was considered a wealth symbol and became very popular with the Chinese folks.
(3) Pixiu and Jiang Ziya
The pixiu was believed to have lived in the Western Regions three million years ago. It possessed great combat strength.
On one of his battle expeditions to Shang (商), Jiang Ziya (姜子牙), Prime Minister of Zhou, met a pixiu. Nothing was known about the beast, but Jiang Ziya liked its strong and mighty appearance. He managed to subdue the pixiu, and it became his mount.
Riding on the beast to war, Jiang Ziya won one victory after another. King Wu of Zhou (周武王) rewarded the pixiu by giving it an official post, known as “Cloud” (云).
Jiang Ziya noticed that the pixiu has a rapacious appetite but does not defecate at all. Only extremely fragrant sweat was excreted from its body. After smelling the fragrance, animals from all directions came to look for the food but ended up being devoured by the pixiu.
(4) Pixiu and He Shen
In the ancient days, only the imperial family had exclusive use of the pixiu. Anyone found in secret possession of the pixiu was subject to a death penalty.
During the Han Dynasty, Emperor Gaozu had granted the pixiu the title of “Imperial Treasure”, making it exclusively for the royal household.
Throughout the various dynasties, the pixiu was often used to protect the imperial tombs to safeguard the geomancy “dragon vein” of the royal ancestral tombs. Its other duties were to guard the Treasury and the Imperial Study Room to bring prosperity to the country. No court officials and commoners were allowed to have possession of the pixiu.
He Shen (和珅) was a high-ranking Qing court official. He was considered to be one of the most corrupt officials in Chinese history. He secretly kept some pixiu to help him to acquire more wealth.
Liu Yong, another court official, reported him to Emperor Qianlong. However, as He Shen was the Emperor’s favourite and had also contributed significantly to the country, the Emperor did not pursue the matter.
Since then, the practice of using pixiu spread among the common folks. Today, those who are engaged in trading activities relating to stocks and shares, foreign currency exchange, property and financial products like to display a pair of pixiu on their desks.
The pixiu is an auspicious and yet powerful beast. It can protect the homes, dispel evil spirits, bring good fortune, deliver wealth, etc.
It can be used as a wealth enhancer, as well as cures for certain feng shui problems.
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