|The roof of the West Gate of Righteousness 右义门 (Yòu Yì Mén) has five animals between a man riding a chicken and a roof dragon called a chiwen 鴟吻 (chīwěn). The number of animals, called 走兽 (zǒu shòu) or 蹲兽 (dūn shòu), between the two figures indicates the importance of the building. Following the lead ornament are a dragon, a phoenix, a lion, a heavenly horse, and a sea horse. Each protects the building in a different way. The roof dragon 鴟吻 (chīwěn) protects the building from fire. Dragons are associated with water in Chinese mythology and thus have the power to extinguish fire with rain. The chiwen is one of the nine sons of the dragon king.
Below, two images from the Ming Dynasty Yu Yuan, Yu Garden (1578), in Shanghai show variations on roof ornaments. The first is the roof dragon 鴟吻 (chīwěn) which has strong fish characteristics and below that is an example of roof statues. Yu Garden was a private residence of a Ming Dynasty official. The roof ornaments depicted historical events as well as classic elements of Chinese belief. In this case, warriors are going off to a battle: successfully, of course.
Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009