Yu Yuan 豫园
Four Clawed Dragon

There are five dragons guarding the walls of Yu Yuan. Each of them has four claws.

There are two stories told about the claws. The first is that when the garden was first built, someone told the Emperor that the dragons at Yu Yuan were Imperial dragons with five claws. The Emperor wasn't very happy about it because certain symbols are reserved for Emperors such as golden tiles on roofs, certain shades of the colors purple and yellow, and dragons having five claws - the symbol of the Emperor's power. The Pan family appeared to be threatening his sovereignty. An emissary was sent to Shanghai to investigate.

Advance warning came to Pan Yunduan and an advisor suggested a simple solution. When the emissary arrived, the dragons no longer had five claws, but four. It was explained to the emissary that they were not dragons at all since they only had four claws, but were snakes.

The second story is not as interesting. Dragons have three, four and five claws in China. The common Han dragon has four claws, the Japanese dragon traditionally has three. Frequently, dragons at Imperial Chinese sites have five, but not always. The five claw dragon is traditionally reserved for the Emperor. It is unlikely that two such high-ranking and scholarly ministers as Pan En and Pan Yunduan didn't know this and would tempt fate and certain displeasure. The likelihood is that the five dragons on the dragon wall were designed with four claws, and that they were considered dragons, not snakes.

China Index >> History of Shanghai and Suzhou Region >> Yu Yuan

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Last update: February 2007
© Marilyn Shea 1996, 1999, 2002, 2007