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Chiwen on the roof of Longyin Temple, Chukou, Taiwan
A chishou gargoyle
A golden shachihoko on the roof of Nagoya Castle

Chiwen (Chinese: 螭吻; pinyin: chīwěn; Wade–Giles: ch'ih-wen; literally: 'hornless-dragon mouth') is a Chinese dragon, and in Chinese mythology is one of the 9 sons of the dragon. He is depicted in imperial roof decorations and other ornamental motifs in traditional Chinese architecture and art.

The name for this dragon is chīwěn (螭吻), which compounds chī (; 'hornless dragon; young dragon') and wěn (; '[animal's] mouth'). Chīshǒu (螭首) and Chītóu (螭頭), both literally meaning "hornless-dragon head", are similar architectural ornaments or waterspouts, comparable with Western gargoyles, but are not related to the mythological character.

Chiwen is alternatively written 鴟吻; 'owl mouth', using the homophonous character chī (; 'owl/bird of prey'). The chīwěi (鴟尾; 'owl tail') and chīméng (鴟甍; 'owl roof-ridge') are additional birdlike roof decorations.

The chiwen is listed second or third among the Lóng shēng jiǔzǐ (龍生九子; 'dragon gives birth to nine young'), Nine Dragons (九龍; jiǔlóng), which are traditional mythological creatures that have become traditional Chinese feng shui architectural decorations. Each one of the nine dragons has a protective function. The Nine dragons are also used in many place names in Hong Kong, such as Kowloon, literally meaning "nine dragons" in Cantonese (Chinese: 九龍; Jyutping: gau2 lung4; Cantonese Yale: Gáulùhng), as well as numerous lakes, rivers and hamlets in mainland China.

According to the Ming Dynasty Wuzazu (五雜俎) "The ch'i-wen, which like swallowing, are placed on both ends of the ridgepoles of roofs (to swallow all evil influences)."[1]

Welch (2008, pp. 122-123) describes chiwen as "the dragon who likes 'to swallow things'".

This is the fish-like, hornless dragon with a very truncated body and large, wide mouth usually found along roof ridges (as if swallowing the roof beams). His presence on roofs is also said to guard against fires. A paragraph in the Tang dynasty book Su Shi Yan Yi (蘇氏演義) by Su E (蘇鶚) says that a mythical sea creature called the chi wen [sic] was put on the roofs of buildings during the Han dynasty to protect the structures from fire hazards. This dragon is still found on the roofs of traditional Chinese homes today, protecting the inhabitants from fires.

In Fengshui theory, a chiwen or chiwei supposedly protects against not only fire, but also flood and typhoon.

The Japanese language borrowed these names for architectural roof decorations as Sino-Japanese vocabulary. Shibi 鴟尾 "ornamental roof-ridge tile" is more commonly used than chifun 螭吻 or shifun 鴟吻. In Japanese mythology, the Shachihoko (a mythical fish with a carp's arched tail, tiger's head, and dragon's scales) roof decoration is believed to cause rain and protect against fire. This is a kokuji "Chinese character invented in Japan" that can also be read shachi for "orca".

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Wuzazu 五雜俎., cited in de Visser, Marinus Willem (1913). Dragon in China and Japan. p. 101.

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