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Five-claw legend

Dragon Claw is a Class Symbol

  In China's imperial feudal era, "two-horn five-claw snake-shaped dragon" is the monarch's dedicated totem. After the Yuan Dynasty, only monarch dragon could use five-claw, while other imperial family or deities could use the dragon with fewer claws (3 claws or 4 claws) and renamed it Boa dragon (snake dragon). Taiwan has broken away from the imperial feudal ethics and rites since the Japanese Occupation Period, the civilian use of five-claw dragon is no longer a taboo. For example, the prayer table or prayer lamp to sacrifice offering to higher imperial-level temples widely used five-claw dragon ornamentation. However, we can still explore the historical evolution of the class of dragon claw from the cultural relics of the Qing Dynasty like dragon column, Imperial Road Dragon/Cloud Dragon and ancient bells. We find that there is the allegedly only 5-claw dragon column of the Qing Dynasty in Taiwan in the second floor of the rear hall (Hall of Jade Emperor) of the Lukang Mazu Temple. The dragon ornamentation of the 200-year-old ancient bell with dragon ornamentation in the Changhua Temple of Confucius and Imperial Road Dragon/Cloud Dragon is also five-claw dragon. Let us probe into the reasons!



Rear hall of Lukang Mazu Temple, Dragon column

  We can find the following explanations from the official website of Lukang Mazu Temple: Seldom do the dragon columns in Taiwan have the five-claw model. Since the rear hall of Lukang Mazu Temple worships Jade Emperor and in the ivilian belief, Jade Emperor holds a supreme position, dragon column adopts the model of five-claw. This illustrates that since Jade Emperor worshiped in this temple is a higher imperial-level deity, so five-claw dragon can be used. Another exception about Jade Emperor is the Xiamen Baijiao Ciji Temple of the Qing Dynasty. Since it was taller than the Forbidden City, Beijing intended to punish the temple and it was spared due to worship of Jade Emperor. 



Status quo of Taiwan's folk custom: 5-claw is a rare exception

It is quite rare that Taiwan's cultural relics during Qing Dynasty use 5-claw dragon ornamentation. The only exceptions are found in Stone Carving of Imperial Road Dragon/Cloud Dragon in Changhua Temple of Confucius, ancient bells of dragon ornamentation and dragon column of rear hall of Lukang Mazu Temple.  We carried out the follow investigation by taking dragon column as an example:

(Source: Tables Prepared by Dragon Seekers)

   We find that under the rites during Qing Dynasty, dragon columns in Taiwan mainly use 3-claw or 4-claw dragon. To express the highest respect, believers occasionally built 5-claw dragon column in the name of worshiping Jade Emperor. At present, the only known exception during Qing Dynasty is the dragon column rear hall of Lukang Mazu Temple (during Qing Dynasty, 1852). However, there are still temples worshiping Jade Emperor which observe the rites and use four-claw dragon, such as dragon column of Changhua Yuan Ching Kuan (1877). The dragon columns in Taiwan mixed three-claw, four-claw and five-claw. After the Japanese Occupation Period, the currently known modern works include dragon column of Tiangong Temple in Puzi, Chiayi (Republican period, 1955).


Taboo of the Emperors

  1. The Martial Temple in Zhangzhou, Mainland China has "completely different" five-claw dragon column in the 10th year of Qing Daoguang. It can be seen that people in both Mainland China and Taiwan mixed 5-claw dragon.
  2. Dragon column of rear hall of Lukang Mazu Temple, Stone Carving of Imperial Road Dragon/Cloud Dragon in Changhua Temple of Confucius, and ancient bells with dragon ornamentation of Changhua Temple of Confucius are the works of Mainland China based on their style, age and material. Obviously, the mixed use of five-claw dragon in Taiwan is affected by Mainland China.
  3. Civilians believe that dedication to the five-claw dragon column is to show respect for deities, just like the 108 doornails in the entrance door of the imperial temples for sacrificial rites.
  4. Since the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty, the emperors began to prohibit civilians from using civil five-claw dragon. But why this prohibition always failed? Mainland China scholar Jin Pang presented the following explanation in this book "The Charm of Dragon": From Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, emperors' tolerance of the civilian use of five-claw dragon varied. Strict and tight law enforcement contributed to civilian exceptions of 5-claw dragon, indicating the background that emperors or local officials turned a blind eye.
  5. The dragon culture of China has changed from person to class system or belief, resulting in the multiple characteristics of official dragon culture and civilian dragon culture (dragon culture of belief and civilian dragon culture).

Dragon Column of Tiangong Temple in Puzi, Chiayi (modern works after Republican period)

▲ Tiangong Temple in Puzi, Chiayi worships Jade Emperor, and believers present the 5-claw dragon column to show the highest respect.  The rare mud lump sculpture technique is employed. This is the modern work after Republican period ( Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers )

  

Lukang Mazu Templerear hall Dragon column (Work During Qing Dynasty)

▲ Figure 4-5-7 : Rear hall Lukang Mazu Temple worships Jade Emperor and owns five-claw dragon column (Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers ) ▲Figure 4-5-8 : Dragon holding a pearl. Dragon column of rear hall of Lukang Mazu Temple is the only five-claw dragon column of the Qing Dynasty in Taiwan ( Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers )

Ancient bell in Imperial Road Dragon/Cloud Dragon, Changhua Temple of Confucius (Work during Qing Dynasty)

▲ Figure4-5-9 : Inclined Stone of Imperial Road in the middle of the stairs of Changhua Temple of Confucius(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure Figure4-5-10: Stone Carving of Imperial Road Dragon/Cloud Dragon in Changhua Temple of Confucius during Qing Dynasty ( Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)
▲ Figure4-5-11 : Stone Carving in Imperial Dacheng Hall Road/Cloud Dragon, Changhua Temple of Confucius (Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure3-1-24: Rare five-claw cloud dragon stone carving from Mainland China ( Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)
▲ 200-year-old ancient bell in Changhua Temple of Confucius ▲Figure 3_1_14: Rare five-claw dragon ornamentation ( Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)

Trace of Dragons in Changhua - Meet the Dragon through Time  / Team:Dragon Seekers
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