2022 is the “Tiger Year” in Chinese lunar calendar. As early as millions of years ago, tigers lived with the ancients of China. Thanks to its formidable demeanor, splendid beauty, and ferocity, the tiger is viewed as a symbol of courage, strength and even wealth. Due to its gorgeous fur, imposing mannerism and frightening majesty, it become regarded as the guardian that fights for righteousness over evils. As it is included into the “Twelve Zodiac Animals” in China, the tiger has its visage integrated into apparels, buildings, cuisines, arts, etc., for as a sign of auspicious blessings.
In celebration of the New Year festival of the “Year of Tiger”, the China Cultural Relics Newspaper, in conjunction with nearly 50 museums and other cultural institutes around China, has meticulously planned a joint exhibition of pictures showcasing cultural relics with Chinese zodiac tigers, for display in museums, communities, villages, and schools to celebrate the New Year. Of the exhibits, many are from Henan Museum.
The exhibition is divided into three parts:
Part One: Tigers in Natural Habitats
Belonging to the cat family, the tiger is one of the most adaptable and widely distributed genre of the carnivorous species, which originated in the late Miocene, about 11 million years ago. The earliest tiger fossil known in the world to date is the Longdan tiger discovered by Chinese scientists in Gansu, who lived in the early Pleistocene about 2.5 million years ago, hence many scientists inferred that tiger originated in China.
Fossils of saber-toothed tigers--from the Beijing Natural History Museum
Specimen of South China Tiger--from the Chongqing Nature Museum
Part Two:Tigers in History and Culture
A unique culture of tiger forged in the circumstance of coexistence of the tigers and the ancients of China. Images of tiger were discovered in the burials of the Yaoshao culture of 6,500 years ago, and several pictographic words of “tiger” were found in the oracle bones of the Yin-Shang period. The pre-qin prominent mythological book Classic of Mountains and Seas also mentions that “the tiger defended against the evil spirits”. In the ensuing Qin and Han periods, the white tiger, along with the azure dragon, vermilion bird, and black tortoise, were named the “Four Spirits”, in which, the white tiger specifically guards the west.
Tigers have been found in the petroglyphs of the Stone Age, the bronzes of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, stone sculptures, wall paintings of the Wei, Jin, and the North and South dynasties, and to the paintings from the Tang, Song, Ming, Qing dynasties. They were also vividly and realistically depicted on bronze, ceramic, gold, and jade objects of the dynastic China.
Celadon Jade Tiger-shaped Pendant--from Henan Museum
Mural of the Four Spirits amid the Cloud--from Henan Museum
The Du Tiger-formed Tally--from Shaanxi History Museum
Part Three:The Tigers in the Folk Life
Tigers are worshiped in myths, folklore, and various religions. After being known to the commoners, the idea of tigers as mascots believed tobe capable of distinguishing good and evil, warding off evil spirits, exorcising demons, and prolonging longevity, as well as guarding children's growth and preventing calamities from the household was inherited from generation to generation. Accordingly, portraits of tiger became conventionally hung on walls facing gates so as to ward off demons from entering. In some cases, tiger-shaped pillows were employed to anticipate good health; children wear tiger-shaped caps and shoes to seek safety. And images of tiger are imbued into New Year Paintings, paper-cuts, embroideries, apparel, toys, women’s headwears, architectural ornaments, and even the foodstuffs, thus making them ubiquitous.
Painting Twin Tigers by farmer painter Wang Yalan--from the National Art Museum of China