The outer band of the painting depicts Dragon, Phoenix,
Unicorn, and Tortoise, the four divine creatures in Chinese
Dragon is a symbol of loyalty, eternity, Emperor, courage and
strength. He has the power to control rain, and rules the springs, rivers,
and the sea. Presiding over the Eastern Quadrant, he rebukes against greed,
and has the power to mediate between Heaven and Earth. The sight of a dragon
is considered a blessing and means Heaven is letting the people know the
Emperor is doing good deeds.
Phoenix symbolizes feminine beauty, Empress, goodness, warmth,
prosperity, and peace. She also represents the Sun, abundant harvests,
reason in government, and is the ruler of the Southern Quadrant.
Unicorn, representing the Central direction, is said to have
a scaly body comprised of a horse and a lion. With hairy legs and
cloven hoofs, it is a well-mannered and benevolent creature which radiates
perfect goodwill and gentleness.
Tortoise symbolizes longevity, strength, and endurance.
The messenger to the human race, he also represents and guards the North
The mountain scene in the center is inspired by what I saw while riding the
train to Jingdezhen, where blue-on-white porcelain was first developed
exactly 1000 years ago. Hidden in the design are suggestions of the four
mythical animals. The top of the mountain range is the dragon's back, and
since he has dominion over the seas, the water comes down through the
mountain and ends in his claw. The center mountain is the tortoise-back. He
is the intermediary between humans and the spirit world. The mountain on
the right has qualities of the unicorn. His cloven feet can be seen in the rocks
below. Finally, the mountain on the left has qualities of the phoenix, which
represents beauty, hence the garden with trees, rocks and water - the three
things said to be necessary for a beautiful Chinese garden. The pool at the
bottom is made from the peacock's feather.