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Stone Dogs in Leizhou Peninsula

Time:2008-10-08   Source:

In theLeizhouPeninsula, at the southernmost tip of the Chinese mainland, various stone dogs can be spotted at village entrances, ancient roads and ancient gates. These roughly carved stone dogs, which have turned grayish after a long period of rain and wind, are the gem of the peninsula’s time-honored unique culture, attracting many tourists from both home and abroad.

Currently, there are about 15,000-25,000 stone dogs in Leizhou, which date back to theShang Dynasty(16th century-11th century BC). In ancient times, the peninsula was sparsely populated, with dry weather conditions and many thunderstorms. Ancient ethnic groups from the middle and lower reaches of theYellow River, such as the Li, Liao, Yao and Tong, lived in the Leizhou Peninsula. At the time, since Leizhou ancestors were very vulnerable to natural disasters and natural phenomena, they had to depend on certain objects as totems to pray for protection. Since theYao ethnic minoritybelieved in the power of the dog, people in Leizhou regarded the "stone dog" as their totem. Although the Yao ethnic minority merged with theHan nationalityafter the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279), the worship of stone dogs was handed down until today.

The stone dog is a unique form of art and culture belonging to the Leizhou Peninsula, which is rarely seen in other places in China and the world. The dogs are depicted in various postures: some smiling and open-mouthed, some with a simple, naive look, while others have a horrifying demeanor or big noses and fat ears, in either a sitting or squatting position. The sculptures fall into different groups according to region, period and shape.

In Leizhou, the biggest stone dog is more than two meters long, while the smallest, only 10 cm; the heaviest weighs around 1,000 kg, while others are generally the size of actual dogs. Among them, the oldest stone dog group dates back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties more than 1,400 years ago and is now distributed along the Stone Dog Slope near the old site of Hezhou Prefecture (present-day Leizhou).

Leizhou ancestors placed the carved stone dogs along the roadside, at village entrances, or other exits protecting the borders of their villages to ensure the safety of the people.

Although the stone dogs of the Leizhou Peninsula are now considered precious cultural relics left behind by local ancestors and unique folk art creations, many of them were demolished during the Cultural Revolution (May 1966-October 1976). Due to many changes and the movement of villages, as well as the construction of new roads, other ancient stone dogs were abandoned in remote mountains and boondocks, or submerged in sands and rivers.

In recent years, folklore scholars, historians and experts from around the world have dubbed the Leizhou stone dogs as an "exotic flower of Leizhou folk custom and culture that is unparalleled anywhere in the world." They call for the protection and excavation of Leizhou stone dogs and more research into the stone dog culture on the peninsula.

In 2001 the nation’s historical and cultural city of Leizhou had nominated its museum as the keeper of the stone relics. Until September 2003, the museum had collected more than 200 stone dogs from different periods, some of which are considered very precious. Currently, the treasures are displayed in the city museum, attracting endless streams of visitors. In 2002, Leizhou city set aside an over 200 mu (13.3 hectares) of land near the Lei Ancestral Temple to construct a large-scale Leizhou Stone Dog Park.

Stone dog legends

Dogs are often associated with human beings. While they are usually regarded as loyal friends, sometimes dogs can be construed as a symbol for evil or loneliness. However, the stone dogs in Leizhou go far beyond this general relationship: The unique, lifelike stone dogs are actually the epitome of human civilization of different periods. According to officials from Zhanjiang Museum and Leizhou Museum, the Leizhou stone dog is the only existent stone carving discovered in the Leizhou area.

With the passage of time, the people of Leizhou have attached various legends to the precious sculptures. It is said that the name "Leizhou" is also associated with the stone dog.

According to legend, during the reign of Chen Taijian of Wuli Baiyuan village of the ancient Hezhou Prefecture, he raised a nine-eared dog as his gun dog. One day, when all of the dog’s nine ears started moving simultaneously, Chen invited over 10 neighboring hunters to go hunting in Wulun Mountain, located in the north of the prefecture. During the expedition, Chen’s dog dug up a big egg from the ground, which the owner carried home. The next day, a thunderbolt split the egg open, from which jumped out a little boy with the characters "Lei" and "Zhou" imprinted on his hands. Chen named the boy Chen Wenyu, and the Hezhou Prefecture was later renamed "Leizhou".

Since Chen Wenyu had both ability and moral integrity, he was designated as the first governor of Leizhou. He handled the political administration well, loved his people and stabilized the Leizhou’s economy. To show their respect, people of later generations built a temple containing his statue in his honor, calling him "Lei Ancestor"; the dog was also deified and worshiped by the people.

According to another legend, Leizhou once suffered a serious drought. A visionary blamed the disaster on the mischief of the sun god and said that only the heavenly dog could convince the sun god to produce rain. Hearing the visionary’s words, the people of Leizhou thought of the heavenly dog’s brother, the earthly dog. Therefore, they organized a procession along some desolate slopes while lifting a stone dog with a rope; they whipped the statue in the hope that it would beg the heavens for rainfall. Finally, the earthly dog ascended to the heaven to present his case. As a result, the heavenly dog barked at the sun god to gather clouds for a rainfall, threatening to bite him if he did not comply. Terrified, the sun god made an appeal to the thunder god, the mother of lightning and the cloud master for rainfall. Three days later, it rained in Leizhou and, that year, the people enjoyed a bumper harvest.