Hest og drage: Da den kinesiske kejser fik giraffer

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Historie

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En krydsning mellem en hest og en drage. Sådan blev giraffer beskrevet, da de kom til Kina i 1400-tallet.

Science News har en fin artikel om girafferne, som sejlede med Zheng He hele vejen fra Afrika til kejser Yongle’s hof i Kina.

Artiklen bygger på en bog, der hedder Giraffe Reflections, som er skrevet af Dale Peterson. Han fortæller blandt andet, hvordan der ud over giraffer også kom zebraer, antiloper, næsehorn og andre eksotiske dyr til Kina dengang. Men girafferne var noget særligt, som Science News skriver.

They were thought to be qilin (or ch’i-lin, as it’s spelled in the book), creatures that are known as Chinese unicorns but are more like a cross between a horse and a dragon. Qilin had several characteristics that the giraffe fulfilled, Peterson writes:

According to Confucian tradition, a ch’i-lin male, aside from his many other wondrous qualities, would be marked by a flesh-covered horn rising from the forehead. Giraffes have skin-covered horns, and some giraffe males develop a skin-covered median horn, a decisive knob or bump that appears at mid-forehead. Ch’i-lin could alternatively have two or three horns, as can giraffes. Confucian tradition also held that ch’i-lin had a deer’s body and cloven hooves, as well as the tail of an ox and, sometimes, the scales of a fish. A giraffe would probably pass that test as well, aside from the fish scales…. Ch’i-lin were usually imagined to be white; but they could be gaily colored in red, yellow, blue, white and black — not entirely unlike a giraffe. Ch’i-lin were associated with gentleness and goodness, qualities that would be at least superficially apparent in a giraffe.

Confucian tradition lists four mythical beasts — qilin, dragon, phoenix and turtle — and possessing one of these miraculous animals may have helped Yongle to cement his legitimacy as the “second” Ming emperor, Peterson notes. Yongle became emperor when his raided Nanjing with an army of several hundred thousand men and set fire to the palace. His brother Jianwen, the second Ming emperor, was accidentally killed in the fire, or so Yongle claimed. Yongle then took his place. But as a fourth son, he may have felt the need to buttress his claim. He rewrote official history to leave out Jianwen (never mind that this had Yongle’s father living for four years after his death). And owning the mythical qilin may have served as useful propaganda for someone who felt his throne wasn’t totally secure, Peterson writes.

Giraffer hedder i øvrigt 长颈鹿 (changjinglu) på kinesisk, der kan oversættes til “langhalset hjort”.

:: Illustrationen viser nogle af de første afrikanske dyr, der kom til Kina, og er fra 1405 og lavet af den kinesiske opdagelsesrejsende Zheng He. Eller også er den fra Madagascar.

Skribent

Hurtige klik fra Kina af Kim Rathcke Jensen. Jeg er journalist og BA i kinesisk. Jeg bor i Beijing, hvor jeg arbejder som Politikens korrespondent i Kina og Asien.

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