The Four Benevolent Animals (traditional Chinese: 四|靈; simplified Chinese: 四灵; Pinyin:Sì Líng) are figures from Chinese mythology that took abodes within the gardens of the palace of the Yellow Emperor. They included:
- the Qilin (麒麟), the lord of furry quadrupeds;
- the Dragon (龍), lord of scaly animals;
- the Turtle (龜), lord of shelled animals; and
- the Phoenix (鳳凰), lord of birds.
They were juxtaposed with the "Four Perils" (四|凶}, Si Xiong), which were ambiguously described in the classics as monsters, barbarians, or circumstances.
In Chinese culture, animal imagery is closely related to the four or five cardinal directions. However, the relationship of the present Four Symbols was not stable until the Han period. Thus, the Rong Cheng Shi, a text from the 4th century BC found in an archaeological excavation, refers to the snake as a symbol of the south; the bird, of the north; and the bear of the center. East and west were symbolized by the sun and the moon, rather than by any animal.
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