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Off topic: Question about TV show "The Water Margin" (水滸傳)
Thread poster: xxxOlaf
xxxOlaf
Local time: 23:03
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Mar 12, 2009

Many, many years ago I loved to watch the Japanese/Chinese TV show "The Water Margin" which according to the following Wiki Page is called 水滸傳 in Chinese.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shui_Hu_Zhuan

What always puzzled me was the proverb that the narrator recited at the beginning of each episode (in the English version):
"Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?"

Is this a case of mistranslation or do snakes occasionally turn into dragons in Chinese folklore?

Olaf


[标题已经过网站人员或版主的修改 2009-03-19 18:32 GMT]


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ysun  Identity Verified
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莫道蛇无角,成龙也未知。 Mar 14, 2009

It means, for example, it is possible that a seemingly ordinary person may become a great leader someday.

http://book.sina.com.cn/nzt/history/his/mingxinbaojian/43.shtml
庞德公(汉末襄阳人,有令名。)《诫子诗》云:“凡人百艺好随身,赌博门中莫去亲。能使英雄为下贱,解教富贵作饥贫。衣衫褴褛亲朋笑,田地消磨骨肉嗔。不信但看乡党内,眼前衰败几多人。一样人身几样心,一般茶饭一般人,同时天光同时夜,几人富贵几人贫。君子贫时有礼义,小人乍富便欺人。东海龙王常在世,得时休笑失时人。大家忍耐和同过,知他谁是百年人。瘦地开花晚,贫穷发福迟。 莫道蛇无角,成龙也未知。 但看天上月,团圆有缺时。”
Olaf wrote:

What always puzzled me was the proverb that the narrator recited at the beginning of each episode (in the English version):
"Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?"

Is this a case of mistranslation or do snakes occasionally turn into dragons in Chinese folklore?

Olaf



[Edited at 2009-03-14 16:53 GMT]


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xxxOlaf
Local time: 23:03
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TOPIC STARTER
What about the snake turning into a dragon? Mar 14, 2009

ysun,

Thanks for your answer. I already knew the meaning of the quote, what puzzled me, was the comparison of a snake to a dragon which is not common in western folklore.
So are there other Chinese proverbs in which a snake turns into a dragon?

Olaf


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ysun  Identity Verified
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Just an analogy Mar 14, 2009

I don't think there are other Chinese proverbs in which a snake turns into a dragon. It's just an analogy. It’s similar to an imagination that an ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan. I believe "Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?" was translated from "莫道蛇无角,成龙也未知".


[Edited at 2009-03-15 06:42 GMT]


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chica nueva
Local time: 11:03
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There are two types of dragon ... ; snakes, of various sorts Mar 15, 2009

Hello Olaf

1 There are two types of dragon: 'auspicious long 龙 (dragon) and tempestuous jiao 蛟 (kraken)' (Google). The one in the quote is 'long'.

2 I guess dragons and snakes would be 'related', even in European languages:
dinosaurs, dragons, snakes, lizards -> all scaly reptiles?
[ 'komodo dragons' are the world's heaviest lizards; 'dinosaur' is konglong 恐龙 in Mandarin ]

3 I am not sure how to get this back to The Water Margin (or All Men are Brothers), because I don't know that particular story ... However, here is a link to a folk story which has 'snakes' 蛇 and 'tempestuous jiao' 蛟 in it, if you are interested. (Both of these Chinese characters have an 'insect' radical to the left, BTW.)
http://www.proz.com/forum/chinese/35521-从丑小鸭到白天鹅_from_the_ugly_duckling_to_the_white_swan-page6.html#817216

4 The snake is not always portrayed as venomous. It was also totemic in prehistory (Fu Xi and Nü Wa had serpent's bodies), and is even today one of the signs of the Chinese Zodiac. There are two Chinese sayings I can think of about snakes: 'draw a snake and add legs', and 'hold a snake in your bosom'.

5 About metamorphoses, transmogrifications, disguises etc, there are quite a lot of them, but I know very little about it. In the legends, 'Lady White Snake' is a famous one.

Lesley

[Edited at 2009-03-16 03:05 GMT]


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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miniature dragon Mar 15, 2009

Olaf,

Welcome to the Chinese forum. Thanks for posting this interesting topic.

I agree with Yueyin's explanation. A snake turning into a dragon is mostly a figure of speech, similar to saying a frog can turn into a prince.

The translation of the proverb is basically correct, except for the word "despise". I would have suggested something like "belittle", "underestimate", "slight", "find fault", or "pick on" ...

"Don't dwell on the fact that a snake has no horns, for who's to say it won't someday turn into a mighty dragon."

It's similar to the English proverb of "Don't judge a book by its cover", or like Yueyin suggested, similar to citing the moral of the famous tale "The Ugly Duckling", by Hans Christian Andersen.


Here's a link I found (in English) that's basically a collection of myths and legends of the dragon. As you can see from the passage I've cut-and-pasted, the metaphorical device used in this Chinese saying isn't all that far-fetched, since both snake and dragon are considered reptile.


http://www.club.ideapendent.com/index.php?topic=36.0



Dragons are deeply rooted in the Chinese culture. The Chinese often consider themselves, 'the descendants of the dragon.'

Nobody really knows where the dragon comes from. The dragon looks like a combination of many animals. For the Chinese people, Dragons were described visually as a composite of parts from nine animals: The horns of a deer; the head of a camel; the eyes of a devil; the neck of a snake; the abdomen of a large cockle; the scales of a carp; the claws of an eagle; the paws of a tiger; and the ears of an ox. The Chinese word for Dragon is spelled out in roman characters as either lung or long. In China, the Dragon was credited with having great powers that allowed them to make rain and to control floods (by striking the river with its tail, causing it to open and thus divert the floodwaters) also Dragons are credited for transportation of humans to the celestial realms after death. Also, in China, Dragons are symbols of the natural world, adaptability, and transformation. When two dragons are placed together but turned away, they symbolize eternity via the famous Yin-Yang.

Chinese emperors think they are the real dragons and the sons of heaven. Thus the beds they sleep on are called the dragon beds, the throne called the dragon seat, and the emperor's ceremonial dresses called the dragon robes.


In the minds of the early Chinese people, the dragon was a god that embodied the will and ideals of the Chinese people. It is said that the dragon is a large-scaled reptile, which can become dark or bright, large or small, long or short, and can fly into the sky in the spring and live under the water in the fall. It seems that the dragon is capable of doing almost anything.Traditionally the dragons are considered as the governors of rainfalls in Chinese culture. They have the power to decide where and when to have rain. They believe the kings of the water dragons live in the dragon palaces under the oceans. The Chinese sign for the dragon appears during the Yin and Shang dynasties (from the 16th to the 11th century BC, the period of the earliest Chinese hieroglyphs), between inscriptions on bones and turtle shields. These inscriptions depicted a horned reptile, teeth, scales and sometimes paws as well.


In ancient China nobody had any doubts about the existence of dragons. People showed great respect for any dragon depicted in pictures, carvings and writings, and as a result the dragon became the symbol of Chinese nation. All people in china, including the emperor, prostrated themselves before the image of a dragon with reverence and awe. As a result, this unreal animal became the spiritual sustenance for a nation: firstly, as the totem of a tribe and then as the symbol of the nation. Eventually it became the sign on the national flag of the last feudal dynasty, the Qing Dynasty. The chinese people regard themselves as descendants of the dragon.



Incidentally, 小龙 (miniature dragon) is an alternate way of referring to the snake. To some people it just sounds more elegant or respectful.



[Edited at 2009-03-15 21:46 GMT]


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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snake bile ( 蛇胆)and dragon bones (龙骨) both have medicinal properties Mar 15, 2009

Here's a bit of fun reading for those who have the time and interest - anywhere from the Shang Dynasty to the Chinese medicinal ingredient "Dragon Bones".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_Dynasty

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oracle_bone

http://www.itmonline.org/arts/dragonbone.htm


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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Snakes and Dragons Mar 16, 2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYjLNoy384A

"金蛇狂舞" is a famous music piece that is often played at festivals or celebrations. As a matter of fact, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it was one of the background music pieces played in rotation during the parade of nations. Right or wrong, I've always associated the music piece with the Chinese Dragon Dance. The "golden snake" in this instance, symbolizes the Chinese dragon. As you can see, use of the language often gets imaginative or impressionistic, especially when it comes to art forms such as music and poetry.

Here's an article (in Chinese) that's mainly anecdotal accounts of the snake. One can get a sense of traditionally how the Chinese feel about this animal, which depending on the circumstance could vary anywhere from hatred and fear, to adoration and reverence.

http://www.china.com.cn/aboutchina/zhuanti/sxwh/2007-02/06/content_7772088.htm



[Edited at 2009-03-16 23:14 GMT]


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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One of Mao's famous poems Mar 16, 2009

《沁园春·雪》portrays the magnificent landscape of ice and snow as a "silver snake" - also a symbolic reference to the Chinese dragon.

http://mot.xzcn.com/subject/05f971b5ec196b8c65b75d2ef8267331.html



北国风光,千里冰封,万里雪飘。
望长城内外,惟余莽莽,大河上下,顿失滔滔。
山舞银蛇,原驰蜡象,欲与天公试比高。
须晴日,看红装素裹,分外妖娆。

江山如此多娇,引无数英雄竞折腰。
惜秦皇汉武,略输文采,唐宗宋祖,稍逊风骚。
一代天骄,成吉思汗,只识弯弓射大雕。
俱往矣,数风流人物,还看今朝。

—— 毛泽东《沁园春·雪》





[Edited at 2009-03-16 14:45 GMT]


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Alan Wang  Identity Verified
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horned dragon? Mar 16, 2009

I think the difficulty with the understanding or appreciation perhaps is related to the question: does dragons have horns?

if no, why a snake having horns has anything to do with it becoming a dragon?

as far as i know, the mythical creature dragon is not known for having horns in Chinese literature and imagination.

I would have been equaly puzzled by it, except that I am not a detail oriented man.


Olaf wrote:

Many, many years ago I loved to watch the Japanese/Chinese TV show "The Water Margin" which according to the following Wiki Page is called 水滸傳 in Chinese.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shui_Hu_Zhuan

What always puzzled me was the proverb that the narrator recited at the beginning of each episode (in the English version):
"Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?"

Is this a case of mistranslation or do snakes occasionally turn into dragons in Chinese folklore?

Olaf


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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龙的画像 Mar 16, 2009

The image of the typical Chinese dragon has horns like a reindeer, or antlers to be more precise ...

http://www.proz.com/post/325565#325565


Some background on how the dragon got his horns ...

http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/21480350.html



[Edited at 2009-03-16 18:42 GMT]


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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The typical image of a Chinese dragon Mar 16, 2009

http://imgsrc.baidu.com/baike/pic/item/4e0b3ea4e84f71ea9052eeaf.jpg

http://baike.baidu.com/view/803555.htm



[Edited at 2009-03-16 20:27 GMT]


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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A past forum post about the Chinese dragon Mar 16, 2009

http://www.proz.com/post/583488#583488




主持人:非常高兴,我们今天邀请到了中国社会科学院考古研究所朱乃诚教授作客我们网易探索频道,先请朱教授跟网友介绍一下自己。

朱乃诚:大家好。我是中国社会科学院考古研究所的工作者,研究专长主要是中国新石器时代,也就是研究食物生产的起源(比方说我们吃的大米、小米、猪肉的起源),一直到文明的形成,这个时间段大概是从距今一万两 千年左右到四千年前后,我研究的专长在这一块。

主持人:今天我们研究的是龙的起源,社科院考古研究所有没有在这方面的专门研究?

朱乃诚:对龙的起源的研究是一个大课题。在学术界,尤其是在二十世纪八十年代进行的对中国文明的起源研究当中,对龙的研究是特别重视,把对龙的研究和中国文明起源的研究联系起来,自从那之后,龙这个话题在学术 界就谈得比较多,也影响到社会上,受到了广泛的注意。





朱乃诚:龙的概念的演变在每个朝代都有,最初我们说是鳄鱼,但实际上到4000年前的时候就已经不是鳄鱼形象了,有凶猛的头,有长长的身子。到了商代,在甲骨文字中的体现就是一个大的的头,弯弯的身子。商周青 铜器上也几乎都没有脚。东周时期龙的形象很多,因为春秋战国思想活跃,文化发展比较活跃,所以那时候龙的造型也很多。龙的形象比较固定的大概是到了秦汉时期。秦汉时期龙的造型就比较固定了,汉代的龙比较瘦长,到了 南北朝的时候,它的体态就比较丰满一些了。到了唐代又更复杂了,角上有枝杈,背上有鳍,延伸到尾部。到了宋代有画龙的了,元代的龙主要在瓷器上,元代的龙的形态呈现出飞的。龙长翼是从南北朝开始的,到了元代龙就可 以腾飞了,龙的整个造型具有腾飞、驾驭云的姿态了。到了明代,龙的造型也比较多。每一个朝代,龙的形象有区别和发展,逐渐逐渐演变到清代,直到我们现在的所知道的龙的形状。说龙是有九种动物的各个部位组合起来的, 那纯粹是后人的说法了。




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chica nueva
Local time: 11:03
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Martial arts: 成龙 Jackie Chan; Imperial Dragon and Phoenix motifs; the novel Mar 17, 2009

1 Jackie Chan's stage name is Cheng Long 成龙. I wonder why ... Here it explains: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Chan . Apparently there is a proverb 望子成龙 to hope your son will become (as successful and powerful as) a dragon, explained here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_dragon .

2 AFAIK 以我所了解, the Chinese counterpart of Dragon (for men) is Phoenix (for women) - these motifs are on handicrafts, furniture, etc.

3 I asked a bracket of (fairly basic) Kudoz questions on mythical creatures, dragons, qilin etc once. They can be accessed through my profile.

4 Shui-Hu-Zhuan: Though I really know very little about it, I know it is much loved by the people, including the main characters, events and places. Shui-Hu to me denotes a whole genre and 'topos': Jianghu, Lulin, the Greenwood, Outlaws ...

Here is what a Chinese reference says about it:
http://www.proz.com/forum/chinese/48523-书香世界_parfum_des_livres-page4.html#824881
Ming and Qing Fiction
...
At the same time as the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" there was also Shi Nai'an's "Water Margin ". This novel draws its material from the story of the Liangshan Peasant Revolt headed by Song Jiang in the final years of the Northern Song, the author basing his recreation on the relevant "Water Margin" story-telling scripts, zaju operas, and folklore. The novel portrays the different tragic experiences of many of the oppressed, and writes of them all finally arriving at Liangshan by way of their own individual paths of resistance, and then from this, it vividly depicts the process of genesis and development of the peasant war. "To be driven to Liangshan" has become a set-phrase of the Chinese people, and Li Kui, Wu Song, Lin Chong and all the others, are heroes known to practically every household.
(Translated from Wang Yong Kuan et al., Native land, China Youth Press, Beijing, 1983)

5 ’Novels like The Water Margin, were thinly veiled criticisms of the government.‘ (Google). Perhaps this is relevant to the quote ... the ordinary, unadorned 'snakes' referring to the outlaws themselves ... how do others read it?

6 One expert says that dragons hear through their horns. I had forgotten, there are also hornless dragons (it gets quite complicated)

Lesley

[ References:
Discussion of Chinese wuxia, Jianghu, Lulin, martial arts film etc here. Clearly 'the supernatural' is a significant part of this genre, but as others have said, the reference to snakes turning into dragons in Shuihu is metaphorical, I expect, and maybe serves as a motto, or some other device in the novel:
http://www.heroic-cinema.com/eric/xia.html
Discussion of Chinese (and particularly Japanese) dragon and phoenix lore here. It does refer to dragons as 'shapeshifters'...:
http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/dragon.shtml
http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/ho-oo-phoenix.shtml ]

[Edited at 2009-03-17 06:24 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-03-17 06:26 GMT]


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wherestip  Identity Verified
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成龙 Mar 17, 2009



lai an wrote:

Apparently there is a proverb 望子成龙 to hope your son will become (as successful and powerful as) a dragon, explained here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_dragon .




5 ’Novels like The Water Margin, were thinly veiled criticisms of the government.‘ (Google). Perhaps this is relevant to the quote ... the ordinary, unadorned 'snakes' referring to the outlaws themselves ... how do others read it?





Lesley,

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Incidentally, legend has it he charmed all the snakes out of Ireland.

Nice comprehensive wiki page on the Chinese dragon you've provided there. Thanks.

Yes, the quote "莫道蛇无角, 成龙也未知" narrated at the beginning of each episode of the show exactly served that purpose - the underlying message being: don't turn your nose up at an outlaw due to his current lowly status, because one day he just might become the emperor of China. In all likelihood, the outlaw hinted at would have been the 梁山 gang leader 宋江 himself.



[Edited at 2009-03-17 23:56 GMT]


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