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Reviewed by:
  • The Demon Chained under Turtle Mountain: The History and Mythology of the Chinese River Spirit Wuzhiqi
  • Michael Saso (bio)
Poul Andersen . The Demon Chained under Turtle Mountain: The History and Mythology of the Chinese River Spirit Wuzhiqi. Berlin: G. + H. Verlag, 2001. viii, 96 pp. Paperback €26, ISBN 3-931768-55-4.

This delightful, well-written, and carefully researched scholarly study tells the myth of a monkey-like demon, which legend—recorded in the Song dynasty (960-1280) Taiping guangji—says is imprisoned under Turtle Mountain, an island in the Huai River in modern Anhui Province. The mythological ruler Yu the Great fought with and defeated the demon, in the process of controlling and pacifying the floods of ancient China.

Poul Andersen was commissioned to undertake this study by the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst in Berlin, in an attempt to identify a cast-iron statue that had graced the museum since it was presented as a gift by the famous impressionist artist Hanna Bekker von Ruth. Although the dating of the work was easy—eleventh to twelfth century—its origin, name, and use had eluded scholars until the present study. The statue is identified as a water spirit, the same Wuzhiqi demon described by Li Fang (Li Tang) in the Taiping guangji, which has been translated as a part of the present study. Andersen traveled to the museum, and he presents a set of beautiful color plates, wood-block prints, maps, and other illustrations in support of the conclusion that the statue is indeed that of Wuzhiqi. The reader is given a total of four color-plate photos of the statue, so that its identity and source may be further verified and researched.

When asked to review this book, I found myself deeply edified by the extent of its textual research and by the fine scholarly presentation of the Wuzhiqi legend. The book is a valuable source for understanding the relationship of the legends surrounding the ancient myth of Yu (China's Noah), including the use of the Pole Star (Beiji) and Ursa Major (Beidou), and the rituals and legends of popular folklore and Taoism (Daoism). Best of all, the four color photos of the iron statue allow the reader to inquire further into the identity of the image, whose shape and form suggest other possible uses and identities for this artifact.

To do justice to this review, I have spent a full year combing other sources for similar art forms and have asked other art experts and scholars to join me in this search. Two other possible identities, it was agreed, seem possible for this forty-centimeter cast-iron art object, suggested by looking through materials [End Page 23] from the Song and Jin (Nüzhen Tartar) periods and from the northeastern area of China bordering on the Korean peninsula. One of the more common uses of demon-like smaller statues during this period (found later in Nepali and Tibetan painted art forms as well) is the depicting of smaller figures around the feet and legs of the protector spirits, such as the Four Guardian Kings, found at the gates of most temples and shrines even in modern times.

Looking at the four color plates carefully, one sees that this small figure has finely combed, long-tressed human hair coming down over the shoulders, catlike ears, two legs with three toes each, and two three-fingered hands that are also shaped more like feet than like prehensile monkey hands. Furthermore, the right leg of the statue extends outward and then bends around some object, which is no longer present. Similar statues are to be found locked around or attached to the feet of the Guardian Kings and other protectors in tenth- and eleventh- century Korean, northeastern Chinese, and Kitan or Jin-period temple statues. These small figures represent obstacles to be overcome by the larger statue whose legs they embrace. The form of the larger image was predetermined, while the smaller figurines were designed and sculpted or painted according to the imagination of the artist.

Similar facial features are seen in Tibetan and Nepali carved wooden masks, although without, of course, any sign of how the...