In ancient times, events in the sky were interpreted as signs of what is about to happen on earth. The emperor was believed to be Ďthe Son of Heavení and he ruled the Heaven. Thatís why the emperor and his astronomers had the responsibility to watch the sky and predict the upcoming events on Earth.
The Chinese sky was divided in four, each area representing one direction and the middle area kept the universe together. This middle area can be thought as the fifth element in the middle of the circle of the five Chinese elements. Itís the most important one as it represented China, and the celestial image of the emperor. The other four areas are represented by four different animals and colors. In Chinese mythology, these animals are spiritual creatures which protect the four directions and each one of them represents a season, a color, an element and a virtue. These animals are not the same animals as in the Chinese zodiac.
The Black Tortoise (Xuan wu) represents the winter, north, the water element, black, earth and faith. Itís the symbol of a long life and happiness. Itís believed that when the tortoise reaches a thousand years, it can speak the human language. It can tell the future. Generally, itís associated with a snake because the snake and the tortoise are thought to create the universe together.
In China, tortoises are holy symbols. The shell of the tortoise represents constancy and itís a symbol or a rank for generations in the palace. The shell also symbolizes a shield. Thatís why itís also known as the ďBlack FighterĒ.
The White Tiger (Bai hu) represents the fall, west, the metal element and honesty. It watches over the earth with his power of seeing the future and protects the spirits of the dead. According to the Chinese myths, when the emperor died, a metal was placed in the cemetery and three days later the core of the metal element had taken the shape of the white tiger and integrated into the cemetery. Here, the white tiger is the guardian.
According to the Chinese, the tiger is the king of the animals and the master of the mountains. The tiger accessory of jadestone is generally used for the commanders. The male tiger is the God of War, therefore, it not only fought for the emperor's armies but also fought against the creatures threatening the dead.
The Red Bird (Zhu que)which is the bird of good fortune, represents the summer, the south, red, the fire element and wisdom. Itís usually thought of together with the dragon. The red bird is usually represented as a glowing bird with bright feathers which can only be seen as a phoenix in good and fortunate times. It is associated with the empress.
The Blue Dragon (Qing long) represents the east, the spring, the wood element, green/blue color and morality. It controls the rain and is the symbol of the power of the emperor. Therefore, itís associated with the emperor. It represents the Yang principle and is portrayed with clouds and surrounded by water.