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Those of the Tang period (618 - 906 AD) show all twelve, or sometimes the 28 or even 36 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and those of an earlier period depict the four celestial emblems referred to above.But the very earliest mirrors show only the three: the Ch’i-lin, the Feng-huang, and the Dragon.In China, the four date back to at least the 2nd century BC.Each creature has a corresponding season, color, element, virtue, and other traits.

In Japan, the symbolism of the four creatures appears to have merged with and been supplanted by the Shitennō (Four Heavenly Kings).As there was no identifying star at the centre of the Black Tortoise, the appropriate place (the eleventh mansion) was called Void.” In the same book, Walters explains: “However, it seems that before the adoption of the Four Celestial Emblems, there were only three -- the Feng Bird (or Phoenix), the Dragon, and the Ch’i-lin (or unicorn).Bronze mirrors usually portray cosmological patterns and symbolism on the back.Associated closely with China’s Five Element Theory.At the heart of Chinese mythology are four spiritual creatures (Sì Shòu 四獸) -- four celestial emblems -- each guarding a direction on the compass.The latter four are the Buddhist guardians of the four directions who serve Lord Taishakuten (who represents the center), and are closely associated with China’s Theory of Five Elements.

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