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Chinese Imperial roof decoration

Name for a row of small animal figures, usually made of glazed ceramic and placed on Chinese-style roofs, above the eave near the corners, which are always curved upward (fig.) as it is believed in feng shui that straight lines attract evil, whereas curved lines ward off evil spirits. These rows of decorative roof ridge statuettes of mythical creatures both protect the building and are used to indicate the importance of the person found residing within it, with nine representing the highest possible level, i.e. the Emperor. These animal figures always appear in odd numbers, as imperial China had a strict patriarchal system, and since yang represents both male and odd numbers. The statuettes appear in a specific order and each embodies a particular virtue. The maximum nine statuettes of animal figures may however be preceded by an additional figure at the head of the row, namely an immortal riding either a kilen or a fenghuang, i.e. a mythical fowl or bird similar to a phoenix and a symbol of virtue which turns bad luck into good, whereas at the tail of the procession may be an imperial dragon, a symbol of imperial authority. The other animals, their number varying according to the significance of the building and thus indicating the importance of duties performed within it, are mostly quadrupeds, usually mythical in nature. The nine animals are sometimes said to be the [sons of the] Nine Dragons. However, there are also exceptions to the maximum number of nine, such as in the Forbidden City (fig.) in Beijing, where the roof of the Emperor's Hall of Supreme Harmony, located at the central axis, has the highest possible level of nine Chinese Imperial roof decorations which are preceded and followed by some rooftop additional figures, namely preceded by an immortal riding a phoenix and followed by an additional figure known as a Hangshi, i.e. a sword-wielding, monkey-faced immortal guardian that wards off demons and whose name literally means ‘ranks tenth’, and which is in turn followed by an imperial dragon (fig.). Their function is evil-dispelling and they are all-but-two are squatted, four-footed animals, the odd ones out being a fish and a mythical bird-like creature which are situated fourthly and secondly, respectively in the row of nine. Imperial roof decorations can be found all over Southeast Asia and the Far East, especially with Chinese temples. Also referred to as roof figures, roof tree or roof charms and comparable to the Thai temple roof fittings, called kreuang pradap langka wat (fig.). In Chinese called ji xiang shou, dun shou, zou shou, or yan shou.