With all the recent news on Tiger moms and the even more recent discussion on Dragon moms, it should be no surprise that tiger moms and dragon moms crept into our internal author’s mailing list as well. During a recent email thread, where we hailed one of our own authors as a dragon-tiger mom, I managed to sidetrack us onto the topic of the symbolism in Chinese culture behind tigers and dragons. Most people are already familiar with the term Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon made popular by the movie with same title.
I discovered the meaning behind Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon, back in 2003 on a trip to China with my dad, a trip we planned after my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The first part of our family trip was to Shanghai, near the city of Yixing, China, which is famous for the pottery, specifically teapots made there. In Shanghai, it’s easy to find stores filled with Yixing pottery. We were souvenir shopping in one such store, when my dad came across a teapot that seemed a little different than most. While most teapots were decorated on the outside, this one was a bit more plain, with only Chinese lettering on the exterior.
It was the inside of the teapot that made it special. When you removed the center lid, and peeked into the teapot, you could see a little tiger figurine crouching at the bottom of the teapot. And if you turned the lid over, hiding in the well of the lid, was a dragon figurine. The teapot seemed to make my father happy, so I purchased it, and presented it to my dad as a gift.
That’s when my dad explained the meaning of the teapot. The phrase Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon is a Chinese proverb roughly translates to mean “talented or dangerous person hidden from view”. The teapot with a tiger and dragon figurine is given as a gift to someone who you believe still has much potential but hasn’t yet achieved all of it yet. And that’s why my dad was so happy to get the teapot from me as a gift, even if I didn’t understand the hidden meaning behind the present.
And that’s today’s Chinese mythology lesson.