QiuNiu/囚牛: The Music-Loving Dragon

Qiu Niu, the divine creature in ancient Chinese mythology and the eldest son of the Dragon King among the Nine Sons of the Dragon, has a deep fondness for music.

In the ancient text《治世餘聞》 it is mentioned: “Qiu Niu, of dragon lineage, has a penchant for music.” Legend has it that among the many dragon offspring, Qiu Niu is the most gentle in temperament. It does not indulge in violence or fierceness but rather has a special affinity for musical harmonies. With the head of a dragon and the body of a serpent, Qiu Niu possesses extraordinary auditory senses, able to discern the sounds of all things. Often, it sits on the head of a qin (a traditional Chinese musical instrument) to appreciate the music produced by plucking its strings. As a result, its image is engraved on the head of the qin in homage to its love for music.

On the Han ethnic group’s Huqin, the Yi ethnic group’s Yueqin, the Bai ethnic group’s Sanxian, and some instruments of the Mongolian and Tibetan ethnic groups, the image of Qiu Niu is often carved. Typically, Qiu Niu is depicted with raised head, open mouth, and upright ears.

The statue of Qiu Niu on the ErHu instrument head

Legend of QiuNiu

According to legend, Qiu Niu once resided at the bottom of Lugu Lake in Yunnan, with a Yi ethnic tribe living by the lakeside. The parents of a Yi girl named Maya were captured as slaves by the tribe’s chief at an early age. Before her parents left, they left her with a Yueqin (moon-shaped lute), which became her only solace and constant reminder of her parents.

Alone by the lake, Maya often played the instrument gently, expressing her longing for her parents. Despite warnings from the tribe that there was a monster in the lake that could devour people, Maya paid no attention.

Every day, Maya would come to the lakeside to play, and Qiu Niu in the lake would listen attentively.

One day, unable to resist, Qiu Niu secretly surfaced to see who was playing. Discovering it was a young girl, Qiu Niu couldn’t help but exclaim in admiration, which Maya overheard. Initially startled, Maya realized that Qiu Niu meant no harm and continued playing.

From then on, Maya played by the lake, and Qiu Niu listened. They became good friends, and Maya gradually shared her sorrows with Qiu Niu. Qiu Niu, in turn, shed tears alongside Maya. However, being a creature of a different nature, Qiu Niu didn’t know how to help.

Not long after, the tribe’s chief harbored ill intentions toward the young and beautiful Maya, using the lives of Maya’s parents as leverage to force her into submission. For the sake of her longed-for parents, Maya decided to marry the chief.

On the night before the wedding, Maya came to the lakeside as usual, but this time, the music was particularly mournful. Sensing Maya’s distress, Qiu Niu inquired if she was facing difficulties.

Maya revealed the situation, and Qiu Niu, furious, vowed to help her friend. However, not knowing how to help, the typically gentle Qiu Niu was at a loss. Suddenly, a thought flashed in its mind – to save Maya, it would disregard the consequences. Qiu Niu leaped out of the lake in anger and tore the chief apart.

For this act, Qiu Niu violated heavenly laws, and the Jade Emperor ordered its execution. Qiu Niu accepted its fate willingly, having put life and death aside for the sake of its dear friend Maya.

Before the execution, Qiu Niu pleaded with the Jade Emperor to allow its severed head to be placed on Maya’s Yueqin so it could continue to listen to the music. The Jade Emperor agreed. After Qiu Niu’s execution, a golden light descended onto Maya’s Yueqin.

Qiu Niu finally fulfilled its wish, being able to accompany Maya for a long time, listening to the celestial melodies. Grateful for Qiu Niu’s kindness, Maya played a sorrowful tune by the lake daily. This legend gave rise to the tale of the Longtou Huqin (Dragon Head Fiddle), a poignant and symbolic story in Chinese folklore.