BiAn/狴犴: Chinese Ancient Mythical Legal Guardian Beast

What is BiAn

BiAn, also known as “XianZhang/宪章(In meaning of ‘charter‘)” in Chinese, refers to a mythical creature in ancient Chinese mythology. It is one of the son among The Nine Sons of the Dragon in legends. Resembling a tiger, it is known for its love of litigation and possesses great power. The decorative tiger head on the upper part of the prison gate is a representation of the creature.

Legend has it that BiAn not only fervently upholds justice and righteousness but also has the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It is impartial in making judgments. With its imposing image, BiAn is not only adorned on prison gates but also crouches on both sides of the main hall in government offices. When the chief official sits in the hall, its image appears on the upper end of the administrative plaques and the plaques urging silence and respect. BiAn, with its vigilant gaze, overlooks and maintains the solemn and upright atmosphere of the courtroom.

BiAn/狴犴 above the prison gate
BiAn above the Prison Gate

Story of BiAn

Around 900 years ago, during the Southern Song Dynasty, there was a man named AnYi/犴裔, entrusted with overseeing prisons. Known for treating prisoners with kindness, he imparted daily lessons on how to become better individuals upon release, earning the envy of corrupt officials who sought to eliminate him.

Legend has it that the superstitious Emperor ZhaoGo/赵构 had numerous Taoist priests performing daily rituals, among whom the trusted priest 封咒 was bribed by corrupt officials. During one divination using a turtle shell, 封咒, feigning shock, claimed to have seen six words faintly on the shell. When questioned by the emperor, he revealed: “AnYi is a plague god! If not swiftly dealt with, calamity will befall the empire!” Acting on this information, the emperor ordered the treacherous official QinHui/秦桧 to handle the matter.

Receiving the imperial decree, QinHui was delighted and rewarded FengZhou/封咒 generously. Seeking advice from fellow conspirators, they suggested executing AnYi, preferably at noon on the same day. Following their advice, QinHui had AnYi arrested.

As AnYi was led to the execution site, the people along the streets protested. Facing the heavens, AnYi cried out, expressing his loyalty to the country and people. He pleaded with the emperor not to believe the slanderous words of the priest, warning of dire consequences for the Song Dynasty and its people. Addressing the corrupt officials, he vowed revenge even if he were to become a beast. Despite his plea, AnYi was beheaded, leading to widespread grief among the onlookers.

Suddenly, thunder and lightning filled the sky, and a monstrous creature appeared in the clouds. This creature, known as AnYi, had the head of a qilin, the tail of a zhi, wings like a western dragon, and trod on auspicious clouds illuminating the land. Using a whirlwind, AnYi swept the Taoist priest and corrupt officials into the sky before casting them onto a mountain peak. The mountain immediately cracked open, sealing them inside.

Moved by AnYi‘s righteous actions, BiAn descended from the heavens to seek justice, becoming a symbol not only of imprisonment but also a guardian deity for the common people.