When I wrote the specifications for the Mei Wen Ti, I didn’t ask the shipyard to include any carving or artwork on the hull much less a colorful, smiling face of a tiger. But when I went back to inspect the Mei Wen Ti for the last time before it's journey to the west, there he was smiling boldly from the bow. So why did the shipyard have an artist paint a tiger on the bow? Here’s my take:
The tiger supplants the lion as King of the Beasts in cultures of eastern Asia, and represents royalty, fearlessness and fury. Its forehead has a marking which resembles the Chinese character 王, which means "king"; consequently, many cartoon depictions of tigers in China are drawn with 王 on their forehead.
In Chinese culture and tradition the tiger is one of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac and is revered as a creature of many important symbolic attributes. The word for tiger is somewhat of a pun because it has the same pronunciation in Chinese as the word "protect."
So, I think it’s safe to say the workers were adding a little low cost protection on the bow of the Mei Wen Ti. My daughter Lynn started calling the tiger Lu Tang (after the famous 16th Century Ming Dynasty military commander) and it just stuck over the years. In response to questions about why I had a tiger on the front of my boat, I would jokingly say, “It’s Chinese security.”
I found that tigers appear on amulets (a good topic for my next blog) because they are powerful animals and are believed to be able to consume evil spirits, or at least cause them to flee, and can protect boats (people, buildings, etc.) from misfortune.
Please visit again soon to read about other unexpected but delightful carvings and paintings that make the Mei Wen Ti so special, as well as a story about a bronze amulet I bought while shopping in Shanghai.