I awoke in a cold sweat. I had just dreamed my house had burned down. I was upset and confused. Why would I dream of something so terrible?
The next day I mentioned the dream to a Chinese friend. Before I could even finish, a big smile spread across his face.
“Don’t you know that means you have riches in store for you?” he said excitedly.
“According to whom?” I asked.
“The god of dreams, Zhou Gong!”
As I asked around, I found that while some Chinese people know of Freud, and almost none know of Jung, everyone knows about Zhou Gong. I was curious. How did Zhou Gong get to be such a reliable source on the meaning of dreams?
It turns out that this ancient philosopher is given common credit for folk interpretations of dreams that have been popular in China for over 3,000 years. He’s better known as the Duke of Zhou, and he was no ordinary man.
Apart from holding together the newly founded Zhou Dynasty by creating the idea of the Mandate of Heaven to vanquish its enemies and penning the Chinese classic “I-Ching,” he also created the first Chinese dream dictionary and became known as the god of dreams. Much like later similar tomes, Zhou Gong’s “Book of Auspicious and Inauspicious Dreams” (《周公解梦》Zhōugōng Jiě Mèng) divides dreams into a series of categories based on subject matter (planets and weather; surroundings; gods and spirits; the body; music and disharmony; living creatures; clothing, jewelry, and miscellaneous).
His ideas are vital to understanding the Chinese concept of dreams; so much so that even though his thoughts are anything but modern, many Chinese still believe what Zhou wrote.
“Almost every Chinese person believes that if you dream of a snake biting you, it is a sign that you will get a lot of money. I can’t explain it but to us it has validity,” my friend Ma said.
When I asked my girlfriend, she immediately replied, “Of course I know him! You know that I hate horror movies, but if I dream of my dead relatives it never bothers me. According to Zhou Gong it is a sign of blessings and longevity.”
Dreaming of a dog barking is an omen of bad luck. Gray hair means long life. Dreaming that you have no clothes on means bad luck, followed by poverty or humiliation. When you have trouble driving a vehicle in a dream, it means you can’t get what you want. Dreams where you make people drink spirits mean you will get into arguments, but being invited to drink means longevity.
While every Chinese person I talked to acknowledged Zhou’s influence, they also—at the same time—downplayed it.
“No one believes everything Zhou said. We just pick and choose the things that make sense to us,” Ma told me.
Given the fact that Zhou Gong says some pretty strange things, it seems like a reasonable expectation. For instance, I would hate to see the consequence if most people believed in one of Zhou’s stranger interpretations: if you dream your wife is pregnant, it means she is having an affair.
While some might argue about Zhou Gong’s influence on modern Chinese dream interpretation, and debate if he actually wrote the book, there is no doubt about the mark his name has left on Chinese vernacular. Even today, after Chinese people awake from a nice rest they are still sometimes asked: “Did you meet with Zhou Gong?” (你是去见周公了吗？Nǐ shì qù jiàn zhōugōngliǎo ma?)
Know any other Chinese dream interpretations? Let us and others know by leaving a comment below….
And if not, then sleep more! It’s good for you, as our article explains….