Long Gu

in response to a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Flight of Swallows Over the Field of Gold

Calm are the thoughts, serene the visage & regular the bowels of he who partakes of a dragon’s bone. Swallows visit him with eternal summer. For as every doctor of traditional Chinese medicine knows, dragon bone powder (long gu) is the king of sedatives, subdues manic episodes & tames insomnia. In order to be fully efficacious, its collector too must calm his mind, by (for example) ingesting dragon bone. Therefore it is said: If you want a dragon’s bones, become a dragon. A true sage can rest in emptiness & ride the wind, not knowing where he’ll stop, can turn into a bird & become immortal. The mere sight of him mortifies a dragon, whose proper realm is the boundless void, & it writhes like a candle flame in the wind & gutters into stone. From this rapid constriction comes its famed astringency, so useful in the fight against night sweats & diarrhoea. The sage has only to pierce the dragon’s skull & let its spirit loose, becalmed in the void called extinction.


Another alternative reading. (I think Clive thought he was painting St. George.) One website I looked at said that these days, long gu is derived from fossil bones — presumably dinosaurs and mammoths. However, Chinese medical use has driven other, actual species to the brink of extinction, such as the black rhino and the Siberian tiger.

4 Replies to “Long Gu”

  1. Oh, this made me laugh. It was so very Chinese.

    Man, Hicks-Jenkins’ stuff just keeps getting more amazing. I haven’t looked at it for a while. Was he always this good with color?

    1. Oh yes. I mean, his early work wasn’t so colorful, but I think he’s been doing canvases like this for quite a few years. You should follow his blog.

      Glad you thought my piece sounded sufficiently Chinese! Roughly half the details were completely made up, as you can imagine, but it was fun to replace a Western (actually Anatolian) saint with a neo-Daoist immortal.

  2. You endlessly surprise me. You take ideas and run with them, toss them around, get playful and then create something marvellous and unexpected. Chinese Dragons. Of course! How had I not seen it before?

    I did think I was painting Saint George, though Marly Youmans has quite rightly observed that the image could equally be one of Saint Michael taking on the Devil. But now I can see a Chinese dragon in it too, and a man as mindlessly pleased with himself as any big game hunter standing on a destroyed wonder of creation. Dave, you always make me think harder about what I do.

    1. Clive, I’m honored you would say so. I am not sure this one is up to the quality of some of my responses to your work, but perhaps it makes up in novelty what it lacks in visceral impact.

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