Many ancient cultures have dragons in their mythology. However, this mythical creature was never as important as it was in China. Unlike other cultures, the Chinese highly respected the dragon.
This creature was associated with the sources of rein and of all life, and it was always seen in a positive light.
The image of the dragon was everywhere – on precious jewelry, artwork, literature, and the robes of emperors. The year of Dragon was – and it still is – considered to bring luck to people.
The origin of the myth is not completely clear. We know that the dragon is one of the first creatures to appear in ancient Chinese classic tales and legends.
- Even before the first written records were created, the Chinese carved the image of the dragon on jade and probably some other materials that didn’t survive. Researchers that worked at the Hongshan culture sites revealed some carved jade dragons dated to around 4500-3000 BCE.
- Some historians believe that the dragon was associated with the rainbow, which was sometimes called the “serpent of the sky.” That explains why the dragon was linked with the rain and waterfalls, and not like in western cultures with fire.
The Descriptions of Dragon
- The dragon is typically depicted as a gigantic yet very fast and agile animal that lives on clouds or water sources.
- His features were a mix of extraordinary characteristics of other animals and mythical beasts: camel’s forehead, demon’s eyes, snake’s neck, carp’s scales, sea-monster’s belly, deer’s horns, eagle’s claws, tiger’s pads, and the oxen ears. Other descriptions include the snake’s body, the rabbit’s eyes, and the frog’s belly.
- The mythological dragon was able to change its size and shape. Also, it could disappear or reappear whenever it wished.
Beliefs about the Dragon
- Even though the dragon’s appearance may seem scary, this creature is seen as good, generous, and just. That’s why it became associated with the government, and the emperor wore the image of the dragon on his robe.
- The dragon was seen as one of the four smartest animals; the other three were the unicorn, phoenix, and tortoise.
- According to a famous legend, the founder of the Xia dynasty, Yu the Great, was either a dragon himself or was helped by a dragon (and a turtle) to deal with the great flood that affected his kingdom.
- The dragon was generally considered a symbol of luck and wealth. In particular, this creature was believed to have the power to bring rain. That’s why people in villages performed a “dragon dance.” They would take a large paper (or cloth) dragon with a wooden frame and carry it to invoke rain for their crops.
- Thunderstorms and tornadoes were also under the power of dragons. Even today, the Chinese use the expression “dragon’s whirlwind” for tornado.
- The dragon was also associated with healing and was seen as a protector of illnesses and disease.
- Because of its great power, benevolent nature and usefulness, the dragon has become a part of many festivals, from small rural ones to the Chinese New Year celebrations.
- According to the myth, the Four Seas of the world were ruled by four dragons, named Ao Kuang Ao K’in, Ao Jun, and Ao Shun. The most powerful between them was Ao Kuang, the ruler of the east, but all four of them assisted the Jade Emperor.
- In Taoism, the dragon was the symbol of the “central way” or Tao – the universal force that controls the world.
- In Buddhism, the dragon is the symbol of truth.
- The dragon is the fifth and the most favorable sign of the Chinese zodiac.
- The dragon robes of the Chinese emperor meant that the ruler on earth was an incarnation of a dragon. It wasn’t just any dragon; it was the supreme rain-bringing dragon with not just four but five claws.
- Dragons were extremely popular theme in Chinese art. They appear on paintings, jewelry, fine porcelain, weapons and armor, garden decoration, and nearly everywhere else. This hasn’t changed over the ages.
Was the dragon a good or a bad creature in Chinese mythology?
It was a good creature.
What was the element that dragons controlled? Was it fire or water?
It was water.
Why Chinese emperors wore dragon robes?
The dragon was a symbol of power and justice, and the emperor was seen as an incarnation of the supreme dragon.
Why Chinese peasants performed dragon dance?
They did it to invoke rain.
What is a dragon’s whirlwind?
It is a tornado.
According to ancient Chinese belief, which four animals were the most intelligent?
Those animals were the unicorn, phoenix, tortoise, and dragon.
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