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Are Dragons Evil, Part 5 – Chinese


Chinese dragons are typically portrayed as long, scaled, serpentine creatures with four legs. Dragon is yang, and complements a yin fenghuang (phoenix). Dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers – usually, control over water, rainfall, hurricane and floods. Dragon is also a symbol of power, strength and good luck, of wealth, wisdom and nobility, heroism, perservance and divinity. Dragon is energetic, decisive, optimistic, intelligent and ambitious. Emperor of China usually used the dragon as symbol of his imperial power and strength. In Chinese language, outstanding people are compared to dragon while those with no achievments are compared to other creatures. Presented together with phoenix, dragon represents union of yin and yang, and a happy marriage – dragon being the male element and phoenix the female one.

Creator of the Universe P’an Ku is also often shown as a dwarf with two horns, or else with dragon’s head and snake’s body. Dragons are often shown with the dragon’s pearl, a symbol of yin and yang, in their hands. They represents the active and creator principle, holding both divine power and spiritual force. As a celestial symbol and a power of life and manifestation, the dragon spits out either primordial waters or the egg of the universe. Dragon also represents the kian principle, origin of the heaven and bringer of rain. It brings the essence of life in the form of its celestial breath, known as Sheng Chi. It yields life and bestows its power in the form of seasons, bringing water from rain, warmth from the sunshine, wind from the seas and soil from the earth. Dragon also protects all those who carry its emblem.

Dragon with its pearl

In general, Chinese dragons have oxen ears, tiger’s legs, hawk’s claws, deer’s horns, rabbit’s eyes, camel’s head, devil’s eyes, snake body and fish scales. This is believed to be because ancient Chinese tribes used different animals for their sigils – a dragon made of mussel shells, 6 000 years old, was unearthed in a tomb from Yangshao culture. The first legendary Emperor, the yellow Emperor, used a snake as a totem. He launched a series of wars against the nine tribes in Yellow River valley, and every time he defeated a tribe he incorporated defeated enemy’s emblem into his own. Dragons also have 117 scales. Of these, 81 have yang essence (positive energy) while 36 have yin essence (negative energy). As a result, most dragons are wise, kind and just, but are also terribly destructive when angered. Floods, tidal waves and storms occur when humans anger a dragon, a prospect which is very likely due to dragons’ general vanity.

Above also displays dragons’ connection to number nine. Yellow Emperor launched a series of wars against nine tribes in Yellow River valley. Dragons have 117 scales – 81 (9×9) male and 36 (9×4) female. There are nine forms of dragon, and the dragon has nine children. The “Nine Dragon Wall” is a screen wall with images of nine different dragons, and is also found in imperial palaces and gardens. As nine was considered the number of the emperor, only the most senior officials were allowed to wear nine dragons on their robes – and even that only with the robe completely covered with the surcoat. Junior officials had eight dragons under surcoat, and even the Emperor had to have one of his nine dragons hidden from the view.

Chinese dragons may have originated from dinosaur fossils, snakes or saltwater crocodiles. Ancient Chinese referred to unearthed dinosaur bones as dragon bones, and modern Chinese word for dinosaur is konglong (“terrible dragon”). Depictions of dragons however own a lot to stylized depictions of modern animals, such as snakes, fish or crocodiles. He Xin advocates view that the early dragon depicted a spieces of a crocodile – Crocodylus porosus, the saltwater crocodile and the largest existing crocodilian. The crocodile is known to be able to accurately sense changes in air pressure, and be able to sense coming rain, which may be the origin of Chinese association of dragons with weather and water. At any rate, Chinese dragons evolved from their origins as totems of natural animals into highly stylized mythological beings.

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Dragons are deeply interwoven into Chinese culture – dragons control water, and China had always depended heavily on water due to its rice-based agriculture. Existence of China itself depends on dragons. They fly across the sky, collecting clouds to give earth the needed rain. A divine dragon rises from the sea up into the sky in the spring, and descends back to ocean in the fall. Its breath turns into the cloud and rain, thus allowing rice farming. Dragons are also rulers of moving bodies of water, such as waterfalls, rivers or seas. They can show themselves as water spouts. Many Chinese villages had temples dedicated to their local “Dragon King”. Four major Dragon Kings represent each of the four seas: East, South, West and North, which themsevles correspond to modern seas as follows:

  1. Dragon King of the East Sea (East China Sea)
  2. Dragon King of the South Sea (South China Sea)
  3. Dragon King of the West Sea (Indian Ocean and beyond)
  4. Dragon King of the North Sea (Lake Balakai)

These dragon kings can appear as dragons, but also have a human form with dragon head. They live in an underwater crystal palace, commanding an army of shrimp soldiers and crab generals.

Dragon Kings

Chinese call themselves “descendants of the dragon”. Dragon is a symbol of the ruler, and it represents qualities of a just rule. It is connected to Tao, Chi and Feng-shui. In the Zhou Dynasty, the 5-clawed dragon was assigned to the Son of Heaven, the 4-clawed dragon to the nobles and the 3-clawed dragon to the ministers. In the Qin dynasty, the 5-clawed dragon was assigned to represent the Emperor while 4- and 3-clawed dragons were assigned to the commoners. The dragon in Qing dynasty appeared on national flags, but in general, dragon is symbol of culture. It is a god that embodies the will and ideals of the Chinese people.

Dragon as an imperial symbol goes back a long time. According to a Chinese legend, both Chinese primogenitors – the earliest Emperors, Yandi and Huangdi – were closely related to “Long” (Chinese dragon). At the end of his reign, the first legendary Emperor, Huangdi, was immortalized as a dragon, and ascended to heaven. The other emperor, Huangdi’s brother Yandi, was concieved through telepathic communication between his mother and a dragon. As Chinese consider Huangdi and Yandi their ancestors, they sometimes refer to themselves as “the descendants of the dragon”. This legend also contributed to usage of a dragon as an imperial symbol, as through this descent Chinese Emperors considered themselves “sons of heaven”. In some Chinese legends, an Emperor might be born with a birthmark in the shape of a dragon: in one example, a peasant born with such a birthmark eventually overthrows the existing dynasty and founds a new one.

In astrology, dragons are heralds of good fate, and are among the twelve animals that had come to show respects to dying Buddha. Dragon is the fourth sign of the zodiac, and is considered a powerful sign under which to be born – one that represents ambitious, headstrong, courageous but also reckless and stubborn character. The Azure Dragon (Qing Long) is the primary of the four (five) celestial guardians, the others being Zhu Que (red bird), Bai Hu (white tiger) and Xuan Wu (black tortoise), as well as Yellow Dragon. Azure Dragon, or Blue-Green dragon, symbolizes Wood, East, Spring, and generative force, the coming of new life. Vermillion Bird (Red Bird) symbolizes Fire, South, Summer, and explosive force, the blooming of life. Yellow Dragon symbolizes Earth, center, change of seasons, stabilizing force and ripening of life. White Tiger symbolizes Metal, West, Autumn, the contracting force and the withering of life. Black Tortoise symbolizes Water, North, Winter, the conserving force and dormancy of life. Yellow dragon is superior to the remaining four, being in the center and also symbolizing wisdom and wealth. It is also associated with the Imperial family of China.

Five Chinese Elemental Dragons

However, while Chinese dragons were originally benevolent, wise and just, Buddhists introduced the concept of malevolent influence among some dragons. Just as water destroys, so can dragons destroy via floods, tidal waves and storms. Some of the worst floods were thus a consequence of mortals upsetting a dragon. Dragons laid eggs alongside rivers and disguise them as stones. It takes up to 4 000 years for an egg to hatch, and hatching is accompanied by a storm – thunder, lightning, torrential rain and floods.

According to the one legend, Emperor of Jade had punished four dragons, Long, Yellow, Black and Pearl, by trapping them underneath four mountains because they had drank the water from the Eastern Sea and released it as rain to help the people. But dragons did not regret their decision and continued to help the people, thus turning into four largest Chinese rivers.

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Dragons have important role to play in divine matters. Immortals reached heavens by riding dragons, and Huangzi was able to defeat the forces of evil with help of the dragons. And with help of a dragon, Emperor Yu defeated the universal flood and restored order to the cosmos. The coming of spring, and therefore renewal of nature, happens with dragon flying to the heavens at the time of spring equinox, and it disappears into abyss in autumn. Dragon is a symbol of divine protection and vigilance, and regarded as a supreme being among all creatures. It has the ability to live in the seas, fly up to the clouds, or live coiled up in the mountains.

There are four major types of dragons, all of which have an important role to play in human life. Tien Lung, or heavenly dragon, lives in the clouds and guards heavenly palaces. Shen Lung, or God Dragon, brings rain and controls weather. Ti Lung lives underwater and control rivers. Futslang Lung is underworld guardian of treasure, jewels and precious metals. These are the four most recognizable, but there are five less common types, for a total of nine:

  • Tianlong, The Celestial Dragon
  • Shenlong, the Spiritual Dragon
  • Fucanglong, the Dragon of Hidden Treasures
  • Dilong, the Underground Dragon
  • Yinglong, the Winged Dragon
  • Jiaolong, the Horned Dragon
  • Panlong, the Coiling Dragon: inhabits the waters
  • Huanglong, Yellow Dragon, which emerged from the River Luo to show Fuxi the elements of writing
  • Dragon King

In addition, there are also Nine Dragon Children of the Chinese dragon king, which play important role on monuments and decorations:

  • The first son is called Bi xi, which looks like a giant tortoise and is good at carrying weight. It is often found as the carved stone base of monumental tablets.
  • The second son is called Bi’an, looks like a tiger, and is powerful. It is often found on prison doors to frighten the prisoners, but also in courts of justice. Its main characteristic is steadiness, and can be trusted with security and justice.
  • The third son is called Chi wen, which is a hybrid between a fish and a dragon. It likes to swallow evil spirits to keep them away from humans, so its statues are placed on roofs. Chi wen himself is said to live in the ocean.
  • The fourth son is Pulao, which looks like a small dragon (or a dog combined with a dragon). His power is to scream to warn people if disaster is coming. Thus it is always found on bells.
  • Fifth son is Qiu niu, who is a hybrid between a dragon and a cow, though there is no clear clue on his exact physical appearance – he may also be a yellow dragon. What is clear is that he loves music and plays it very well, and is thus found on many musical instruments.
  • Sixth son is Taotie, a hybrid between a wolf and a dragon. He is said to be guardian of wealth and well-being, loves food, and is very greedy and gluttonuous. He is found depicted on ritual bronze vessels, and nowadays his name is used to describe people who are fond of good food.
  • Seventh son is Suanni, a hybrid between a lion and a dragon, with body covered with flames. He is viewed as a dragon of wisdom and knowledge, likes to sit cross-legged and spend his days smelling incense calmly. He is depicted on incense burners and seats in Buddhist temples.
  • Eighth son is Yazi, who has leopard’s head on dragon’s body. He gets into fights all the time and enoys killing. Logically, he is Chinese god of battles and wars, and is found on sword ornaments.
  • Ninth son is Gongfu or Ba xia, dragon god of water. He is half-snake and half-dragon, an excellent swimmer and said to live near the bridges.

Not all Chinese dragons are good, however. Jiaolong was believed to cause flood whenever it hatched. Jiao was described as having a small head, narrow neck, white scales, is oviparous, can grow up to ten meters long and eats people. Wolfram Eberhard quotes the 11th century definition which states that jiao “looks like a snake with a tiger head, is several fathoms long, lives in brooks and rivers, and bellows like a bull; when it sees a human being it traps him with its stinking saliva, then pulls him into the water and sucks his blood from his armpits.”. Its role in mythology is similar to that of post-Christianization European dragons: it is a villain, creating floods and other troubles, and sometimes demanding human sacrifice as a bribe. Consequently, it requires a human hero to finish it off.

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