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Dragons in Chinese Culture

Dragons: A History of Mythology and Beliefs by Johann Erickson

The oldest culture in the world to utilize dragons in their mythology and beliefs, are the Chinese. For them, the dragon is a divine, mythical creature that brings good fortune, prosperity and bounty. It is the symbol of emperors and imperial rule, and its legends have shaped a good portion of modern Chinese culture.

The dragon is a positive force, and represents power, excellence, and striving for goals, as well as being a benevolent force, which radiates goodwill, good luck, and blessings. Shrines to them can be found in many places in China, usually near the sea, since Eastern dragons tended to be water creatures.

In Eastern culture, the dragon represents the essential forces of Nature. While Emperors consulted them as revered advisors, they did not always follow that advice, and consequently the dragons?anger would either produce storms and floods though the clouds they breathed out, or such things as water shortages, when they beat their tails about, and emptied lakes and rivers. A dragonís celestial breath, known as sheng chi, bestows warmth from the sun, wind from the ocean, soil from the Earth, and water from rain.

The number nine figures in many aspects of dragon worship in Chinese culture, for example, the nine ways in which they are shown:

  • On the screws of fiddles because they are said to like music
  • On top of bells and gongs, because they call out loudly
  • On the bottom of stone statues, since dragons can support heavy weights
  • On the top of writing tablets, because dragons are fond of literature
  • On bridges, because dragons are associated with water
  • On the eaves of temples, because dragons guard against danger
  • On Buddha's throne, where dragons rest
  • On prison gates, which represent trouble-making dragons

On the hilt of swords, because dragons can slaughter their enemies
In Western culture, the dragon developed a very different persona, which many aficionados claim is misinterpretation of the tales in which their stories are told. Where Eastern dragons are perceived as good and benevolent, western dragons are all fire, and flinging their tails about, and biting heads off. In reality, if you read a broad range of literature from both hemispheres, youíll find that eastern dragons sometimes took a notion to be bad characters, and in the west, there are dragons whose whole existence was to serve and protect a kingdom, or prince, and they display the most sterling qualities of loyalty and sacrifice.

Part of the reason it is so hard to define what constitutes a dragon, is the wide variance in their physical images. In Eastern culture the dragon started out as an elongated, almost serpentine creature, usually, but not always showing four shortened legs, and a spaded tail. They were covered in scales, had a crest on the head, and were brightly colored in many hues. In Western culture, the traditional image of the dragon is of an almost reptilian animal, usually green, with wings like a bat, and breathing fire. Some also have feathers. Which is likely what leads to confusing dragons with gryphons (leonine in the hind quarters and raptor-like in the front quarters) and the phoenix (a mythical bird).

As the mythology of dragons in both cultures became shared through world travel, the line between the two images blurred, so that some Western representations, now show a definite eastern influence.

Today, the popularity of science fiction, and such role-playing games as Dungeons and Dragons, means that dragon figurines are a hot commodity. From pewter or other metal game pieces, to wood carvings, Chinese jade and crystal, the dragon has become a symbol of magic and mystery, a tangible piece of other worlds, that can be held in our hand, and admired for the exquisite craftsmanship put into every piece. Whether they are hand cast pottery, or hand-blown glass, dragon figurines add a splash of brilliance to a desktop, bookcase, or display pedestal, where they can rule over their kingdom.

Notable Dragons

  • The Tarasque dragon-like monster of Tarascon, France, was charmed and led back into the city by St. Martha, where he was stoned to death by the people.
  • Dragonroot, also known as Jack-in-the-pulpit. Used for medicinal purposes, but only after the root is dried. Taken internally while fresh it causes death by gastroenteritis.
  • Leviathan, a biblical creature who has wrapped his body around the Earth, and holds its tail in its mouth, lest the Earth fall apart.

About the Author
Johann Erickson is the owner of Online Discount Mart and TV Products 4 Less. Please include an active link to our site if you'd like to reprint this article.

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