Chinese Dragons

The dragon is an important and revered symbol in China.

A 19th century engraving of a Chinese Dragon, color engraving on wood.

The Chinese dragon is a symbol of wisdom, power, and luck in Chinese culture. Unlike western dragons, oriental dragons are usually seen as benevolent and kind. Dragons have long been a symbol in Chinese folklore and art. Temples and shrines have been built to honor them.

Through the symbol of the dragon, many Chinese see divine attributes which they aspire to themselves. In fact, the Chinese are sometimes referred to as "descendents of the dragon." The dragon is held in reverence and respect in Chinese culture. It is unseemly to defile a depiction of a dragon. Dragons are referenced by several Chinese proverbs.

Chinese dragons control the rain, rivers, lakes, and sea. They can ward off wandering evil spirits, protect the innocent, and bestow safety unto all. They are called lung or long in the Chinese language.

They fly in the sky among clouds. Most pictures of Chinese dragons show them playing with a flaming pearl. Legend has it that the pearl gives them their power and allows them to ascend into heaven.

An image of a red Chinese dragon.

The Legend of the Carp says that a carp able to leap over the mythical Dragon Gate will become a dragon. Many have sought out the true location of this Gate, but none have found it. Several waterfalls and cataracts in China are believed to be the location of the Dragon Gate. This legend is an allegory for the drive and effort needed to overcome obstacles.

Physiology

An image of a black Chinese dragon.

Chinese dragons have serpentine bodies, four legs, and are usually without wings. They are said to be a composite of various other animals-the body of a snake, the antlers of a deer, the talons of an eagle, the soles of a tiger, the scales of a carp, and the eyes of a demon. It is said that Chinese dragons have 117 scales.

They are usually depicted with four toes. In the traditional symbol of the emperor, the dragon is depicted with five. In Japan, dragons are depicted with three toes.

Types

A mosaic of a Chinese dragon.

There are nine types of classical Chinese dragons. They are as follows:

  1. Tianlong, the Celestial Dragons, are the celestial dragons who pull the chariots of the gods and guard their palaces.
  2. Shenlong, the Spiritual Dragons, control the wind and the rain.
  3. Fucanglong, the Dragons of Hidden Treasures, are underworld dragons which guard buried treasures, both natural and man-made. Volcanoes are said to be created when they burst out of the ground to report to heaven.
  4. Dilong, the Underground Dragons, are earth dragons whose task it is to preside over rivers and streams. According to some accounts, they are the female counterpart of the Shenlong and they fly only in order to mate.
  5. Yinglong, the Winged Dragons, are the oldest of all eastern dragons and the only kind with wings.
  6. Qiulong, the Horned Dragons, are considered to be the mightiest dragons.
  7. Panlong, the Coiling Dragons, are water dragons believed to mostly inhabit the lakes of the Orient.
  8. Huanglong, the Yellow Dragons, once emerged from the River Luo and presented the legendary Emperor Fu Hsi with the elements of writing. They are known for their scholarly knowledge.
  9. Lóng Wáng, the Dragon Kings, are rulers over each of the four seas, those of the east, south, west, and north. Although their true form is that of a dragon, they have the ability to shapeshift into human form. They live in crystal palaces guarded by shrimp soldiers and crab generals.