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Chinese Dragon or Loong — Meaning, Mythology, Types, History, and Art

The Chinese Dragon, pronounced as Loong, is a significant cultural icon of China.

 

They are mythical creatures with formidable power and benevolent feature and have contributed to defeating evils and protecting humans. 

 

They were representatives of the Chinese emperors' supreme authority, nobility, and responsibility when royals had exclusively used some types of dragon images. 

Chinese Dragons are also the symbolization of strength, bravery, invincibility, virtue, unity, intelligence, triumph, integrity, and auspiciousness, and have been widely used in architecture, art, costume, festival, literature, name, and so on and so forth.  

Unearthed Gold Dragon of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Golden Dragon of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907 — 979) — Zhejiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Cyan Dragon or Qinglong

Cyan Dragon or Qinglong, Drawn by Shexi.

Origin

Origin and the Earliest Chinese Dragon.

 

  • Archeologically, the most ancient unearthed dragon in China is an about 6600 years old dragon piled up using clamshells in a mausoleum of Yangshao Culture (around 5000 BC — 3000 BC).

 

The tomb owner is speculated to be a king named Zhuan Xu, the grandson of the Yellow Emperor (or Huang Di). 

 

This clamshells-made dragon, on the left of the tomb owner, is 178 cm long and 67 cm tall. 

Clam Shells Piled Dragon — Xishuipo Site of Henan Province

Clam Shells Piled Dragon — Xishuipo Site of Henan Province

Besides, other neolithic tribes also have many dragon shape cultural relics excavated; the most ancient and famous one is a jade dragon (26cm high) from the Hongshan Culture (around 4000 BC — 3000 BC).

Jade Dragon of Hongshan Culture (around 4000 BC — 3000 BC)

Jade Dragon of Hongshan Culture — National Museum of China

  • Historically, the dragon is believed to be the totem of the tribe of King Fuxi.

 

Centuries later, after Yellow Emperor or Huangdi had defeated many other tribes and built a unified state, he absorbed elements of their totems and created a new dragon. 

 

This new dragon that he created, then became his new nation's totem, is believed to look like a creature with deer's antlers, rabbit's eyes, ox's ears, lion or pig's head, snake's body, carp's scales, eagle's claws, tiger's paws, whale's tail.

Azure Dragon Eaves Tile of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD)

Azure Dragon Eaves Tile of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Mythologically, many types of spiritual dragons hold different magics.

 

They are in charge of natural phenomena such as thunder, wind, and rain, and have assisted accomplished kings in defeating evil monsters and protecting humankind. 

 

They can soar in the sky, dive into the deep sea, and change their sizes and appearances using magic. 

 

In some legends, they are also rides of powerful immortals. 

Immortal Deity Commanding Dragon Jade Pendant of the Warring State Period (403 BC — 221 BC)

Immortal Deity Commanding Dragon Jade Pendant of the Warring State Period (403 BC — 221 BC) — Jingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Type

Types of Chinese Dragons.

 

Dragon Zhu Long

 

Dragon Zhu Long, the deity of Mount Zhong, has several thousands of miles long, snake-shaped red body with a human head. 

 

When his eyes open, here comes the daytime; when his eyes close,  darkness falls on earth.  

 

He never eats nor sleeps and barely breathes. The wind is his blowing, winter is his exhalation, and summer is his inhalation. 

Dragon Zhu Long

Dragon Ying Long

Ying Long is a yellow dragon that has two wings, who lives in the middle of the sky and is superior to the Four Symbols in ancient Chinese Astrology (Azure Dragon in the East, White Tiger in the West, Vermilion Bird in the South, and Black Tortoise in the North), and is the representative of the earth in the Five Elements Theory

In ancient legends, Ying Long had assisted Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) in his unification wars by perishing strong enemies and significantly helping Yu the Great defeat the vast floods.

Dragon Ying Long

Azure Dragon or Qing Long

Azure Dragon, also named Qing Long or Cang Long, is the Symbol of the East in ancient Chinese Astrology, representing spring and wood in the Five Elements Theory

Hence, it is also the symbolization of hope, life, and vitality. 

As one of the most potent dragons that guard the eastern sky, Azure Dragon is also respected by people as the guardian of their homeland.

Azure Dragon Portrait Brick of the Southern Dynasties (420 — 589)

Azure Dragon Portrait Brick of the Southern Dynasties (420 — 589) — Henan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Dragon Kui Long

Kui Long is a robust cyan dragon with one foot and no horns.

 

He brings wind and rain when diving into or coming out of the water, can shine light as bright as the sun and the moon, and can howl like thunder. 

Dragon Kui Long Pattern Jade Decoration of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC — 8 AD)

Dragon Kui Long Pattern Jade Decoration of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC — 8 AD) — Hebei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Dragon Chi Long

Chi Long is a type of dragon without horns that is believed to come from the sea, which makes it a good fighter against fire. 

Another saying is that Chi Long is the female dragon symbolizing beautiful, romantic love, and good luck.  

Either way, Chi Long has been widely used as a famous pattern in costume, jewelry, architecture, bronze ware, and jade articles, as brave guardians that protect people, and as lucky charms that bring auspiciousness and happiness. 

Dragon Chi Long on Underglaze Red Porcelain Cup of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368)

Dragon Chi Long on Underglaze Red Porcelain Cup of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — Gaoan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Dragon Qiu Long

Qiu Long usually refers to the baby or teen dragons, the phases before a dragon fully grows up and obtains all power. 

Dragon Qiu Long

Dragon Pan Long

Pan Long is a type of lividity dragon that usually stays on the ground or swims in rivers and seas. 

As the dragon that doesn't soar in the sky, coiled Pan Long figures have been widely used in traditional Chinese buildings' pillars, beams, and ceilings as strong guardians.

Dragon Pan Long on Incense Tube of the Qing Dynasty

Dragon Pan Long on Incense Tube of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Forbidden City

Hui

Hui is a type of poisonous, lizard-or-snake-like creature that lives in water.

 

After five hundred years of diligent cultivation, Hui would transform into Dragon Jiao Long.

Gold Sword Hilt of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC) Carved with Hui Long Pattern

Gold Sword Hilt of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC) Carved with Hui Long Pattern — British Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Dragon Jiao Long

Dragon Jiao Long is covered by scale, has ox's horns, or is hornless, lives in water, and can cause massive floods. 

If a Jiao Long goes through cultivation diligently for a thousand years without hurting humans or being interrupted, they will get the opportunity to take the final thunder test.  

Tens of thousands of thunder strikes later, if this Jiao Long didn't burn to death and successfully survived, it would incarnate into a real immortal spiritual dragon and fly to the sky. 

Another five hundred years later, it would grow out full horns as a stronger dragon.

 

Then, it would grow wings another thousand years later and transform into one of the most powerful dragons, the Dragon Ying Long. 

Dragon Jiao Long

Fish Incarnated Dragon or Yu Hua Long

It is a dragon incarnated from carp with a dragon's head and a fish's body. 

In ancient legend, if a carp can leap over the turbulent current of Longmen (Dragon Gate), a canyon that was cut out of a vast mountain by Yu the Great (about 2123 BC — 2025 BC) when he was defeating the massive flood, it would incarnate into a mighty spiritual dragon and soar in the sky. (Read More about Grottoes of Longmen)

This is a vast and dangerous transformation, which only a few carp can succeed. 

Therefore, the Fish Incarnated Dragon represents achieving great success after hard-working and intense competition. 

Fish Incarnated Dragon Pattern Carved on Gilt Basin of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907)

Fish Incarnated Dragon Pattern Carved on Gilt Basin of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) — Zhenjiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Nine Sons

What Are Nine Sons of Chinese Dragon?

 

In ancient folklore, the dragon has nine sons, who are unlike dragons and utterly different from each other. This phrase is later used to show that children might be unlike their parents or siblings, and every one of them is unique.  

Number nine here is believed to describe a dragon's large number of offspring; according to I Ching (or Book of Changes), nine is Yang's largest number (or the most significant single digit).

However, there are no accurate records regarding precisely who are these offsprings until one day, Hongzhi Emperor (1470 — 1505) asked his most knowledgeable chancellor Li Dongyang (1447 — 1516), who later provided an official version of the Nine Sons of the Dragon. 

Before and after this, there are other sayings about these nine sons; however, Li Dongyang's version has been one of the most popular and widely accepted.