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 paramount power and benevolent characteristics, who contributed to defeating evils and protecting humans.
They are representatives of the Chinese emperors' supreme authority, nobility, and responsibility when some types of dragon images had been exclusively used by royals.
Chinese Dragons are, as well, 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.
Cyan Dragon or Qinglong, Drawn by Shexi.
Origin and the Earliest Chinese Dragon.
Archeologically, the most ancient unearthed dragon in China is an about 6600 years old dragon that was 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
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 — National Museum of China
Historically, the dragon is believed 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.
Astrologically, Azure Dragon or Qinglong is one of the Four Symbols in ancient Chinese Astrology. Click to read more about Four Symbols and Twenty-Eight Lunar Mansions of Chinese Astrology.
Mythologically, many types of spiritual dragons hold different magics.
They are in charge of natural phenomena such as thunder, wind, and rain, and 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.
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 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 made great contributions in helping Yu the Great to defeat the huge floods.
Azure Dragon or Qing Long
Hence, it is also the symbolization of hope, life, and vitality.
As one of the most powerful dragons that guard the eastern sky, Azure Dragon is respected by people as the guardian of their homeland as well.
Dragon Kui Long
Kui Long is a strong 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 Chi Long
Chi Long is a type of dragon without horns that is believed to come from the sea, which made 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 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 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 pillars, beams, and ceilings of traditional Chinese buildings, as a strong guardian.
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.
Dragon Jiao Long
Dragon Jiao Long is covered by scale, with ox's horns or hornless, lives in water, and can cause huge floods.
If a Jiao Long goes through cultivation diligently for a thousand years, without hurting humans or being interrupted, they would 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.
Fish Incarnated Dragon or Yu Hua Long
It is a type of dragon that is incarnated from carp, which has 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 huge mountain by Yu the Great (about 2123 BC — 2025 BC) when he was defeating the huge flood, it would incarnate into a powerful spiritual dragon and soar in the sky. (Read More about Grottoes of Longmen)
This is a huge and dangerous transformation, which only a few carps can succeed in the end.
Therefore, the Fish Incarnated Dragon represents achieving great success after hard-working and intense competition.
What Are Nine Sons of Chinese Dragon?
In ancient folklore, the dragon has nine sons, who are unlike dragons and completely different from each other. This phrase later is used to show that children would unlike their parents or their siblings, every one of them is special.
Number nine here is believed to describe the large number of offspring a dragon has; according to I Ching (or Book of Changes), nine is the largest number (or the largest single digit) of Yang.
However, there are no exact records regarding exactly 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.
Chinese Dragon in Ancient Mythology, Legend, and History.
From mythical creatures to being representatives of paramount power and supreme majesty, is the outcome of the dragons' exceptional contributions to assisting kings and emperors, as well as protecting humans.
The dragon was used as the totem by King Fu Xi.
Dragon Ying Long had assisted Yellow Emperor (about 2717 BC — 2599 BC) in his unification battles by perishing his strong enemy Chi You.
King Yao (about 2377 BC — 2259 BC) in many legends was the incarnation of a red dragon.
Dragon Ying Long contributed significantly to helping Yu the Great (about 2123 BC — 2025 BC) defeat the huge flood.
Dragon Ying Long helping Yellow Emperor Defeat strong enemy Chi You, Drawn by Lexi.
How Figures of the Chinese Dragon Were Used as the Representation of Paramount Imperial Power?
Because of their paramount power and authority and close connections to important kings and emperors, gradually, dragon images had been widely appreciated and used by ancient Chinese people.
Since Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368), the use of dragon patterns became more and more strict. Civilians and officials were not allowed to wear clothes with the noblest dragon patterns.
Precisely, the type of dragon that only emperors could use is the dragon with two horns and five claws.
Forbidden City, the imperial palace of the Ming (1368 — 1644) and Qing (1636 — 1912) dynasties, is the best representative of how dragon patterns are used by royals.
As a kingdom of dragon images and status, today, there are still no accurate numbers regarding how many dragons Forbidden City has.
Only in the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tai He Dian or Jin Luan Dian), about 13,844 dragons are engraved, carved, or decorated there.
Hall of Supreme Harmony (or Tai He Dian) in the Outer Court, Photo from Official Site of Palace Museum.
Use of other types of dragons, those without horns or fewer claws, were allowed to be used by non-royals, based on one's social status and which types of dragons they used, and the exact rules differed from time to time.
Development of Chinese Dragons in Art.
Besides different types, the appearances of the Chinese Dragon varied and changed over time.