Chinese Dragon or Loong — Meaning, Mythology, Types, History, and Art
Once the totem of ancient influential clans, which laid the foundation of Chinese civilization.
Consisting of seven constellations in the eastern sky, it has guided people's agricultural activities throughout history.
Believed to be a mythical creature with paramount power and benevolent characteristics, the Chinese Dragon played a vital role in defeating evils and protecting humans.
It has represented Chinese Emperors' supreme authority, nobility, and responsibility, after its images were exclusively used by royals in history.
The Chinese Dragon symbolizes strength, bravery, invincibility, virtue, unity, intelligence, triumph, integrity, and auspiciousness, and its images have been widely used in architecture, art, costume, festivals, literature, names, and more.
Cyan Dragon or Qinglong Drawn by Artist Shan Ze
Origin and the Earliest Chinese Dragons
Archaeologically, the most ancient dragon unearthed in China is approximately 6600 years old. It was constructed using clamshells and found in a mausoleum associated with the 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 clamshell-made dragon, positioned to the left of the tomb owner, measures 178 cm in length and 67 cm in height.
Clam Shells Piled Dragon — Xishuipo Site of Henan Province
Besides, other neolithic tribes have unearthed numerous dragon-shaped cultural relics. One of the most ancient and renowned examples is a jade dragon standing at 26 cm in height, originating from the 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, the Yellow Emperor, one of the sage ancestors of the Chinese people, defeated many other tribes, built a unified state, and created a new dragon by absorbing elements of those integrated tribes' totems.
This new dragon, which he created, then became the totem of his new nation and is believed to have features such as 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, and whale's tail.
Astrologically, the Azure Dragon or Qinglong, consisting of seven lunar mansions in the eastern sky, is one of the Four Symbols in ancient Chinese Astrology.
They are significant in composing traditional calendars and guiding agricultural activities in ancient history. Click to read more about Four Symbols and Twenty-Eight Lunar Mansions of Chinese Astrology.
Mythologically, various types of Chinese dragons wield distinct magics, presiding over natural phenomena like thunder, wind, and rain.
These mystical beings have assisted accomplished kings in vanquishing evil monsters and safeguarding humankind.
They possess the ability to soar through the sky, plunge into the deep sea, and alter their sizes and appearances using magic.
In some legends, dragons serve as the mounts of powerful immortals.
Chinese Dragon Names and Types
Dragon Zhu Long
Dragon Zhu Long, the deity of Mount Zhong, boasts a serpent like red body spanning several thousand miles, complete with a human head.
With the opening of his eyes, daylight bathes the world; as they close, darkness descends upon the earth.
This celestial being neither eats, sleeps, nor breathes. His breath manifests as wind, exhaling to bring winter and inhaling to usher in summer.
Dragon Zhu Long, Picture From Shanhai Qitan.
Dragon Ying Long
Ying Long is a yellow dragon with two wings, residing in the middle of the sky and holding a superior position 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).
Furthermore, Ying Long serves as the representative of the earth in the Five Elements Theory.
In ancient legends, Ying Long played a crucial role in assisting the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) during his unification wars by defeating formidable enemies and made significant contributions in aiding Yu the Great to overcome massive floods.
Azure Dragon or Qing Long
The Azure Dragon, also known as Qing Long or Cang Long, serves as the Symbol of the East in ancient Chinese Astrology, representing the season of spring and the element of wood in the Five Elements Theory.
Therefore, it also symbolizes hope, life, and vitality.
As the formidable dragon guarding the eastern sky, the Azure Dragon is revered as the protector of the homeland by the people.
Dragon Kui Long
Kui Long is a powerful cyan dragon with one foot and no horns.
When diving into or emerging from the water, he brings wind and rain. Additionally, he can emit light as bright as the sun and the moon, and his roar resonates like thunder.
Dragon Chi Long
Chi Long is a hornless dragon believed to have originated from the sea, making it a formidable adversary against fire.
Another interpretation suggests that Chi Long is the female dragon, symbolizing beautiful and romantic love.
In either case, Chi Long has become a prominent motif in costume, jewelry, architecture, bronze and jade wares.
Depicted as a brave guardian symbolizing protection, Chi Long is also seen as a lucky charm associated with auspiciousness and happiness.
Dragon Qiu Long
Qiu Long usually refers to baby or teen dragons, representing the phases before a dragon fully grows up and attains its full power.
Dragon Pan Long
Pan Long is a type of ground-dwelling dragon that often stays on the ground or swims in rivers and seas.
As a dragon that doesn't soar in the sky, coiled Pan Long figures have been widely employed in pillars, beams, and ceilings of traditional buildings, serving as strong guardians.
Hui is a type of poisonous, lizard- or snake-like creature that resides in water.
After five hundred years of diligent cultivation, Hui would undergo a transformation into Dragon Jiao Long.
Dragon Jiao Long
Dragon Jiao Long is covered in scales, with ox's horns or hornless, residing in water and capable of causing massive floods.
If a Jiao Long diligently undergoes a thousand years of cultivation without harming humans or facing interruption, it would have the opportunity to undergo the final thunder test.
After enduring tens of thousands of thunder strikes, if the Jiao Long doesn't succumb to the flames and successfully survives, it would incarnate into a genuine immortal dragon and ascend to the sky.
Another five hundred years later, it would grow full horns, becoming a more formidable dragon.
Then, after an additional thousand years, it would sprout wings and transform into one of the most powerful dragons, the Dragon Ying Long.
Fish Incarnated Dragon or Yu Hua Long
The Fish Incarnated Dragon is a type of dragon that transforms from a carp, featuring a dragon's head and a fish's body.
According to ancient legend, a carp would incarnate into a powerful dragon and soar in the sky if it could leap over the turbulent current of Longmen (Dragon Gate), the canyon carved out of a huge mountain by Yu the Great (about 2123 BC — 2025 BC) when he was defeating the massive flood. (Read More about Grottoes of Longmen).
This transformation is both enormous and perilous, with only a few carps succeeding in the end.
As a result, the Fish Incarnated Dragon has become a popular symbol representing achieving great success through hard work and intense competition.
The Nine Sons of the Chinese Dragon
In ancient folklore, the dragon has nine sons, who are unlike dragons and completely different from each other.
This phrase is later used to convey that children would not resemble their parents or their siblings; each person is unique.
The number nine here is believed to describe the large number of offspring a dragon has. According to the 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 these offspring are.
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.
Prior to and following this period, various interpretations existed regarding these nine sons. However, Li Dongyang's version has been one of the most popular and widely accepted.
An auspicious creature with a special affinity for music, Qiu Niu possesses an extraordinary sense of hearing, distinguishing the sounds of all things.
It often crouches on the head of a musical instrument, savoring the melodies produced by plucked strings.
As a result, its image is frequently carved onto the instrument's head.
Qiu Niu Drawn by Artist She Xi
A strong, resolute, aggressive fighter always wielding a sharp sword, Ya Zi's image is commonly carved on weapons.
Ya Zi Drawn by Artist She Xi
A curious observer and alert adventurer, Chao Feng's figurines are extensively used to adorn traditional buildings' roofs.
They symbolize auspiciousness, beauty, and majesty while serving to deter demons and dispel disasters.
Chao Feng Drawn by Artist She Xi
An auspicious creature with very resounding and echoing howls, whose images are widely used on chimes.
Pu Lao Drawn by Artist She Xi
A strong, powerful creature that enjoys sitting quietly and revels in smoke and fire. Its images are widely used in incense burners.
Suan Ni Drawn by Artist She Xi
Ba Xia or Bi Xi
A sturdy creature that enjoys carrying heavyweights and its images are mostly used at the bottom of important stone steles.
Ba Xia Drawn by Artist She Xi
An intelligent mythical creature who passionately upholds justice, valiantly speaks the truth, smartly distinguishes right from wrong, and efficiently delivers fair judgments.
Hence, his statues are usually placed in front of government agencies and jails.
Bi An Drawn by Artist She Xi
A gentle literature enthusiast whose figurines are mostly intertwined on top of steles, appreciating brilliant inscriptions.
Fu Xi Drawn by Artist She Xi
An auspicious mythical animal that enjoys swallowing fire, and its statues are widely used as roof decorations to protect the building from fire.
Chi Wen Drawn by Artist She Xi
Chinese Dragon Mythology, Legends, and History
The Chinese dragon manifests in various types, each possessing distinct powers.
From guarding the sky and earth, controlling wind and rain, to defeating monsters, they are prominent celestial beings in ancient mythology, captivating legends, and fascinating folklore.
Over time, besides being mythical creatures, they also became symbols of paramount power and supreme majesty in history.
This transformation reflects their exceptional contributions in assisting kings and emperors, as well as their role in protecting humanity.
The dragon served as the totem for King Fu Xi.
Dragon Ying Long played a crucial role in the Yellow Emperor's (about 2717 BC — 2599 BC) unification battles by defeating his formidable enemy, Chi You.
King Yao (about 2377 BC — 2259 BC) is depicted as the incarnation of a red dragon in many legends.
Dragon Ying Long made significant contributions to assisting Yu the Great (about 2123 BC — 2025 BC) in defeating the massive flood.
Dragon Ying Long helping Yellow Emperor Defeat strong enemy Chi You, Drawn by Lexi.
How the Chinese Dragon Was Used as a Representation of Paramount Imperial Power
Due to the dragon's paramount power and close connections to important kings and emperors, their images gradually became widely appreciated and used by ancient Chinese people.
Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368), the use of dragon patterns became increasingly regulated.
Civilians and officials were prohibited from wearing clothes with the noblest dragon patterns.
Specifically, the type of dragon that only emperors could use is the dragon with two horns and five claws.
The Forbidden City, the imperial palace of the Ming (1368 — 1644) and Qing (1636 — 1912) dynasties, stands as the prime example of how dragon patterns were utilized by royalty.
As a kingdom of dragon patterns, accurate numbers regarding how many dragons adorn the Forbidden City today remain unknown.
In the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tai He Dian or Jin Luan Dian) alone, approximately 13,844 dragons are engraved, carved, or ornamented.
Hall of Supreme Harmony (or Tai He Dian) in the Outer Court, Photo from Official Site of Palace Museum.
The use of other types of dragons, including those without horns or fewer claws, was permitted for non-royals.
However, the specific types of dragons one could use depended on their social status, and the rules varied over time.
Chinese Dragon Meaning and Symbolism
The dragon or Loong in China holds profound meaning and symbolism, reflecting a rich tapestry of mythology, history, and astrological beliefs.
Historically, the Chinese dragon has symbolized paramount power, nobility, authority, and supreme majesty.
Astrologically, the Azure Dragon, or Qinglong, is a prominent celestial being in ancient Chinese Astrology, representing the east, spring, and wood.
Mythologically, Chinese dragons symbolize invincibility, sufficient rain and wind, admirable weather, satisfactory harvests, and protection against evils.
Culturally, as one of the most popular icons, the dragon, or Loong, represents strength, benevolence, courage, harmony, righteousness, wisdom, victory, honesty, and good fortune.
Chinese Dragon Loong Drawn by Artist Chenlu
Development of Chinese Dragon Art Forms: Architecture, Costume, Jewelry
The development of Chinese Dragon art forms has left an indelible mark on various facets of cultural expression, influencing architecture, costume, jewelry, and more.
Beyond the diverse dragon types, the representations of these mythical beings have evolved over time, reflecting shifts in artistic styles and cultural nuances.
In Architecture, intricate and delicate dragon carvings and designs embellish structures, symbolizing power, protection, and auspiciousness.
Traditional Clothing often features dragon motifs, with the creature's form adorning garments, conveying a sense of majesty, luck, and strength.
Moreover, Chinese dragon imagery is prominently featured in Jewelry, where it serves as more than mere ornamentation.
The dragon's symbolism is infused into these art forms, creating a visual narrative that transcends time and captures the essence of Chinese cultural identity.
Dragon Boat, Dragon Dance, and Dragon King
In ancient China, dragons were believed to be in charge of rain, wind, and thunder, and were thought to bring protection and luck to the people.
This belief gave rise to various worship activities, with Dragon Boat and Dragon Dance being among the most famous.
Originally sacrificial ceremonies, these practices aimed to pray for good weather, a bountiful harvest, and the dragon's protection from droughts and floods.
Dragon King or Long Wang is the personification deity that appeared later in this cultural context.
These titles were often associated with the dragons' colors, such as yellow, azure, red, white, and black, or their respective guardian locations in the east, west, south, and north seas.
Apart from the Dragon Kings appointed by emperors, people believed in the existence of additional local Dragon Kings safeguarding various rivers, lakes, and seas.
Temples dedicated to these regional Dragon Kings served as places for local communities to offer prayers and conduct worship ceremonies.
Dragon King Temple (Long Wang Ge) in Hankou, Picture from Sudanqing.
Compatibility Rules of the Chinese Dragon in Zodiac Signs
The Dragon is one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs.
According to traditional customs, individuals born in the Year of the Dragon are considered to be compatible with those born in the years of the Rooster, Rat, and Monkey.
On the other hand, they may experience challenges in relationships with individuals born in the years of the Dog and Rabbit.
Zodiac Sign of Dragon, Drawn by Aowu Xiaonaixiong.
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