In most Western stories, dragons are regarded as evil, dangerous, and having a dark role by breathing fire to ruin towns and villages. But in China, dragons are totally different. They are powerful and benevolent symbols in Chinese culture, e.g. they can summon rain for people during a drought.
It was said that thousands of years ago, Yandi (a legendary tribal leader) was born by his mother's telepathy with a mighty dragon. With the help of the dragon, and allied with Huangdi (a legendary tribal leader), they opened the prelude to Chinese civilization; so Yandi and Huangdi were considered to be ancestors of the Chinese people.
As time has gone by, Chinese people refer to themselves as the descendants of Yandi and Huangdi, as well as the descendants of the Chinese dragon.
The Chinese dragon has transformed from an imaginary prodigy to a mascot from ancient times to the present. It represents the Chinese people's unrelenting and pioneering spirit of keeping pace with the times.
Not only is the dragon prevailing in China, but it's also very popular among the Chinese people living overseas; it has become the symbol of China and of Chinese culture.
Dragon dance: The dragon dance is performed at many celebrations, e.g. Chinese New Year. Generally, there is a long dragon, spanning up to 70 meters, that is constructed using hoops made of bamboo covered with glistening fabric, and held by dancers.
Chinese zodiac sign of the Dragon: Every year within each 12-year cycle of the lunar calendar is represented in Chinese mythology by one of 12 animals. People born in the year of 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, or 2024 belong to the Dragon zodiac sign.
卧虎藏龙 wò hǔ cáng lóng, 'crouching tiger, hidden dragon', means talented individuals in hiding.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is also a famous movie's name. See 10 movies to watch before going to China.
A number of legends concerning the origin of the dragon emerged in the course of Chinese history, of which the Totem-Worship Theory is more popular than the others.
Huangdi (a legendary tribal leader) launched a series of wars against nine tribes on the Yellow River Valley, and incorporated the other tribes' totems into his own after defeating them.
As Huangdi won the battles against the nine tribes, the dragon totem mixed the other totems' characters together. This explains why the dragon has attributes belonging to nine other creatures: eyes like a shrimp, antlers like a deer, a big mouth like a bull, a nose like a dog, a beard like a catfish, a lion's mane, a long tail like a snake, scales like a fish, and claws like a hawk.
Chinese dragons don't exist in real life, but you can see many dragon elements in China. The following three suggestions are just a few examples of where Chinese dragons "exist". You may discover more dragons by yourself.
The Chinese dragon symbolizes the sovereignty of emperors, and everything related to it was exclusively for emperors in the Chinese feudal society. The ancient emperors called their sons "seeds of dragons", their robes were "dragon robes", and their chairs were "dragon chairs".
When you enter the Forbidden City, you can see elements of Chinese dragons nearly everywhere: on the golden roof, on the stone floor, the imperial chair decoration, wood sculptures on pillars, and handrails, etc.
It's also interesting to know about the Chinese dragon's 9 sons on the golden roof. The nine sons are often used in buildings' decorations and sculptures. It's quite funny that although the Chinese dragon is so important to Chinese people, people can rarely write or read the nine sons' names or distinguish between their appearances.
Read more information about the nine sons of the Chinese dragon later on in this article, if you are interested in spending time trying to recognize them.
When you visit a Chinese museum with ancient relics, you may see many imperial clothes embroidered with Chinese dragons.
You may find them boring, because they all look the same. But if you pay attention to each dragon's color, number of toes, and gestures, you will find they are different. The pattern of the dragon on an emperor's robe has four paws with five toes on each, and the one on the vassal's robe only depicts four toes on each paw, which highlights the supremacy of the ancient emperors.
If you are a fan of the Cannes Film Festival, you will remember that the Chinese actress, Fan Bingbing, once walked the red carpet wearing a dress with Chinese dragon embroidery, which was amazing.
It will be more interesting to visit a Chinese museum if you know more about Chinese dragons.
There are many Chinese opera shows with "dragon" in the title. Also, you can see dragons on imperial robes in an opera show when there are roles depicting an imperial family.
According to Chinese myths, the dragon has nine sons. Interestingly, the nine dragon children have different characters from one another, and their images (to be more specific, imaginary images) are widely used in architectural decoration, especially in the imperial palaces.
The Forbidden City in Beijing is steeped in dragon culture, with emperors taking it as their symbol. See our top Forbidden City tours:
To discover more about dragons and Chinese culture in your own way, you can contact us to tailor-make your China tour according to your interests and requirements.