Chinese Culture & Symbolism: The Dragon

A change of pace with this article. The Chinese Health Institute aims to not only provide assistance and education on health but also share the beauty of Chinese culture with our readers.

The dragon is a symbol undoubtedly synonymous with China. From martial arts to imperial royalty and deeply engrained in folk law, this mythical creature is considered auspicious beyond any other.

It may surprise some to know that the characteristics of the Chinese dragon are quite different to their western counterparts. While dragons in western mythology tend to deal with maidens, monstrosities and fire breathing, the Chinese dragon is actually a playful creature that is a master of water. Rain is considered to be ushered in by dragons and during antiquity, dragons were “summoned” via rituals and worship in attempts to bring rain during times of drought. They are also considered the envoys of heaven often appearing to bestow messages to the common people or emperors.

Dragon symbolism was always strong in Chinese culture with carvings of specific dragons done for specific purposes (i.e. one type of dragon on a bridge to prevent flooding). This changed at a certain point when the image of the dragon became associated with Chinese royalty. Many dynasties have used the symbol and claimed themselves as linked to heaven through it. If a commoner was caught using the symbol, it was punishable by death up until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.

The Chinese people often call themselves the children of the dragon. There are several reasons for this but I will make mention of the idea that we Chinese are considered to be the descendants of Fuxi who was a powerful elder god in mythology. He had the lower body of a snake and the top half of a human, a highly intellectual being that formulated the Bagua used in divination and feng shui. It is said that the snake is the earthly form of the dragon and there is a creation story where Fuxi and the goddess Nuwa coupled to form humans.

It is however very difficult to pinpoint a single “creation story” in Chinese culture as it is a diverse country made up of 56 ethnic groups each with their own myths, legends and idiosyncratic customs however it remains unchanged that all consider the dragon the most divine and benevolent of mythical animals.

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