The Chinese Dragon: What Is It?

No doubt you’ve noted how, when it comes to China and the Chinese culture, pictures and representations of dragons are a must. So much so, that the China’s nickname is “The Red Dragon”.

From the stunning imperial palaces at the Forbidden City in Beijing to the amusing Mushu in the Disney movie Mulan, dragons are a key element in the Chinese history and culture.

龙: Lóng, the Chinese dragon

First we must identify the differences between Eastern and Western dragons. Why? Are not dragons just dragons? Well, given they are mythological creatures, different cultures assign different characteristics and appearances.

In Europe, for instance, both in old legends and modern motion pictures portray dragons are portrayed as evil, fire spitting creatures that move around flying with bat’s wings.

That’s not the case with Asian dragons. In many dynasties on ancient China, yellow or golden dragons were a symbol of emperors. That connection can be seen in the design of imperial palaces and graves, monuments, decorative pieces and even garments.

A bit of history

The most important emperor of the history of China was Huang Di (黃 帝; Huángdì), the “Yellow Emperor”. According to tradition, he ruled from 2698 to 2598 BC.

Among his countless achievements are the creation of the Chinese medicine principles, the invention of the bow and arrow, the compass, garments, government institutions and the use of currency.

Tradition and legends have attributed Huang Di so many achievements and accomplishments that his considered a semi-god.

Not only that, he is thought to be the common ancestor of the Chinese people. Therefor the Chinese are called the “descendants of the dragon”. Why?

According to the legends, when Huang Di died, a yellow dragon came to carry him away, a dragon who looked very much alike the ones he used in his royal emblems. The dragon tool him away to heaven, when the emperor became immortal.

This story of the mighty and powerful yellow dragon and the wise, virtuous, kind and fair emperor constitutes par of the Chinese culture and even religion. And that is why Western dragons don’t have anything in common with the Chinese dragon.

Today, the mysticism and religious veneration is not as strong as it was centuries ago. However, the dragon has a strong presence in Chinese culture. For instance, it is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. And to have a baby born in the year of the dragon is considered a sign of good luck.

How does the dragon look like?

Within Chinese mythology there are different types of dragons. The “traditional” has parts of nine different animals, such as snake tail, deer horns, fish scales, eagle claws, catfish whiskers. . . Honestly, not the prettiest thing to look at if you ask me!

Chinese dragon drawing

Surely you have seen it in some monuments or decorations. And if you’ve been in China or in the Chinatown of any big city, you may have seen it “live” in festivities such as the Chinese New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival or the Dragon Dance.

Chinese culture is so rich and interesting that it seems never-ending. Besides, China is gaining its own place in Western society at a fast pace. That is why more and more people have realized of all the benefits of learning Chinese. Not only for economic reasons but also as part of the education of children.

At Hanyu Chinese School we offer you everything you or your kids need to study this amazing language. Our classes with native speaker accommodate to your needs, pace and interests. Contact us, we are happy to answer all your questions. And don’t forget to ask for your free class!

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