The Symbolisms of the Dragon : Dragon in Chinese Culture

If in the West, dragons are cruel and destructive beings, in Asia and more particularly in China, this mythical animal is surrounded by an extremely positive aura. Presentation of this symbol of Chinese culture.

The Dragon in Chinese Culture


The dragon is both a mythological and folkloric creature in China. Present in the founding myths of Chinese civilization - Yu the Great is said to have obtained the help of one of these creatures - the Chinese dragons, or Long, are very different from their Western cousins.

While the latter are evil beings in the legends of the European Middle Ages, the dragons of China, and by extension of Asia, are generally benevolent beings, even if Buddhist thinkers introduced the idea that certain dragons could be responsible for destruction following human affronts.

Powerful and wise, as in the West, Chinese dragons have two other fundamental differences their slender shape, and the element with which they are most often associated, water.

In popular Chinese beliefs, the Dragon is therefore the deity of aquatic phenomena - waterfalls, rivers and seas - and determines droughts or floods. They even sometimes have the reputation of mastering the climate, in particular the rain, and can possess many supernatural powers depending on the source of the legends...

In primitive times, most villages, especially those near a water point, had to have a temple dedicated to the local dragon, in order to offer him sacrifices in times of crisis to obtain his help or his forgiveness.

One of the four sacred animals of China along with the Phoenix (Fenghuang), the Unicorn (Qilin) ​​and the Turtle, the Dragon represents power and talent, so bright people are often referred to as dragons.

Because of its extremely positive connotation, the dragon has also become the symbol of emperors and then, by extension, that of Chinese culture.

However, the Chinese authorities, fearing the negative image of the dragon in the West, prefer today to put forward more sympathetic “mascots” like the panda. However, the population remains very attached to the image of the dragon, especially in astrology the sign of the Dragon is one of the most popular and sought after because it symbolizes power and success. It is also the years of the dragon that the birth rates are the highest in China...

To note :

  • In the triad world, dragon tattoos have a very serious meaning. It is said that only the mighty can afford to wear such designs, otherwise the mythical animal risks consuming the unworthy wearer.
  • The Kowloon district in Hong Kong means Nine Dragons.

The Dragon symbol

  • Pinyin : lóng
  • Simplified character : 龙
  • Traditional character : 龍

Chinese Dragon Appearance

The appearance of the Eastern dragon, and therefore Chinese, is quite different from that of the Western dragon. Slender like a snake and equipped with four legs, it mixes the features of several animals deer horns, a camel's head, demon's eyes, a snake's neck, a mollusc's belly, carp scales, claws eagle, tiger paws, cow ears.

The pearl that is sometimes seen below the chin symbolizes well-being, luck and prosperity. On the other hand, most Chinese dragons do not have wings, and their ability to fly is a mystical power.


The origins of the dragon in Chinese culture

It is difficult to determine how the myth of the dragon was forged in China, and the only answers can come from primitive cultures it could be the result of the fusion of the totems of different tribes, in particular by merging animals such as the snake and Fish.

Another hypothesis implies that the Chinese dragon was inspired by the saltwater crocodile, the largest living reptile today. Crocodiles were also in ancient times perceived as a variety of dragons...

The myth of the Dragon

Chinese tradition considers that there are four great dragon kings, each corresponding to one of the seas surrounding the Middle Kingdom the East China Sea for Ao Guang, the South China Sea for Ao Qin, the West China Sea ( Indian Ocean) for Ao Run, and the North China Sea (Lake Baikal) for Ao Shun.

Emperor's symbol

Several legends link the mythical emperors Yan Di and Huangdi to the Chinese dragon. Huangdi, for example, would have been immortalized in the form of the legendary animal. Subsequently, it became the symbol of emperors, and even the emblem on the flag of the Qing dynasty. The wives of emperors were associated with Fenghuang, the Chinese Phoenix. To differentiate the emperor from his subjects, the Son of Heaven was the only one who could wear five-clawed dragon designs, an image that today represents China as a whole (the four-clawed dragon represents Korea, the one with three claws represents Japan).

The dragon and the numbers

The Chinese attach great importance and significance to numbers. It is therefore logical that the Dragon is associated with one of the most positive, the 9. This is why it is considered to have 9 attributes and 117 scales 81 yang and 36 yin (each time a multiple of 9). In the imperial palaces (example in the Beihai Park in Beijing), one can find walls with nine dragons.

The different dragons


Here is a non-exhaustive list of some famous types of dragons in Chinese mythology and folklore.

  • Tianlong (天龍 tiānlóng) this is the celestial dragon that guards the gates of Heaven
  • Shenlong (神龍 shénlóng) deity who controls the weather
  • Fucanglong (伏藏龍 fúcánglóng) associated with the volcano, it is the guardian of precious metals and jewels
  • Dilong (地龍 dìlóng) dragon who controls rivers and seas
  • Yinglong (應龍 yìnglóng) dragon associated with rains and floods, it would have helped the Yellow Emperor to kill Chi You
  • Jiaolong (蛟龍jiāolóng) deity of marine species
  • Panlong (蟠龍 pánlóng) dragon of the lakes who could not ascend to the heavens
  • Huanglong (黃龍 huánglóng) dragon symbolizing the emperor
  • Feilong (飛龍 fēilóng) dragon that flies in clouds and mist
  • Qinglong (青龍 qīnglóng) dragon associated with the East in Chinese symbolism, mythical creature associated with a constellation
  • Longwang (龍王 lóngwáng) the dragon king who rules the four seas
  • Longma (龍馬 lóngmǎ) animal that revealed the concept of the eight trigrams to Fuxi
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