Chinese Dragon: Why It’s A Cultural Symbol?

China is a big country in terms of its large population and power-house economy. As the biggest economy of Asia, China has been called“the dragon of Asia”.

But how are this country and the dragon related to each other? In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between China and Chinese dragon, and the importance of the dragon in Chinese culture.

An introduction to the Chinese dragon

The Chinese dragon is a legendary creature in Chinese culture at large. In Chinese, the dragon is pronounced “Lóng” and written as (traditional) or (simplified). Chinese dragons are most commonly depicted as giant snake-like creatures with the scales of a carp, antlers of a stag, talons of eagles, feet of a tiger, and the eyes of a (dragon) lobster. There are four theories on the origin of the Chinese dragon including snakes, Chinese alligators, thunder, and nature worship which have been identified by academicians.

There is no consensus on the origin of the Chinese dragon. A theory suggests that the symbol of the Chinese dragon dates back to at least 3000 BCE. According to the theory, the legendary Chinese dragon evolved out of ancient totem-worship practices. Ancient people may have created dragons by combining the attributes of several creatures like tigers, snakes, eagles, and carp.

A different theory claims that the Yan emperor (炎帝 Yán Dì), a legendary Chinese ruler in pre-dynastic times, was the incarnation of the dragon. He was a man of great capability and leadership. He conquered small tribes, expanded his territory, thus referred to himself as di ’emperors’ rather than hou ‘lord’. Anytime he went to  battle, he used a snake for his coat of arms. When his army was victorious over their enemies, he incorporated his defeated enemy’s emblem into his own. This may explain why the dragon appears to have features of various animals. 

Dragons in Chinese culture

The dragon zodiac

The Chinese zodiac is a 12-year cycle in which a zodiac animal is assigned to a year. There are many theories centered around the selection of these twelve animals, but the most widespread one focuses on the legendary Jade Emperor. It’s said that he honored the bunch of twelve animals which turned up on his invitation to a banquet so he dedicated one year on the Chinese calendar to each.

The first animal to start the cycle is the Rat, and the last in line is the Pig. The dragon is the fifth animal in the Chinese zodiac. Of all twelve animals, the dragon stands out as the most powerful creature. 

In ancient times, people used the zodiac to determine their personality, relationships, and even destiny. People born in the year of the Dragon demonstrate leadership, power, and charisma. Those who are blessed by the dragon god are said to be naturally lucky and gifted as well. Most of these traits are associated with the Chinese dragons which symbolize wisdom, benevolence, and power. 

The dragon dance

Chinese immigrate to just about everywhere in the world, bringing their culture and building their communities. As a result, Chinese festivals, cuisine, art, and other forms of its culture are getting more and more popular among western countries. You probably know about the Chinese New Year as this is the biggest festival each year for Chinese people. 

On this holiday, the dragon dance is performed. The dragon in Chinese culture, a symbol of power, is believed to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck to people. Therefore the longer the dragon dance is, the more luck it will bring to the community. 

The dragon boat festival

With 5000 years of history, China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Along with a long history, Chinese people boast a rich culture. Traditional Chinese festivals compose an important and brilliant part of Chinese culture.

The Dragon Boat Festival occupied a spot on the list of China’s major holidays. Dragon Boat Festival is held on the 5th day of the 5th month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Therefore, it’s also called the Double Five festival (and there are other double-day festivals in Chinese culture!). 

People celebrate this holiday to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet, and minister known for his patriotism. He drowned himself to protest the corrupt feudal dynasty. 

Upon hearing news of this tragic attempt, villagers raced to save him but their efforts were in vain. Therefore, during this traditional festival, Chinese people attend intense dragon boat races in search of Qu Yuan’s body. 

Dragons in different colors

Eastern dragons exist in different colors with each color bearing a symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. 

Green dragons

The color green stands for nature, harmony, and wealth. In Chinese culture, dragons are considered the gods of weather who can control the rain and water. It was a widespread practice that farmers pray for green dragons to bring them good harvests and well-fed lives.

Red dragons

Red is the color of blooming, good luck, happiness, and so much more. This is also the favorite color of a large population of Chinese. You can easily catch this color being used in big festivals or special occasions such as in Chinese New Year, grand openings, or weddings. Chinese People believe that if they worship red dragons, they’ll be granted luck, passion, vitality, and most importantly prosperity.  

Yellow dragons

Yellow is a color associated with solidity, reliability, and warmth, and it is set aside for royalty and those of higher social class. Gold dragons which share many of these assets are recognized as symbols of wealth, wisdom, and compassion. In Chinese imperial times, yellow color costumes were reserved only for the emperors. Dragon robes which come in yellow color and decorated with dragon figures were the everyday dress of the kings of China. 

Black dragons

In color psychology, black suggests mystery, elegance, and sophistication. But at the same time, it can evoke emotions such as evil, cruelty, and sadness. In Chinese culture, black stands for bad luck, irregularity, and illegality. According to the Chinese Five Elements Theory, the water element is represented by the color black instead of the traditional blue. As a combination of all information above, the black dragon is known for its dark power of mystery and vengeance and they are often connected to furious storms. 

White dragons

White represents the element of metal in traditional Chinese culture. It also symbolizes purity and innocence. But in some instances, this color is associated with death and worn at funerals. As a result, white dragons function as an omen of death.

The Legacy Lives On

Dragons may not exist in real life, but they stay alive in Chinese culture. To Chinese people, the dragon is an eternal symbol of power. Power and prosperity are chief goals that Chinese have always aimed for thousands of years. 

If you’re a fan of Chinese history, culture, and language, find more articles like this on Pandanese. Pandanese is a Chinese learning platform that helps users learn Chinese easily by employing mnemonics and Spaced Repetition System (SRS). We encourage you to check out our Pandanese blog and read as much as you like about language and culture topics before starting your learning!

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