Chinese Dragons Part 1: The Protector

Growing up in the Western tradition, I first knew of dragons as the Europeans saw them—fierce monsters who guarded great treasures and threatened human civilization. Later, when I hit a stage of science fiction/fantasy fandom, I saw them as intelligent, powerful creatures that could stand as either clever enemies or close friends and allies for humans. I left that obsession back with my teenage years, but now that I’m taking a new look at dragons for Dragon Crossing, I’m curious about another tradition: the Eastern one.

Red Dragon Flag

Can you see any of the nine animal elements in this dragon’s form?
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The most famous Asian dragon is the Chinese dragon, long viewed as a wise protector and bringer of good luck. Where Western dragons are greedy and cruel, Chinese dragons are generous, protecting, and even kind. Where the dragons of Europe are built like solid lizards with large wings, Chinese dragons are long, sleek, and able to fly with small-to-nonexistent wings.

The Chinese dragon is said to be a combination of nine other animals—it has the horns of a deer, the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the neck of a snake, the viscera (inner organs) of a tortoise, the claws of a hawk, the palms of a tiger, and the ears of a cow. Some variations list different animals, such as the fish, the ox, or the rabbit, as part the dragon’s form. Whatever it’s made of, though, the dragon will most often appear in human form when interacting with humans.

The dragons of China, with their ruling of the water and authority over the weather, were seen as powerful protectors, leading to many ceremonial rituals asking them for rain. Some of these rituals, like the dragon dance and dragon boat festival, are still celebrated today, though they have become less of a ritual and more of a cultural holiday.

Because Westerners like me are most familiar with the legends surrounding our European dragons (like Beowulf’s dragon or the tale of Saint George), I thought it would be interesting to look into just a few of the many stories of China’s dragons. It won’t just help in understanding the dragons—it will help in understanding another culture, too! Stories have always been my gateway into other places, whether real or imaginary, and it’s time now to step into the mind of ancient China. In my next two posts, I will be sharing two of the legends I have discovered.

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Categories: Eastern Tradition | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Chinese Dragons Part 1: The Protector

  1. Very interesting!

    • I’m glad you think so! I know I’ve only just scratched the surface of the topic, so even after I post the two Chinese legends that I just read, I know I’ll still be exploring different aspects of China’s dragons in the future.

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  3. Dragons are one of my favorite mythical creatures. But I still prefer the European variety as the hideously powerful beast guarding treasure. Like Smaug.

    • I haven’t decided which variety I prefer yet–each has its own little place in the world! Speaking of Smaug, I’ll be interested to see how well they portray him in the upcoming Hobbit movies.

  4. I’ve never really know much about Chinese dragons. Very interesting. I did just finish Beowulf over the summer. I’ll be watching for more. 😉

    (by the way, I came across a photo that made me think of you. Just copy link and smile 🙂
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php fbid=10151140389316678&set=a.494888951677.297244.54598611677&type=1&theater )

    • Aww… the link didn’t work for me–it said I didn’t have access.
      I hope I can provide more interesting information about Chinese dragons; my next post is finally up (oh, lack of motivation sometimes…). What did you think of Beowulf?

      • I liked it. I got a little confused on what was happening in between the middle and the end, but on rereading understood. While I’m not sure if I’d reread the book for fun, it was by no means boring.

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