Chinese Cultural Symbol: Dragon
The Chinese dragon or Oriental dragon is a mythical creature in East Asian culture with a Chinese origin. It is visualized as a long, scaled, snake-like creature with four legs and five claws on each. The dragon is sometimes used in the West as a national emblem of China. Its female counterpart is the Fenghuang (phoenix).
In contrast to the European dragon which stands on four legs and which is usually portrayed as evil, the Chinese dragon has long been a potent symbol of auspicious power in Chinese folklore and art. Dragons have been worshiped by the Chinese for thousands of years. They can be found in pottery, paintings, and are often featured in jade ornaments.
From its origins as totems or the stylized depiction of natural creatures, the Chinese dragon evolved to become a mythical animal. They are strongly associated with water as the bringer of rain and water in an agriculturally water-driven nation. They are believed to be the rulers of moving bodies of water, such as waterfalls, rivers, or seas. They can show themselves as water spouts (tornado or twister over water).
Because of this association, they are seen as "in charge" of water-related weather phenomenon. In premodern times, many Chinese villages (especially those close to rivers and seas) had temples dedicated to their local "dragon king". In times of drought or flooding, it was customary for the local gentry and government officials to lead the community in offering sacrifices and conducting other religious rites to appease the dragon, either to ask for rain or a cessation thereof.
The first Chinese legendary Emperor Huang Di was said to have been immortalized into a dragon that resembled his emblem, and ascended to Heaven at the end of his reign. Since the Chinese consider Huang Di as their ancestor, many Chinese people often refer themselves as "the descendants of the Dragon" as a sign of ethnic identity. This legend also contributed towards the use of the Chinese dragon as a symbol of imperial power.
The dragon, especially yellow or golden dragons with five claws on each foot, was a symbol for the emperor in many Chinese dynasties. The imperial throne was called the Dragon Throne. During the late Qing Dynasty, the dragon was even adopted as the national flag. The dragon is featured in the carvings on the steps of imperial palaces and tombs, such as the Forbidden City in Beijing.
In Chinese culture today, the Chinese Dragon, or “Long”, symbolizes power and excellence, valiancy and boldness, heroism and perseverance, nobility and divinity. It is mostly used for decorative purposes. Many pictures of oriental dragons show a flaming pearl under their chin. The pearl is associated with wealth, good luck, and prosperity.
A number of Chinese proverbs and idioms also feature references to the dragon, for example: wang zi cheng long, "Hoping one's son will become a dragon" (be as successful and powerful as a dragon).
Learn more about Jade & Chinese Symbolism:
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Dragon
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Phoenix
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Butterfly
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Fish
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Plum Blossom
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Bamboo
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Lotus