Beihai Park, Beijing
Chinese Dragon Photos
From primitive times people have regarded the dragon as an auspicious creature with the power to bless and influence their lives. As tribes fought for domination and came to be united under a common banner the dragon was adopted as a national icon. Such was the mysterious creature's power it was regarded as the god of rain, thunder, the rainbow, and the stars. In a society that was founded upon agriculture and animal husbandry totally reliant upon its natural environment and in particular the climate, the dragon was worshipped as the source of all that was beneficial to communal well being. This concept has been sustained for thousands of years as more and more deification was bestowed upon the dragon ranging from being a bringer of joy to prophecy and miracles. With the establishment of a feudal society, emperors compared themselves to the dragon thereby making it the exclusive symbol of imperial majesty. Anyone who subsequently used the dragon as a symbol either intentionally or erroneously could be regarded as offending their ruler and condemned to death.
A dragon-shaped lantern
There are several different kinds of dragon according to color, which may be yellow, blue, black, white or red. Of these the most highly revered was the yellow one and so each emperor wore a gown decorated with a yellow dragon pattern.
Although there are differences in appearance, the basics are similar. This is because it is a combination of the features of animals with which people were familiar. A dragon has a protruding forehead indicating wisdom and antlers signifying longevity. Its ox's ears denote success in the imperial examination; it has tiger's eyes as a sign of power; eagle's claws showing bravery; while a fish's tail implies flexibility and the horse's teeth are a mark of diligence and so on.
Nine Sons of the Dragon - Culture Mirror
It was said that the dragon had nine sons, each of whom was endowed with a unique supernatural power. These appear in many aspects of art as well as forming part of daily life.
The eldest son appeared as a tortoise, a creature capable of bearing very heavy stone steles. Tortoise statues were erected in ancient temples and courtyards, as people believed that to touch them could bring good luck.
The second son was like a tiger, powerful especially in the courts of justice and its likeness was engraved on the doors of jails to add stateliness.
The third son was just like a lizard but one without a tail. It was thought to forage in dangerous places with the ability to swallow fire. The roofs of palaces were adorned with such dragons as a protection against fire.
Dragon figures on eaves of ancient building
The fifth son had a great love of music and it is depicted as a yellow dragon upon musical instruments such as the Hu Qin of the Han People, Yue Qin of the Yi ethnic group, and tri-chord qin of the Bai ethnic group.
The sixth son was similar to but smaller than its father. It feared cetaceous creatures such as dolphins or whales and upon seeing a cetacean, it would shout loudly in fear. Thus it became a tradition for people put its likeness on clocks with a carved wooden cetacean as the bell-striker in order to increase the sonority of the toll.
The seventh son appeared like a wolf and people who were greedy would be called 'Tao Tie' which was the name of this son.
The eighth son was like a lion with a propensity to sit and enjoy the aroma of joss sticks. This was introduced into the imagery of Chinese Buddhism and would be depicted on Buddha thrones and incense burners.
The ninth son bore a likeness to a jackal with its taste for killing, thus it often appeared on sword scabbards. Another tradition says that 'Pixiu', a fierce but auspicious beast, was the ninth son. It had a dragon's head, horse's body, kylin's feet, a long beard and wings but no anus, which was its most distinctive feature and symbolized the bringing and accumulation wealth. In the art of Feng Shui, it also functioned to exorcise undesirable influences. For this reason hosts would have a statue of 'Pixiu' on certain furniture; it was believed that Pixiu made of jade were the most effective for such purposes.
Other Auspicious Animals - Phoenix, Tortoise, and Kylin
A bronze kylin
The phoenix is splendid and regarded as the king of birds. Usually it paired with the dragon and in wedding celebrations it is a wish for a harmonious marriage for the new couple. Once the dragon became a totem of the emperor, the phoenix was accorded a similar significance to empresses. For generations, people have named food, musical instruments, and even girls with the Chinese character 'Feng' (phoenix), in the expectation that they are as splendid as the phoenix.
The kylin has a compound appearance with dragon's head, antlers, horse's hoofs, an oxtail, wolf's forehead and a colorful scute. It is lively, intelligent, and gentle, but valorous to ward off devils. It is the custom in some regions for people to believe that the kylin will give them a son. So a common theme in paper-cut works and paintings is for this mythical beast to be shown carrying a plump baby.