Thursday, August 11, 2011

Significance of Dragon in Chinese Culture

             Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. The ancient people believed that dragons were real and possessed supernatural powers. For the Chinese the dragon symbolizes far more than just good fortune. Masculinity, power, success, intelligence, wealth, fertility, happiness and immortality are all attributes of the dragon. It also represents the Emperor, ultimate ruler of China as well as the Chinese nation itself. 

In several Chinese legends, a future Emperor was born with a dragon-shaped birthmark. His destiny was to overthrow the sitting Emperor, and bring forth a new dynasty that would offer the Chinese people a better way of life. The legend of Emperor Huang Di is attributed with the rise of the dragon as a sign of imperial power in China. It is said that Huang Di ascended to Heaven, having been immortalized by his dragon emblem, and many Chinese considered him to be their direct ancestor. 

The Yuan Dynasty was the first to forbid normal citizens from associating themselves with the dragon (Emperor's) symbol. Carvings of dragons adorn the steps leading to many ancient palaces and tombs, most notably, the Forbidden City in Beijing, and it is still taboo to disrespect or disfigure any depiction of a dragon in China. 

Though, the people of China have a long held belief that they are descendants of the dragon, a tradition that is firmly embedded in their culture and one that is encountered across all aspects of Chinese society and in the the daily lives of the ancient Chinese people nobody really knows where the dragon comes from. Archaeological evidence proves that the presence of the dragon in China's culture dates back six thousand years. Dragons can be found depicted in pictures, carvings, coins and at one time, the national flag. They are placed above doors, in gardens and on walls for luck and to ward off evil. Dragons have also been a major influence in fables, songs and major celebrations like Chinese New Years and the Dragon Boat races. 

According to Chinese mythology, dragons looked like snakes and had no wings. Each one of its four short legs had five toes. Even though depicted without wings the Chinese dragon is believed to fly and is usually painted against the clouds and the sun or moon. The dragon looks like a combination of many animals. For the Chinese people, Dragons were described visually as a composite of parts from nine animals: The horns of a deer; the head of a camel; the eyes of a devil; the neck of a snake; the abdomen of a large cockle; the scales of a carp; the claws of an eagle; the paws of a tiger; and the ears of an ox. A dragon’s protruding forehead indicates wisdom and antlers signifies 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. 

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. These include the horned dragon, the winged dragon, the celestial dragon(which supports and protects the mansions of the gods), the spiritual dragon (which generates wind and rain for the benefit of mankind), the dragon of hidden treasures (which keeps guard over concealed wealth), the coiling dragon (which lives in water), and the yellow dragon (which once emerged from water and presented the legendary Emperor Fu Shi with the elements of writing) .The last of the nine is the dragon king, which actually consists of four separate dragons, each of which rules over one of the four seas, those of the east, south, west, and north. 

There are several different kinds of dragon according to color, which may be yellow, blue, black, white or red. Yellow is superior, imperial, a symbol of the centre of the Earth, linked to the spleen and stomach. and so each emperor wore a gown decorated with a yellow dragon pattern. Gold coloured dragons are also special. They have special attributes such as wealth, wisdom, kindness and the ability to face challenges head on.The blues are pure azure. Green represents good fortune, good health, or luck. Red is associated with storms, the South, Summer, the heart and large intestine, fire, passion, activity, and good fortune. Black is associated with storms, the North, winter, vengeance, and worry. White represents the West, Autumn, mourning, and death. 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.

Contrary to popular belief, Chinese dragons did not breathe fire, nor were they thought to be entirely evil beasts. They were viewed as being wise and caring, possessing personalities, and exhibited magical powers. Dragons only turned into beasts if they were angered. 

Today, spectacular dragon dances are still celebrated during Chinese New Year in parades around the world. The parades start on New Year's Day and continue for the next fifteen days until the end of the festivities with the Lantern Festival. It is said that the Dragon Dance performed on New Year's Day scares away the evil spirits and all the bad luck with them.

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  1. This really helped me on this social studies project!! thanks