The Chinese dragon (龍; pinyin: long2; Cantonese: loong; Hokkien: leng) is a mythical creature. Long a potent symbol of auspicious power in Chinese folklore and art, it is the embodiment of the concept of yang and associated with the weather and water as the bringer of rain.
The dragon is sometimes in the West viewed as a national emblem of China. However, this usage within both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan is extremely rare, both because the dragon has monarchist connotations which run counter to recent Chinese ideologies and because the dragon has aggressive, warlike connotations which Chinese governments dislike. It is for the latter reason that the giant panda is far more often used within China as a national emblem than the Chinese dragon.
Legend of the Yellow Emperor
Some scholars report that the Huang Di (Yellow Emperor) used a snake for his coat of arms. Every time he conquered another tribe, he incorporated his defeated enemy's emblem into his own. Huang Di was immortalized into a dragon that looks like his emblem. That explains why the Chinese dragon has a body of a snake; the scales and tail of a fish; the antlers of a deer; the face of a qilin (a deer-like mythical creature with fire all over its body); and two pairs of talons of eagles; and the eyes of a demon. They fly in the sky among the clouds. Almost all pictures of Chinese dragons show them playing with a flaming pearl. Supposedly it is the pearl that gives them their power and allows them to ascend to heaven. Chinese dragons are occasionally depicted with bat-like wings grown out of the front limbs, but most do not have wings.
Also, since the Chinese consider Huang Di as their ancestor, they sometimes refer themselves as "the descendants of the dragons".
Legend of the carp
Another legend says that the carps able to leap over the Dragon Gate would become dragons. Several waterfalls and cataracts in China are believed to be the location of the Dragon Gate. This legend is an allegory of the drive and efforts needed to overcome obstacles.
Chinese or Korean Imperial dragons have five toes on each foot; Indonesian dragons have four and Japanese dragons have three. To explain this phenomenon, Chinese legend states that although dragons originated in China, the further away from China a dragon went the fewer toes it had, and dragons only exist in China, Korea, Indonesia, and Japan because if they travelled further they would have no toes to continue. Japanese legend has an opposing story, namely that dragons originated in Japan, and the further they travelled the more toes they grew and as a result if they went too far they would have too many toes to continue to walk properly. These theories are rejected in Korea and Indonesia.
Another interpretation: according to several sources, including historical official documents, ordinary Chinese dragons had four toes - but the Imperial Dragon had five. It was a capital offense for anyone other than the emperor to use the five-clawed dragon motif. Korean sources seem to disagree with this theory, as the Imperial dragon in Gyeongbok Palace has seven claws, implying its superiority over the Chinese Dragon.
The number nine is considered lucky in China and Chinese dragons are frequently connected with it. For example, a Chinese dragon is normally described in terms of nine attributes and usually has 117 scales - 81 (9x9) male and 36 (9x4) female.
It is also said that the Dragon has nine children, all mythical creatures. Sculptures of these creatures can often be found on ancient relics and buildings. The first son is called bixi (贔屭 pinyin: bi4xi4), looks like a giant land turtle, and can be seen sometimes in carved stone base of tablets. The second son is called chiwen (螭吻 pinyin chǐwěn), looks like a beast, and is always found at the roof. The third son is called pulao (蒲牢 pinyin pǔláo), looks like a small dragon, and likes to roar - thus it is always found on bells. The fourth son is called bi'an (狴犴 pinyin bìàn), looks like a tiger, and is so powerful that it can be found in prisons. The fifth son is called taotie (饕餮 pinyin tāotiè), loves to eat, and is always found on ancient bronze. The sixth son is called gongfu (蚣蝮 pinyin gong1fu4 or bāxià), likes to be in water, and is found on bridges. The seventh son is called yaizi (睚眥 pinyin yázī) and likes to kill. The eighth son is called suanni (狻猊 pinyin suānní) and looks like a tiger. The youngest is called jiaotu (椒圖 pinyin jiao1tu2) and looks like a palm.
The dragon is one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac which is used to designate years in the Chinese calendar. It is thought that each animal is associated with certain personality traits. (see Dragon (Zodiac)).
Symbol of the emperor
The dragon 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. It was a capital offense for commoners to wear clothes with a dragon symbol.
In some Chinese legends, an emperor might be born with a birthmark in the shape of a dragon. For example, one legend might tell the tale of a peasant born with a dragon birthmark who eventually overthrows the existing dynasty and founds a new one; another legend might tell of the prince in hiding from his enemies who is identified by his dragon birthmark.
The empress was often identified with the phoenix.
Rulers of the seas
The dragons are believed to be the rulers of the seas. They can show themselves as water spouts (tornado or twister over water).
There are four dragons, one representing each sea. For instance the Dragon King of the East, Dragon King of the West, and so forth.
Nine Classical types
Tianlong (天龍), The Celestial Dragon
Shenlong (神龍), the Spiritual Dragon
Fucanglong (伏藏龍), the Dragon of Hidden Treasures
Dilong (地龍), the Underground Dragon
Yinglong (應龍), the Winged Dragon
- Qiulong (虯龍), the Horned Dragon
Panlong (蟠龍), the Coiling Dragon: inhabits the waters
Huanglong (黃龍), Yellow Dragon, which emerged from the River Luo to show Fuxi the elements of writing
Dragon King (龍王)
Besides there are the 9 Dragon children and two other (inferior) dragon species, the jiao and the li, both hornless.