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Chinese Dragon

Chinese Dragon


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Chinese Dragon Introduction

The people of China have a long held belief that they are descendents 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 minds of its people. Whereas in western cultures dragons are usually regarded as a symbol of malevolence, in China the dragon is held in high esteem for its dignity and power for good.

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.

The image of the dragon has undergone a series of changes over the centuries becoming more and more mighty and beautiful. The original illustration on primitive bronze ware portrays it as ferocious and mysterious; in the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220), it became magnificent and unrestrained; while during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), it was personalized as gentle, tamed and graceful. From the Song Dynasty onwards (960 - 1279), the design became delicate and flowery. 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 dragon 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.

The most vibrant and spectacular way of expressing fondness for the dragon is the dragon dance. This has evolved from what was a ritual rain dance into a popular entertainment performed during the period from Spring Festival until the Lantern Festival. The second day of the second lunar month is the Han people's special time - 'Dragon Heads-raising Day'. People could not tonsure their hair from the start of the lunar New Year until then. The activities for celebration are still for a good rain. Other big festivals related to the dragon include the Dragon Boat Festival and those of ethnic groups like Zhuang, Yao, Hani, and so on.

Nine Sons of the Dragon

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.

The fourth son, resembling a spiral shell bears a likeness to a closed mouth and would be carved or painted on doors as its closed form symbolized safety.

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 of the dragon.

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 of the dragon. 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.


Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

Chinese New Year, the Mid-Fall Moon Festival and the Dragon Boat Day are three major festivals in China. The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Chinese call this day as Duan-Wu . Duan means beginning. Wu means Horse month in Chinese calendar. The Horse month usually begins on June 5th or June 6th in the Gregorian calendar. That means Dragon Boat Festival should be held in June, unless that year has Leap Month in the Chinese lunar calendar.

The Sad Story

ChineseDragon1In China, the Dragon Boat Festival memorializes the Chinese patriotic poet Chiu Yuan (340 BC-278 BC or 343-290 B.C.), who committed suicide by jumping into the river after tying himself with big rock on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month.

Chiu Yuan was the number one advisor of the kingdom of Chu . But people were jealous his position and said lots of bad words on his back. The king wouldn't take his advice in the end and was killed by the enemy of neighbor kingdom. The new king continued to enjoy the luxury life and didn't like Chiu Yuan either. Later, Chiu Yuan was exiled. He wrote many patriotic poem after then.

Chiu Yuan met a fisherman, who never cared about the country and quite satisfied his life. Chiu Yuan thought that the king wouldn't run the country, people only cared about themselves, nobody cared the future of the country and to live is meaningless. So he killed himself by drowning himself in the river. Many fishermen tried to rescue him, but the body is never found. Fishermen worried about fish would eat his body. So they threw food into the river to feed the fish. Plus, they tried to scare fish away by splashing the water with their paddles and beating the drums on the long narrow boats.

Then the dragon was added into the story. Fishermen believed there was a water-dragon under the river. One man poured down a big jar of strong yellow wine (made of rice). Later, a drunken dragon-like fish floated on the river. One piece of Chiu Yuan's clothing was found in-between the whisker of the water-dragon.

The Dragon Boat

ChineseDragon2The custom of Dragon Boat Race might begin from the southern China. They selected the 5rh lunar day of the 5th lunar month as the totem ceremony. The dragon was the main symbol on the totem, because Chinese thought they were son of dragon. They also made dragon-like canoe. Later, Chinese connected this custom with Duan-Wu festival. Since this was the event only in the southern China. This might be why Dragon Boat Race doesn't that popular in entire China today. But we can see yearly Dragon Boat Race events in Honk Hong and Taiwan. The picture shows a person lies on the top of dragon head of the boat to prepare to catch the flag of target to win the race.

Now, the Dragon Boat Race becomes an international event. This sport is popular in USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, Taiwan, Honk Hong, Singapore etc. Some organization's events aren't held around the Dragon Boat Festival. Some are in July, August or September. You n

The Delicious Food

ChineseDragon3One saying the fishermen threw bamboo-food into the river for Chiu Yuan. The fishermen kept the custom on on the 5th day of 5th lunar month every year. Until Late Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), one outsider came and acclaimed fisherman's behavior, but recommended to wrap the food with leaves and tie with color silky rope, which can scare fish away. So the Chiu Yuan can unwrap the leaves to eat the food.

Obviously, the Zong-zi, which Chinese eat on the the Dragon Boat Day period, is like the food for Chiu Yuan. Zong-zi is make of steamed glutinous sweet rice mixing with meat and condiment wrapped in the bamboo leaves. There are salty, sweet, hot or cold different variety of Zong-Zi today. You can find Zong-Zi in Chinese restaurants providing Dim-Sum lunch or same Chinese diners in Chinese communities in USA.

The Standup Egg

ChineseDragon4The Dragon Boat Day is usually in June, which is Horse month. Horse hour in astrology is from 11:00 AM to 13:00 PM. They said that you will be lucky for the coming year if you can make an egg standing up during Horse hour on the Dragon Boat Day. Parents like to let their children to try to make the egg standing up on the Dragon Boat Day. Certainly, the standing up egg competition will be held at noon in many places. They said that it's will be easier to make a standing up egg at noon. Many try to cheat on the ground, eggshell or inside egg to in order to win the competition.

People had looked for the scientific explanation. The egg can standup easily is because the Dragon Boat Day is close to the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year. The summer solstice occurs when the Earth's axis tilts the most toward the sun, causing the sun to be farthest north at noon. Sun reaches to the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere on the day of summer solstice. Before sun travels back to the southern hemisphere, it seems as if the sun stands still. When the gravitation between sun and earth are pulled each other to the most, an egg can stand up easier.

Actually, the Dragon Boat Day is not close to the summer solstice every year. Because the lunar leap months, the Dragon Boat Day usually is close to summer solstice every three years.

Year Summer Solstice Dragon Boat Day
2004 6/21/2004 6/22/2004
2005 6/21/2005 6/11/2005
2006 6/21/2006 5/31/2006 (Leap Month)
2007 6/23/2007 6/19/2007
2008 6/21/2008 6/08/2008
2009 6/21/2009 6/27/2009 (Leap Month)
2010 6/21/2010 6/16/2010
The Auspicious Leaves

ChineseDragon5The 5th lunar month is marked as "Poison" month in Chinese Farmer's Calendar. This is because the gem, insect, fly, mosquito, and pest are active in this summer month and people is easy to catch infectious disease. On the Dragon Boat Day, Chinese put the leaves of Acorus and Artemisia on the doors or windows to repel insect, fly, flea and moth away from the house. Those leaves have anti-poison function and can prevent an epidemic.

The leaves of Acorus are linear, sword-like, glossy, evergreen and lush. Artemisia belongs to daisy family with fern-like leaves.

In Tan Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), Rebel Huang scouted the target village and prepared the next attack in 5th lunar month. He saw a woman carrying a boy in her one arm and holding the another boy's hand was running. Rebel Huang asked her why running. She said, "We heard Bandit Huang is coming, we need to run for our lives." Huang asked again, "Why carrying one in the arm, but holding another with hand?". The woman said, "The one in the arm is the only son of my husband's elder brother. The other one is my son. In case, I cannot run quickly enough, I will drop my son and save my husband brother son." Rebel Huang was very touching, then told her that "Go home quickly and put Acorus and Artemisia on your door, then rebel forces won't hurt your family." She returned to the village and told some people. On the 5th day of 5th lunar month, Rebel Huang's forces entered the village, all the families with Acorus and Artemisia on the door were safe. The custom keeps since then.

The Incense Bag

ChineseDragon6Many contagious disease and plague had found in the 5th lunar month in the Chinese history. Besides putting the Acorus and Artemisia on the doors or windows, Chinese make the incense bag and hang on the neck to prevent from contagious disease and keep evil spirit away.

The incense bag are made by hand. Chinese put the powder of Acorus and Artemisia with some other fragrance stuff into different kind of sewing bags. Therefore the incense bag can prevent an epidemic as the leaves of Acorus and Artemisia. The popular incense bags was 12 horoscope animals. Today, we can find many different auspicious symbols, many other animals, fish, flower, bird, even the cartoon characters. Long time ago, Chinese women liked to make incense bag for children.

The Inauspicious Day

The 5th lunar month is a bad month. The 5th day of the month is an inauspicious day, because many famous people died on this day in Chinese history. One customary book recorded, "if a baby's born on this day, baby boy brings bad luck to dad and baby girl brings bad luck to mom." It happened that parent killed the baby born on this day before.

One famous tragedy story about the 5th day of 5th lunar month happened in Han Dynasty. A 14-yar old girl Tsao Er's father were drowned in the river. The girl cried along the river and looked for her father for 17 days. On the first day of 5th lunar month, the girl jumped into the river. On the 5th day of 5th lunar month, people found the girl's body and her father's body holding together and floating on the river. People were very touching and prayed for them.

The Wine and Water

They said that you will become healthier to drink the spring water from the well on the Dragon Boat Day during Horse hour (11.00 AM to 13.00 PM). The story is from late Ming dynasty. A general brought his troop to the hill and couldn't find the water for days. He prayed to the heaven, then struck his sword into the ground and the water spurted out on the 5th day of 5th lunar month at noon.

Once Chinese drank Strong Yellow Wine to clean up the gem in the body on the Dragon Boat Day. The Strong Yellow Wine is made of rice. It's a tonic wine and not good for children. Therefore adult just wipe the children forehead with the Strong Yellow Wine. They believe that will make children healthier and won't catch the 5th lunar month disease.

Date of Chinese Dragon Boat Festival
The 5th day of the 5th lunar month
Year Summer Solstice Dragon Boat Day Dragon Boat Day
2009 5/28/2009 5/28/2009 5/28/2009
2010 6/16/2010 6/16/2010 6/16/2010
2011 6/6/2011 6/5/2011 6/5/2011
2012 6/23/2012 6/23/2012 6/23/2012
2013 6/12/2013 6/12/2013 6/12/2013
2014 6/2/2014 6/1/2014 6/1/2014
2015 6/20/2015 6/20/2015 6/20/2015