Chinese Culture

The Origin of Dragons in Chinese Culture

The story of a powerful Chinese creature (and a very disappointed fan).

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The Dragon Dance. Photo by Michael Buillerey on Unsplash

Before we embark on this journey, I’m going to be very honest with you.

I’ll be consulting Google a lot on this topic.

I know a thing or two about the majestic creature but there’s definitely more I need to learn to answer this great question from Jean Carfantan:

What is the origin of the dragons very present in Chinese culture?

Before I ask Google though, I will tell you a few things I do know about dragon and its relation to Chinese culture:

  • It’s one of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs and it’s one of the most powerful among the 12.

My grandma and mother told me that if you are a dragon (zodiac), you will never be able to see ghosts because you have strong qi or energy and ghosts can’t go near people with strong qi and even if they can, you won’t be able to see or feel them. (Thank you for letting me know that ghosts can come near me anytime, Grandma, Mom! Awesome!)

  • According to my parents and grandma, dragon symbolizes prosperity, power and protection.
  • One of Mulan’s best friends is a dragon (in the animated version of the movie).

Hollywood, I love the Phoenix. Incredibly stunning. BUT I WANT MY DRAGON AND CRICKET WHERE’S MY DRAGON AND CRICKET YOU GAVE JASMINE A TIGER WHY MY CHINESE PRINCESS NO HAVE DRAGON?

*deep breath*

Sorry for that. It’s been brewing for a while. Good to finally let it out. (HOLLYWOOD, I’LL BE WAITING).

  • A lot of people know about the Lion Dance, popular during Chinese New Year but there’s also the Dragon Dance, equally popular and a wonderful show to watch.

That’s all.

That’s all I can think of on top of my head.

I know. I am ashamed of myself. I know more about World War 2 than Chinese culture. But hey, never too late to learn.

I’m going to dig a little deeper and share with you what I find.

The Origin

No one is 100% sure when exactly dragons appear in Chinese culture. However, the symbol of the powerful animal has been traced back to as far as 5,000 BC. As early as 3,000 BC, the Chinese would refer to dinosaur bones they excavated as dragon bones.

Hang on. Why can’t it be dragon bones? Maybe it’s not dinosaur. Maybe it is dragons. Why can’t it be dragons?

Okay, carry on.

The word dragon itself originated from the French word dragon, which originated from the Latin word draconem, which means massive serpent.

According to Wikipedia, the Chinese dragon was connected to the Emperor of China and is a symbol of imperial power. Liu Bang, the founder of Han Dynasty was said to be conceived after his mother dreamed of a dragon (Liu Bang claimed this himself).

There’s also a whole different story about the origin of the Chinese dragon. It involves tribes war, the Emperor, a tribe leader whose mother can communicate telepathically with a powerful dragon who ended up helping the dude won the fight.

Wait a minute… Is this… the Chinese Daenerys? Is Daenerys… Chinese? What the heck is going on?

Sorry, carry on.

And so at the end of that other version, the dragon ended up becoming a symbol in a banner.

Here’s the full story if you want to read it:

Ending / Fun Facts

Jean Carfantan, I hope I have answered your question sufficiently.

Dragon is an extremely intricate creature in the Chinese narrative.

A single Medium post wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

There are a lot of stories about the mythical creature — the different elements they could be made of (water, clouds, etc), they’re different legends and myths, the different types of the creature, the whole lot.

I am merely touching the surface.

It will take a whole book to discuss it in depth, and there are actually books dedicated to only the Chinese dragons. Here’s one. Here’s another one.

I’m going to end this post with a few fun facts about the Chinese dragons:

  • Unlike its Western cousins, Chinese dragons do not live on land. They live in water (seas, rivers, lakes).
  • In the olden days, the Emperors of China are regarded as the sons of dragons. Therefore, ordinary people — like you and me — were not allowed to have any items that have pictures of dragons.
  • The animated version of Mulan has a dragon best friend/guardian, which for some reason, is missing from its latest live-action movie.

HOLLYWOOD, WHERE IS THE CHINESE PRINCESS’ DRAGON?

A special thanks to Jean Carfantan for the question that has prompted me to learn a bit more about my own culture. This piece has been fun to write.

This post is a part of my October’s writing challenge:

If you have a burning question(s) you think I can answer (it can be about anything), feel free to pop the question(s) in the comment section below or e-mail me the question(s) at agneslouis3108@gmail.com to join in my October fun.

Thank you for reading and being a part of my journey!

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Writer by heart. Teacher (English, Yoga, Pilates) by trade. Avid reader. World traveller. Model. You can reach me at agneslouis3108@gmail.com.