The Legend of the Chinese Dragon

     The Chinese New Year Dragon has a colorful history. The emblem of guardianship and vigilance, it was consecrated in the earliest religion of the Chinese people.

     In ancient days the dragon was regarded as a most sacred animal, and used to be the imperial emblem of Chinese emperors. It is the first of the four Divine Creatures to Chinese-the others being the unicorn, the phoenix and the tortoise. Unlike the evil dragon the West, the Chinese Dragon is a beneficent and gracious creature and is worshipped as the divine ruler of Lakes, Rivers and Seas. It is the powerful yet gentle ‘Loong" that brings rain to the earth, hasten the crops and cools the toiling framer. It is one of the most popular of Chinese art motifs, being sculptured on stone pillars of Chinese temples and embroidered on beautiful gold and silk tapestries.

     As imagined by the Chinese, the dragon has the head of a camel, the horns of a deer, fiery eyes and a long beard. Its ears are like those of a cow, its paws like the tiger’s and its claws sharp like an eagle’s. Its neck is serpentine; it has the belly of a frog and the scales of a carp. The Dragon first appeared in the sky, legend tells us, while an heir to the throne was born, and the country was blessed with peace and prosperity for many generation thereafter. Thus, the Dragon also served as a symbol of good fortune.

     In parade appearance, the dragon performs its gyrations in pursuits of a costumed figure who holds aloft a pole with a ball on the end called the "Precious Pearl." The creature’s movement and tempo are controlled by this leader who manipulated the "pearl" according to plan, accompanied by drums and gongs.

     According to the Chinese calendar, the dragon is the animal for those who were born this year and every 12 years before or afterwards. The year you were born is believed to influence your personality. Thus, for the dragons, they are soft-hearted, healthy, respected, energetic, and eccentric.

Dragon history by Thomas W. Chinn

Updated: August 28, 2004
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