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The Luck of the Dragon

Spring 00

Dragons have fascinated cultures since the beginning if recorded history. They exist in every culture from North America to Europe, the Scandinavian countries, Africa, the Middle East, and especially the Asian countries. Although some of the fiercest stories of dragons come from western civilization, the more interesting stories come from eastern cultures, particularly China. Chinese dragons, often referred to as eastern dragons were very different from western dragons. Instead of being feared, horrible monsters, they were often considered good luck and were said to watch over the people. Eastern dragons were considered wise, intelligent, kind, watchful, holy guardians, all good, all noble, very much the opposite of their western cousins.

The legends of Chinese dragons date back as far as 5000 B.C. and tell us that the Chinese are actually descendents of the dragon. The Chinese Goddess Nu Kua was part dragon and part mortal. The dragons that she created could change from dragon to human form at will. They could also change their size, rise to heaven or descend to the bottom of the sea. These creatures were considered the rightful rulers of the earth; and the first phase began of the Emperor being linked with the dragon.

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An early story about China’s most primitive mythical figures Fuxi and Nuwa gives us the foundation for the tradition of the Chinese dragon as the “bringer of the thunderstorms”. This Emperor and his wife, children of Nu Kua were thought to be the initial ancestors of all humankind. Half-human, half-fish, they possessed reptilian bodies and human faces. In the myth, a horse dragon with four hoofed legs and curly hair on its back gave a map of the Yellow river to Emperor Fuxi. The Emperor invented the eight trigrams for divination from this map, thus forming the basis for I’Ching, or the “Oracle Bones of the Shang”. The I’Ching was used to divine various agricultural concerns � when and what to plant and when to harvest or fish. The first trigram is the creative, or the ascending dragon, “the bringer of the thunderstorms”. The I’Ching refers to dragons as the Lung. The Lung was the protector of the Chinese people and could be divided into four classifications.

The Tein-Lung was the celestial dragon or the dragon of the heavens and protected the place of the Gods and Emperors. The Shen-Lung was the spiritual dragon and controlled the weather, winds and the rains. The Ti-Lung was the earth dragon and controlled the rivers and the waters of the earth. FutOs-Lung was the underworld, or treasure dragon and guarded precious gems and metals. In a myth from the Hsia Dynasty, Emperor Yu called upon the spirit of the divine Lung to dredge a river with his tail to drain the water off flooded farmlands and save the country’s people. The spiritual overseer of water, the dragon was also vested with the power to conjure clouds and rain.

The Chinese believed that their Emperors were actually dragons and the sons of heaven. This belief by the people gave the Emperor spiritual justification for exercising imperial prerogative and absolute power. In 06 B.C., Lui Bang overthrew the Qin Dynasty and formed the Han Dynasty. Due to his humble lineage, a story was created about his birth being the result of his mother’s affair with a red dragon in her dream. It was said that when Liu Bang was intoxicated he could not refrain from transforming back into a dragon. Emperors and dragons were considered one as OSON of HEAVENO and ruled by divine right mandated by heaven. The dragon, revered as the spirit who brings eternal changes and guards the flaming pearl of spiritual perfection, brought power to anyone that could trace his heritage to the creature.

Once the dragon image had become the sole province of the Emperor, all articles for his daily use were emblazoned with the Chinese character for dragon including dragon robes and the dragon throne. The Emperor’s face was also referred to as the “dragon visage”. It became law that only the Emperor could display a five-clawed Imperial Dragon. It was usually a yellow dragon, thought to be superior to all other colored dragons. If someone other than the Emperor was caught wearing the symbol of the five-clawed dragon, they were instantly put to death.

Many festivals were dedicated to the dragon. Either to praise the dragons for a good harvest or to ask for a good planting season, the Chinese felt that everything that was good or bad in their life was because of the dragons. Temples and shrines were built to honor them. Wearing dragon jewelry, having dragon artwork, or adorning your home with dragon emblems was thought to be protective and give good luck always. The Dragon appears more frequently in Chinese architecture than any other animal. Widely used for decorative design, the dragon image could take on a variety of different appearances. Variations abound on rooftop ornamentation, pillars, balustrades, window lattices, and door shutters. A wide variety of decorative items such as candles and lamps, furniture, household utensils, vessels, lacquer ware, and works of bronze and jade can be found featuring dragons.

The dragon is often seen with parts of its body obscured by clouds. This reflects both the dragon’s ever-changing image and its unpredictable nature. The dragon was the guardian of the flaming pearl of spiritual perfection. The fact that only part of it could be seen at any given time shows the belief that knowledge is only in part and cannot be completely comprehended.

In physical appearance, the eastern dragon was significantly different from its western counterparts. Chinese dragons had four short legs, long snakelike bodies and for the majority of their lives, no wings. Nevertheless they were able to fly, some say because they could tap into the earths magnetic force, and thereby be carried anywhere in the world. Chinese dragons had five toes, Korean dragons had four toes, and Japanese dragons had only three toes. All three nations believed that the dragon originated in their country. All three nations also agreed that when in Japan, dragons had three toes, and as they moved toward China, they gained toes, or as they moved away, they lost toes. Their heads could be that of a camel, carp, cow, or horse and they usually boasted either horns like a deer or the whiskers of a feline. They generally had claws like an eagle but the paws of a panther. The main characteristic that stayed true in all of the myths was the presence of a pearl, generally referred to as the pearl of enlightenment or the pearl of wisdom. Their size could vary from as small as a silk worm to as large as a mountain.

One of the more interesting dragon myths of China is that of the nine sons’. According to legend, the dragon had nine sons, and each of them had a distinct personality. This could be why the dragon has so many different likenesses. The first son, Hoaxian, was reckless and adventurous. His image can generally be found decorating the eaves of the palaces. The second son, Yazi, was valiant and bellicose his image is seen on sword-hilts and knife hilts. The third son, Chiwen, liked to gaze into the distance and his appearance is often found carved on pinnacles. The fourth son, Baxia, was a good swimmer and his image decorated bridge piers and archways. The fifth son, Pulao was very found of roaring and his figure was carved into bells. The sixth son, Bixi, was an excellent pack mule and his image appears on panniers. The seventh son, Qiuniu, loved music and his figure is a common decoration on the bridge of stringed musical instruments. The eighth son, Suanmi, was fond of smoke and fire; his likeness could be found on incense burners. The ninth and final son, Jiaotu, was as tightlipped as a mussel or a snail. His image is often found carved on doors.

In conclusion, everything connected with eastern dragons is blessed. Starting with its ancient myths of creation to it appearance in elaborate architecture. The dragon is not something feared in China, but something revered, for its beauty and grace, as well as its strength and purpose.

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