The Dragon – an Inalienable Part of Chinese Culture & Traditions
Chinese Long Dragon, with the head of a horse (or a camel), an extended serpentine tail and other parts of seven other animals, has traditionally played a very important part in the social and cultural life of the Chinese. In modern China this mythic animal continues to figure prominently in Chinese literature, visual arts (Painting), performing arts (Opera and Dramas), Music, architecture and national festivals. This extensive coverage available to the dragon provides inspiration, motivation, hope and enjoyment to millions of Chinese with different social backgrounds.
The Dragon – an inalienable part of Chinese Culture & Traditions
More than 6000 years after the dragon first emerged in China as a symbol of good fortune and protection against all sorts of evils, and more than a century after the demise of the last Imperial regime, which officially adopted the dragon as the symbol of Imperial power, the Dragon continues to play an important part in the social and cultural life of the Chinese people.
Dragons continue to be accorded a very special place in modern Chinese literature, Music and all forms of art, including painting and Opera. Chinese folklore, in which the dragon figures most prominently, still governs the hearts and minds of the common man and the dragon continues to serve as the symbol of the Chinese race.
Shrines, where the dragon was worshipped and prayers and sacrifices were offered to the dragon, were a common feature in Imperial China. These shrines may not play a significant part in the religious life of the modern Chinese, but there are still a substantial number of people, especially in the rural areas, who believe that remembering the dragon in their prayers could bring them luck and ensure bountiful harvests.
The mythic dragon first appeared as a totem in a 6000-year old grave in Ziyang in the Henan Province of China; in the Bronze Age Civilization, around 1650 BC, figures of dragons were carved on bronze utensils, which were a common item in every household in that period; and around 480 BC, during the so-called Warring States period in China, the dragon was commonly incorporated in the beautiful patterns, which were painted on silk.
However, it was after the consolidation of China into a single State during the rule of the Qin and Han Dynasties (220 BC – 220 AD), that the modern image of the dragon really developed, and this common image spread to all the regions, which form a part of modern China. This common image of the dragon in the form of a composite animal comprising of parts of nine different animals, is presented in the writings of Wang Fu, a well-known scholar of the Han period.
The unified Han State enriched the social and cultural life of the people through a number of festivals and cultural events in which the Dragon was invariably the central character. Dragon Dances and Dragon Parades, which are a prominent event in the social and cultural calendar of modern Chinese, originated in the Han Period. It was also in the Han Period that Dragon Boats and Dragon Boat races first emerged, based on a belief that the dragon exercised control over all forms of water such as rivers, waterfalls, seas and lakes, and could influence the movement of the clouds and timing of the rains.
In the period between 1368 and 1912, China came under the rule of two powerful Imperial Dynasties, the Ming and the Qing. During the rule of these Dynasties the dragon was institutionalized as a symbol of Imperial power and authority. A lot of important monuments such as Imperial Palaces, Imperial Tombs, Temples and Parks were constructed during the Ming and the Qing Periods. The Dragon was always given a very prominent place in the decoration of these monuments.
Dragon Boat at the Summer Palace in Beijing
The Dragon was incorporated in the Chinese Zodiac probably in the Han Period. In the Chinese Zodiac, twelve different animals are assigned to each year in the 12-year cycle; the Dragon is the only mythic creature among these twelve animals. Based on ancient traditions, there is widespread belief in China, that the year in which a child is born determines its personality. Those born in the year of the dragon are thought to be lucky and destined to wield great power, and therefore many parents plan to have a child during this year. Statistics indicate that many more children are born in the year of the Dragon than in any other year.
Over the years the dragon has generated increasing interest among the Chinese people. Chinese astrologers and mythographers have bestowed numerous positive characteristics to the dragon. The dragon has become an embodiment of many attributes, which many Chinese value greatly, and would like to be reflected in their own personality. The dragon has established its place as a symbol of power, immense courage and bravery, super intelligence.
Because of the important part the dragon has played in Chinese culture history and traditions, the Dragon continues to provide inspiration and motivation to a lot of people. It serves as a symbol of hope to people in despair, and as a provider of happiness and enjoyment when it is time to celebrate.