Chinese Dragon —Powerful and Potent
InChina’s legends, dragons dwell in mountains, lakes, rivers, and the sky. Featured in painting, sculpture, and decorative ornament, they have flourished in the world of art, too. Both in legend and in art these popular imaginary creatures often possess symbolic significance.
The dragon’s earliest associations may have been with the stars, designating a group of seven constellations in the Chinese sky. Since these constellations appeared in the east in spring, the dragon came to represent the season as well as its nurturing rains and lengthening, warming days. It also became associated with the sun which brings dawn to the dragon’s quadrant. These relationships invested it with new powers, such as the ability to rise like the sun and fly, and to ensue good harvests. More abstract meanings followed. The rising dragon, for instance, represented vigorous masculinity and promotion in office. Not only representing the abstract dualism, the dragon and the phoenix also serve as emblems of the Chinese emperor and empress. Perhaps because of its existing association with the eastern quad- rant of the sky, the dragon was identified as a directional figure by the time of the early Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 202). Today, most Chinese prefer to be called the “descendants of dragon” (龙的传人)
The dragon’ symbolic associations contributed to its popularity in Asian art. Meaningful representations of the creature have dominated the arts of China for the past 2,000 years. Such archaistic dragons appear most frequently on ritual objects made for altars and ancestral shrines, but later on the dragon images spread to other items from bronze ware s , porcelains, paintings, architecture ornaments, clothing, artifacts, to even boats.
Dragon of various types, conveyed with Chinese culture, also influenced the arts of Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia. Although the creatures flourished in these other lands, they never lost their association with China. Interest in the dragon in Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia was stimulated in large part by the beast’s close identification with China and its numerous symbolic associations there.
The pottery plate unearthed in Taosi Site in Xiangfen County, Shanxi may provide the key to the origin of the Chinese dragon. The curled dragon sticks out a forked tongue, revealing its connection with snake.