Chi­nese Dragon —Pow­er­ful and Po­tent

China Scenic - - IDIOMS - By Cheng Long Pho­to­graph by Cap­i­tal Mu­seum

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.

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