The History of Dragons in Chinese Culture

Dragons are some of the most fascinating creatures to come from the human imagination... or did they?

Just kidding, I'll save the whole "Dragons Are Real" thing for another time.

The only thing that's more interesting than these fire-breathing flying lizard dinosaurs is the history behind them, so come with me on this journey down a smoking, steaming rabbit hole of dragons throughout Chinese history. 

The Birth of Dragons

Contrary to popular belief, the Targaryens were not the first to birth dragons. (Sorry, Khaleesi.) 


Although the exact origins of dragons are unknown, the earliest depiction of dragons was around 4,500 - 3,000 B.C. in the excavated sites of the Hognshan culture.

Historians suggest that the concept of a dragon was ancient human civilizations seeing a rainbow in the sky after rainfall. This is backed further by these ancient scripts that dragons would be accompanied by lightning and thunder.

In that time, dragons were described as having the eyes of demons, bellies of sea-monsters, necks of snakes, horns of stags, claws of eagles, feet of tigers, ears of cows, and scales of fish.

 



A more interesting (and plausible) theory of the origin of the dragon mythos was that it was a symbol of combining all of the single characteristics of tribes of a certain area of China into one creature.

For example, one tribe would be of stags, another of eagles, a different of demons, so on so forth. Combining the characteristics of these tribes by taking the strongest attributes of their symbolic animal draws the idea of the dragon.

Unlike modern Western culture where the dragon is typically the villain, ancient Chinese culture revered dragons as a symbol of benevolence & justice. It is from this ideology that dragons became synonymous with Chinese emperors, who sought to exude the characteristics of these mythical flying beasts. 

Abilities & Powers

 

 

Although the abilities of dragons vary throughout history, there are certain, unmistakable attributes that carry across all dragons. I'm not talking about fire-breathing or flying, but surprising traits that you probably wouldn't have known.

One of the major characteristics is luck. It was believed that seeing or encountering a dragon by chance would bring the viewer riches & fortunes beyond their wildest dreams.

Another common yet surprising traits of dragons was intelligence. Along with the tortoise, phoenix, & unicorn, dragons are believed to be some of the most intelligent beings in Chinese culture. Some ancient text even suggests that dragons helped great emperors overcome challenges to their kingdoms.

Finally, dragons were thought to ward off illness & disease. (China could use a couple of dragons right about now.) Many Chinese cultures incorporated certain dances as rituals to eliminate diseases in their villages. 

Dragons & Emperors

 

 

As aforementioned, dragons and emperors were thought to be synonymous.

For some cultures, emperors were thought to be reincarnations of dragons past. This makes sense on a cultural level; the most powerful mythological creature is the same being as the most powerful person.

Many emperors donned silk robes laden with dragon embroidery while sitting on a throne of carved dragons inside of a palace littered with art of Dragons. Pretty metal if you ask me.

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As with the history of aromatherapy, the history of dragons is shrouded in a cloud of smoke, and we are only able to see bits and pieces of what truly was.

Maybe dragons were real, and their fossils and artwork dedicated to them rotted away before we could find them.

Ah, I'm just thinking wishfully... but, what if?

Dan
Author
Incense Falls

P.S. If you're as obsessed with dragons as much as I am, you need our exclusive Eternal Dragon incense burner.

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