Chinese Dragons: The Mythology & the Art It Spawned


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Chinese dragons are based on mythology that goes back thousands of years. In European mythology the dragon has a negative connotation, but in the Chinese culture dragons are benevolent creatures that possess power, wisdom, and the ability to bring good luck. The imperial dragon, the lung, is one of the most common types. Dragons represented emperors in the imperial age, and were believed to have divine powers. Dragons are associated with water, perhaps reflecting the way that the ancient Chinese viewed alligators during a flood. In Chinese art dragons are beautifully depicted in vivid colors. One of the most ancient forms of dragon art in China is jade sculpturing, some of which date back 5,000 years, including a statute that is 26 cm long. Chinese dragon are still depicted in art, and the dragon is continues to be revered as a creature that brings prosperity and abundance, and the ultimate symbol of good luck. The Chinese today believe that the dragon is an extinct animal. Some experts believe that the dragon mythology stems from how the ancient Chinese viewed the alligators during a flood season. Considering that dragons are associated with water, it is a likely theory.

The imperial dragon, called lung, is part of four animals considered to have spiritual power: the phoenix, unicorn, and tortoise. The dragon is the foremost of the four animals, and is considered to have wisdom and power. It represented the emperors of China, who themselves were called dragons. Lung is believed to have evolved from the Indian dragonlike nagas, which were snakes with human faces that lived in subterranean water.

Chinese dragon art

In Chinese art, the dragon is depicted in various vivid colors. However, the chiao type has a green stripe on its back, yellow sides, and a red belly. The lung type is either green or gold, with short and long spines on its back and tail.

Lung dragons have nine main characteristics: a camel-like head, deer-like horns, hare-like eyes, bull-like ears, iguana-like neck, frog-like belly, carp-like scales, tiger-like paws, and eagle-like claws. It also has large canine-like teeth on the upper part of its jaw, and long whiskers (probably believed to be used for moving at the bottom of muddy water).

To Westerners, the dragon is usually associated as a symbol of present day China, but the People’s Republic of China does not use it as a symbol because of its association with past emperors, and imperial China. Still, dragons are beloved by Chinese, and depicted in art in vivid reds, jade greens, golden yellows, and bright blues. A sight to behold, dragon artwork is a form of art that can brighten any room.

Ancient Jade Dragon Sculptures

In ancient China, part of dragon artwork consisted of jade sculptures. The jade that was used is called nephrite, and was used for 9,000 years, beginning with the late Neolithic age (around 4,000 B. C. ). Jade is very hard and grainy. It must be carved slowly by using an abrasive (sand). It is not known exactly how ancient Chinese jade sculptures were carved because none of the instruments have been recovered. However, by looking at the holes and grooves in the sculptures that have been found, it was likely done by a method various methods of drilling, such as boring (drilling with a wooden head and bamboo stick).

Jade dragon sculptures were found in the modern day Liaoning Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where the Hongshan culture lived during the Neolithic Age. Archaeologists discovered over 20 jade dragons with heads like a bear. The Hongshan culture worshipped bears.

Archaeologists in 2003 found a jade dragon sculpture in Niuheliang (in the Liaoning Province) done by the Hongshan. It was not the first but fourth one to be found at the site, but it is the oldest. The dragon sculpture is 26 cm. high, and has prominent nostrils that are tilted up. It has a neck with a long mane, a tail curling up, a mouth that is closed, and a long muzzle. The jade dragon sculpture is believed to be the oldest one ever found, according to an archaeologist from Peking University.

Jade dragon sculptures from other cultures, such as the Liangzhu culture, have been found. The Liangzhu people lived 4,000 to 5,300 years ago along the lower part of the Yangtze River, in present day Jiangsu, Zheijiang, and Shanghai. In 1936 jade artifacts were discovered, including dragon sculptures.

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