Chinese Dragon - Meaning, Symbols, and Important Types

Written by Sally Guo Updated May. 26, 2022

In sharp contrast to Western ideas about dragons, the Chinese dragons are beneficent creatures, the bringer of fertilizing rains. The spiritual meaning of Chinese dragons is strength, good luck, and awe-inspiring power. It has long been the symbol of the emperor.

The Chinese dragon is a long, serpentine-like, and legendary creature, its figurines appear everywhere in China: temples, architecture, stone status, museums, books and movies, art galleries, and many artworks.

Interesting Facts About Chinese Dragon

dragon and a phoenix
The dragon and a phoenix

The Origins of Chinese Dragon

It is difficult to determine how the myth of the dragon in China built up itself. The most popular legends about the origin of Chinese dragons in the folklores:

Legend 1: Ancient tribe totem. The Yellow Emperor, widely known as Huangdi, was an ancient tribe leader who conquered neighboring tribes in the Yellow River Valley and united the country. He union several different tribes' totems into his own dragon totem, such as the snake and fish, used as a symbol of the power of the emperor.

Legend 2: Worship the power of nature. Ancient Chinese live in agriculture, and rain and water played an important role in people’s life. They believed a mysterious creature with ultimate power ruled heaven, the imaginative figurine of the dragon has been gradually created as agricultural numen, representing the rain, lightning, and thunder.

Legend 3:  Another hypothesis implies that the Chinese dragon would have been inspired by the marine crocodile, the bigger reptile living today. Crocodiles were moreover in ancient times perceived as a variety of dragons.

The Earliest Dragon Image Found in China Can be Dated Back to 8000 Years Ago

What reality the dragon was first invented is unknown. A piled stone dragon has been excavated at the Xinglongwa Culture relic in Inner Mongolia in 1994, recognized as the earliest dragon figurine in China. The ruins of the early stages of the Neolithic Age can be dated back to 8000 years ago.

dragon robe
The pattern on the dragon robe

What Do the Chinese Dragon Symbolize?

Agriculture life - In ancient times, Chinese dragons are referred to as the divine mythical creature that brings with good harvest, prosperity, and good fortune.

Imperial Authority - In the feudalist society, Chinese emperors think they are real dragons and the son of heaven. The dragon has represented the supreme power and authority of the imperial emperor.

Descendants of Dragons – In modern China, the dragon is a symbol of unity, bravery, and wisdom that appears in various cultural activities and festivals; the descendants of dragons (Lung Tik Chuan Ren) are used as an expression of ethnic identity for Chinese people.

dragon lantern
Dragon Lantern at Chinese Lantern Festival

Types of Chinese Dragon

According to Chinese mythology, there are many types of dragons with different characters:

screen of nine dragons
The Nine Dragon Screen in the Forbidden City

The Nine Sons of the Chinese Dragon – Names, Physical Character

The dragon has nine sons is a popular story in Chinese mythology, they are various endowed with unique merits, but none of them looks like a dragon. In traditional Chinese culture, the number of nine means the supreme authority of the emperor.

dragon on top of bell
The son of dragon - Pulao on top of a bell

Western Dragon VS Chinese Dragon

In the western countries, dragons use to be depicted as evil, dangerous monsters, they appear as fire-breathing dragons or keepers of treasures in most Western stories.

Unlike the negative energies associated with Western Dragons, most Eastern Dragons are beautiful, friendly, and wise. They are the Angels of the East, considered symbols of vibrant energy, and are a favorite among the public.

Dragons in Chinese Culture – Festivals and Architecture

Even though dragons are mythological creatures, the Chinese still pay tribute to the dragon, and images of the dragon can be seen in Chinese art and architecture.

Events honoring the dragon can also be seen today during the celebration of the Dragon Dance.

The Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance was originally used as a ceremonial dance to please the Dragon King to help bring rain to the fields and bless a good harvest. Nowadays, the Dragon Dance has become a popular form of entertainment.

The dragon can range in length from 9 meters (30 feet) to 20 meters (66 feet), at least ten men hold poles to raise and lower the dragon, they are usually wearing dragon costumes with long pants. The head of the Dragon must be able to coordinate with the body movement and stamp to the beat of the drum.

The dragon dance used to perform during Chinses New Year, Lantern Festival (lunar January 15th), and Dragon Boat Festival.

dragon dance
Chinese dragon dance performance

The Dragon Boat Festival

People hold dragon boats racing at this festival.  The boats measure more than 10 meters and have ornately carved and painted dragon heads and tails.

dragon boats racing
Dragon boats racing

Chinses Dragon in Ancient Architectures

The dragon decoration used on the roof of Chinese architecture can be dated back to Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD). It is generally related to imperial power and royalty. In feudal China, the royal hierarchy strictly followed the principle of, the dragon pattern only used in the imperial palace and imperial mausoleum.

In the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs in Beijing, visitors can see the image of the dragon everywhere in forms of sculpture arts and paintings.

sons of dragon
The sons of the dragon were placed at the corner of the roof in Forbidden City

The Chinese Zodiac Dragon

The Chinese Dragon ranks 5th of the 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The Chinese say that the animal ruling the year you were born will influence your life. The Chinese Dragon is one of the most powerful representations.

Due to the fact, the Dragon has probably the largest category of traits and characteristics that bring fortune, luck, and power to the person born in this period.

Dragon's Compatibility

Chinese Dragon Movies

The movies about this fictional creature to be found on the big screen, here are the movies about the Chinese Dragon you have to watch: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, 2008《木乃伊3:龙帝之墓》; The Dragon Pearl《寻龙夺宝》, 2011; Chasing the Dragon Chinese 《追龙》, 2017; The Dragon Strikes Back 《龙族的反击》, 2018.

Tours Related to Chinese Dragon

Many tourist sites and temples in China are easy to find patterns or sculptures of dragons. Some temples were dedicated to burning incense to worship the dragons, to catch their benevolence.

Take those tours to explore the Chinese dragon culture:

Back to Chinese Culture.

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