If you look up Chinese dragon, do you know the first thing that pops up? Menus. Many, many Chinese menus. And trust me, I love Chinese food! But I’m pretty sure there aren’t real dragons being sautéed with garlic and broccoli in all those woks. But it does show the prevalence and the importance of this great mythological beast.
One of the earliest mentions of the Chinese dragon originates with their creation myth. After a massive flood, Fu Xi and his sister, Nuwa, were the only survivors. They went to the mythical mountain of Kunlun and prayed to the Divine Being. The Divine Being blessed them. They married then set about populating the earth. In order to speed things along, they formed people out of clay and then made them live with the power entrusted to them by the Divine Being (www.nouahsark.com). Where are the dragons in this story, you might ask? Fu Xi and Nuwa are most often depicted with human torsos and heads, but with the bodies of dragons (though sometimes Nuwa is part fish or part snake…so, Medusa’s cousin or a mermaid?) (www.britanica.com). Many Chinese people today still consider themselves descendants of the dragons (www.chinahighlights.com).
Since then, the Chinese dragon has seen some evolution. It is now considered the compilation of several animals—the head of a dog, the body of a serpent, the talons of an eagle (www.culturachina.net). However, its place in Chinese society has remained steady over vast centuries. It was considered the national symbol of China until a more recent move by the Communist party moved away from Imperialism and instituted the Giant Panda as China’s national symbol.
Chinese dragons often fly, are givers of wisdom, and bringers of rain (which is pretty important when the livelihood of many depended on rice pads in ages past). But did these great beasts actually exist? Could they be the creation of a discovery of a giant serpentine creature? Check out the Titanoboa remains out of South America for comparison.
For years, Chinese apothecaries have ground up the bones of dragons and sold them as cures for a variety of ailments. Even today, you can go in and order some dragon capsules to calm your angry bowls or to calm your shen (spirit) (www.acupuncturetoday.com). Obviously, these bones come from somewhere, right?
These “dragon bones” are literally the fossilized bones of long-dead animals. We’re all familiar with dinosaur bones. It stands to reason that before the term “dinosaur” was coined, dragons were simply the giant fossilized remains of what we now call dinosaurs.
I find it particularly interesting that in so many different cultures, dragons were (or are!) a serious force to be reckoned with—both good and bad. Sometimes both. The Chinese have dragons in their creation story. European history is peppered with valiant knights slaying marauding dragons. Is it just coincidence or the discovery of fossilized remains that have fueled ALL of these vast dragon myths? What if people and dragons really did live alongside each other?
Join me again next week for a last look at dragons (for now) and we’ll examine one other well-known creation story with a slightly different twist and how dragons may have roamed the earth with humans.
Do find European dragons or Chinese dragons more interesting? Go to the top of the article, click the grey comments, and tell me why!
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Creative Writing Prompts
I knelt on the ground near the sacred springs, hoping the dragon would show itself and hear my pleas for help. There was a ripple over the surface of the water…
Sir Reginald III blew a burst of flame from his right nostril, toasting my marshmallow to perfection. “You still haven’t answered my question. What do you think about my proposition?” His cousin, Chang, watched me with unwavering eyes.
“There!” I shouted as I just made out a glimpse of flashing, shimmering scales in the sky as the dragon wove in and out of the clouds.