On the other hand, luck dragons are creatures of air and warmth, creatures of boundless joy, and light as a summer cloud in spite of their immense size. That's why they don't need any wings to fly. They swim on the breezes of the sky like fish in water. Seen from the ground they look like slow-moving lightning flashes. The most wonderful thing about them is their song. Their voice sounds like the golden booming of a great bell, and when they speak softly, it is as though one were hearing this bell from far off. Whoever has been permitted to hear such a song never forgets it again his whole life long and even tells his grandchildren about it.
Michael Ende in "Die Unendliche Geschichte".
A Little Idea of Chinese Dragon Lore - Part One
The chinese knowledge about dragons is very detailed. In present times dragons show themselves quite rarely. The reason for this may lie in the lack of acceptance of the nonordinary reality within the cultures of the west. Dragons are part of this other reality and they are only seen anymore by children or individuals who are opening themselves to this other reality and live with it on a natural base. D.J. Conway however reports in her book Dancing with Dragons about present sightings of dragons in China.
1987 an archaeological finding was made, which fundamentaly overruled all theories about the origins of the looks of chinese dragons. In the province of Henan, in Leizi a grave was discovered, which is more than 6000 years old, and inside this grave a mosaic-like sculpture of a dragon was found, about 1,78 m long, made out of sweetwater seashells. The teeth and claws where done with white and brown shells, the eyes and tongue with dark red ones. The scales where formed with curved shells. Today this dragon sculpture can be seen in the dragonkings temple, on the northbank of the Yellow River. What makes this dragon sculpture so interesting is the fact, that it is similar to the present known forms of dragons. It defeates the theories of the compound totem which claim that the dragon is a combination of different tribal totems, which are still listed in the Nine Similarities (see: Liu Zhixiong, Yang Jingrong, Long yu Zhongguo Wenhua, Beijing 1999).
In contrast to the general demonizing of dragons within christianity we associate the chinese dragons with good luck and peacefulness. In China the dragon counts to the four pleasant and lucky beings: the quilin, the phoenix, the turtle and the dragon. To see a dragon means good luck, even if they are not exceptional good or allconsuming bad. They just are and live their nature (which can be very violent) and they are accepted as what they are, as same as natures elements are respected. Nobody discusses with a thunderstorm wether it is a moral reprehensibility to be a thunderstorm, to hail and maybe kill humans. They stand for the male, dynamic and active (yang) principle, even if there are female dragons - as I was allowed to experience not to long ago (however, explicit female dragon portrayals are very rare) - and are the bringer of the heavenly wind (shen chi). Together with phoenix the dragon is symbolizing long life and wealth. Combined with the tiger, these two beings symbolize heaven and earth. Often seen are two dragons, which look away from each other. This is the symbol for eternity. The oldest artistic portrayals of the chinese dragon go back to the neolithic. Even back than, the dragons where associated with wind and weather. Rituals, which contain the influence of the weather and dragons are handed down since 600 BC and with high probability go much further back. Many chinese emperors where said to be descendants or sons of dragons (lung tik chuan ren - a name, by the way, which many chinese claim for themselves). Since the period of Manchu many things used by the emperors are associated with dragons: the dragon-throne, the dragon-gown, dragon-boats and -beds, dragon-toilettes ... there where times that it was believed, that the emperor would be able to materialize as a dragon, or that the emperor was able to rule over the dragons. Dragons are worshipped in many temples and pagodas. All lakes and rivers have a guardian dragon. I visited china in the 90s and had the chance to see the dragon temple in the summerpalace. The two pictures of the dragon temple give you a little impression of how such a temple looks like, when there is plenty of money available, it is located on the area of the Yi he yuan, the summerpalace. The dragonking of the Kunming-lake is shown in his human shape with a dragons head (simply click on the underlined words!) There is an easy way to call for rain: it is very successful to annoy the particular dragon. This was done in different ways - things would be thrown into the water, the statue of the dragonking would be put in the sun, so that he would call for rain to cool of. Another, more seldom used way, was to sacrifice a girl. A reduced form of this sacrifice is to place a beautiful naked girl on top of a hill and to magically barricade the way to get to her for the coincidently passing dragons (who are a bit of a bon vivant!). Beeing really annoyed about this, there will be a good rainstorm! Logically this only works with male dragons. One problem of the present china is, that meanwhile the chinese are perfect in really getting the dragons pissed off (damed up lakes, environment pollution), but they don’t do much afterwards to calm the dragon down again. A condition, which unfortunately became normal in our regions also. Chinese dragons appear in many different forms. It can be quite confusing, to get them all sorted out:
The Nine Similarities of Chinese Dragons (Lung):
Like a Camels Head
Like a Daemon
Like a Bull or Cow
Like a Stag
Like a Snake
Like a Tiger
Like an Eagle
Like a Carp
Like a Wolf
There are male and female dragons. The different parts of the body have some similarity to animals which live in our reality. A chinese dragon specified as Lung has the Nine Similarities: The head is similar to a camels head, the eyes look like demons eyes, the ears are like the ears of a bull or cow - whereas not all dragons have ears. It is said, that they are deaf or hear through their horns. The horns are like a stags horns, the neck looks like a snakes neck, the feet are similar to the tigers feet, the claws are like eagle claws. The have 117 scales (sometimes it is only 81), which are like a carps scales. Of the 117 scales, 81 are yin and 36 are yang (on the neck they are in the opposite direction and they can be erected). They possess long and sharp teeth like a wolf. The two long whiskers which some dragons have, are sensory organs. There are also variations with the belly of a frog. The Pan Tsao Kang Mu has a little different variation of the similarities. There, the belly (which is similar to a seashell) counts and not the scales. The eyes are similar to those of a rabbit. The horns of the male dragon have a wavelike curved shape, the female horns are straight. This detail is seldom seen in the portrayals. During the Sung-dynasty (10th century after christ) dragons where pictured with three claws (as today's japanese dragons have only three claws), during the Ming-dynasty with four or five claws, same as in the Quing-dynasty, whereas the five claws where reserved for the emperor-family. The tail of the dragon mostly ends with a tassel. The chi'ih is a small bump on the head of the dragon - it is relevant to the ability of flying for dragons without wings. This bump is almost never seen in the portrayals. Dragons can also vary their shape and size. Chinese dragons from time to time transform into human or animal forms to be able to obtain a better understanding of the specified being, or just for fun. There is no difference to normal humans, as long as they don’t want to be discovered.
Mentioning the different number of claws ... - The number of the dragon claws differs not only throughout the history but also regionally. A visit to Japan reveals that there all dragons have only three claws. The reason why is of course always answered a bit self-centered. So in China it is said that the dragon originated in China and thus has five claws. When a dragon flies to the East it looses claws and in Japan only three of them remain. In Japan the same reason is stated but with the slight difference, that the dragon originated in Japan an gains claws when flying into the West. Thus a dragon has three claws in Japan and five in China. This discussion is spiced up by korean statements that the dragon of course originated in Korea. The Imperial Dragon in the Gyengbok Palace is shown with seven claws - sometimes things go out of hand somehow. The usual korean dragon Yong has four claws. The only dragon which is spared from these problems is the Tibetan one. There the dragon always has five claws, neither three, four or seven.
A great meaning also lies in the colour of the dragon. A yellow or golden dragon with five claws counts to the superior ones and only the emperor himself was allowed to have a portrayal of it. Yellow dragons in general are assigned to the last month of summer, to the stomach and the spleen and they are the most frequent. Blue and green dragons symbolize the spring and the east, they are assigned to the liver and the gallbladder. Red dragons stand for the most months of summer, storms and the south, they are assigned to the heart and the innards. Black dragons are the periods of drought, storms and the north and are assigned to the kidneys and the bladder. And there is the white dragon, who symbolizes the west and autumn.
Something which is still totally unclear and withstands any attempt of explanation, is the little ball or pearl, which is very often seen in the portrayals of dragons. They play with it, swallow it, spit it back out, sometimes it is surrounded by flames, sometimes it is very plain. To give this matter in this article a little orientation, I will call this perfect pearl (even if this could be anything else but a pearl, it could be a crystal for example, or a symbol of the world) the dragonpearl. Taoists call it the pearl of Immortality which also implies deep alchemical meanings. The male dragon has his dragonpearl in the upper part of his neck, it illuminates from within and it multiplies everything, that touches it. If a human swallows this pearl, he turns into a dragon himself, so said in one version of the legend of Xiao Sheng. He found a dragonpearl. He did not want to give it to his master, so he swallowed it and turned into a dragon. The dragonpearl is only obtaining its effect, if it is taken from the dragon while he is alive. If the dragon dies, the pearl has no effect at all. Well, how to get this done without killing the dragon, that is a whole different story.
China is huge and possesses many dragons. It should be clear, that all the up to now mentioned features are far from covering all of the wide range of variations which you can come across, taking a little walk. The nine classical dragons I have emphasized by adding their chinese names. There are the emperors dragons with five claws and mostly yellow or gold colored. One yellow dragon among them is specified as the first dragon. This yellow dragon brought on his back the eight Trigrammes of the I-Jing and taught the art of writing. He is named Huang Lung (黃龍). The heavenly dragons (Tian Lung - 天龍) support and guard the heaven and are said to be deaf (this results of the term Lung, which means "the deaf" - Tian Lung means "the heavenly deaf" - thinking about today’s mediaworld a heavenly blessing). The ghost-dragons (Sheng Lung - 神龍) control the rain, the wind and the floods and are known to be bone-idle. To avoid work, the Shen Lung likes to transform himself into a mouse and goes hiding. Sheng Lung also is the official New Years dragon, which is seen at the parades. He has five claws and is brightly couloured. There is also the earth-dragon (Ti-Lung - 地龍), which in spring and autumn lives in a rich palace on the bottom of the ocean and who controls the rivers, excavates the oceans and guards the depth of them. The underground dragons (Fucan Lung - 伏藏龍 - or Cheng Lung) guard hidden treasures and mineral resources. The ghost- and earth-dragons are also worshipped as Wang-Lung, water-dragons. Pan Lung (蟠龍) - the coiled dragon - also lives in the waters. Real vicious dragons are very rare in China, they are called Nie-Lung. Sometimes these Nie-Lung are hunted down and thus there are dragon-killers even in China!
The Dragonking (龍王) consists actually of four different Dragonkings and is the ninth classical dragon. The king of the lake of the south is Ao Ch’in (or Ao K’in), the king of the lake of the west is Ao Jun and is the brother of Ao Kuang, the highest dragon king, the king of the lake of the east. His (Ao Kuangs) son, Ao Ping took over this position after Ao Kuangs death. Ao Shun is the king of the lake of the north. The picture shows the dragonking of the Kunming-lake in Beijing. At the altar you can see the king with a dragons head and a human body - a quite common way to portray the dragonkings. They keep contact through telepathy and are differ to other dragons because of their five legs. They have golden scales, five claws but no wings. Once a year, in the third month, they rise up to the sky. The japanese Dragonking is also divided into four separate dragons: Sui-Riyu - the Raindragon which is responsible for rain. Han-Riyu a multistriped fellow and at least 40 foot long which cannot ascend into the heaven. Ka-Riyu a rather small one, measuring seven very fiery feet. And, last not least Ri-Riyu which has an excellent eye- sight, even for dragon standards.
To spice all this up a little, dragons change their looks as they get older. Dragons lay eggs. A dragon-egg does not look much different than a river pepple, it has the shape of an egg and is little bigger than a chicken egg. It takes thousand years until a little dragon hatches out of this egg. The hatching is accompanied by showers of meteorites and thunderstorms. The next fivehundred years the young dragon grows until he reaches his real size. Some say, he has the head of a carp and the body of a snake. At this stage of development he is called Kiao. It takes the next thousand years for the limbs to grow and getting his adequate scales and whiskers. In the following fivehundred years the dragon grows his horns and obtains his sense of hearing and is named horned dragon or Qiu Lung (虯龍). In the last thousand years he finally grows wings and turns into an adult. The dragon is then named Ying Lung - (應龍).