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THE WORLD OF DRAGONSDragon has been a well received symbol in traditional Chinese arts and costumes. Patterns of dragon appeared on pottery and jade articles as early as five to six thousand years ago (as shown in Diagrams One to Four). By the Shang Dynasty (3300 B.C.) the dragon symbol has become quite popular among bronze utensils with a vast variety in designs, and has become progressively more popular from dynasty to dynasty for good reasons.
THE LEGEND OF DRAGONSFrom a biological point of view, dragon was evolved from the dinosaurs which once roamed the earth. Regarding the age of dinosaurs, there are different views. Some believe that they existed millions of years and others believe that they were only a few thousand years old. The fact that dragon was recorded in Chinese literatures tends to indicate that man and dinosaurs once coexisted.
We must emphasize here that dragons are not dinosaurs, but a unique mythical creature invented by the Chinese, which was evolved from the dinosaurs. The recording of dragon can be found in Shuo Wen, the earliest literature, which described dragon as, 'the greatest scaled animal; it can be visible or invisible, big or small, long or short; it soars into the sky in spring time, and dives into the ocean in fall (autumn)'.
A FEW LEGENDARY CONCEPTS OF DRAGONSIn ancient societies, dragons are worshipped as idols in ancient religions. This is reflected in the legendary stories from prehistoric times. From ancient literatures before the Qin Dynasty, there are the following four views.
1) A half man and half dragon creature- For example, the legendary Emperor Fu Xi and Nu Wa were portrayed as half man and half dragon creatures.
2) Dragons are incarnations of men- For example, the legendary father of Emperor Yu, Gun, changed into a yellow dragon, three years after he died.
3) Dragons are divine beings- For example, Emperor Yu was hailed as the great king who devoted his life fighting the flood. According to the legend, the heaven was moved by his love towards his people and sent a divine dragon to break up the flood.
4) Dragons are creatures used for transportation- For example, in the ancient literature of geography, 'San Hai Jing', Qi, the son of Yu and emperor of the Xia Dynasty, allegedly rode on two dragons. Also, the god of west, Ru Shou, god of south, Zhu Rong, god of north, Yu Jiang, and the god of east, Ju Mang, all rode on two dragons.
Clearly, dragons had become an idol for worship, reflecting the people's custom of worshipping supernatural forces at the time. They deified their human leaders and heroes as dragons or half man half dragon creatures, which possess god like characters and power. They can soar up into the ninth heavens or dive thousand yards deep into the ocean. They can also command the cloud, the rain, and the tides. Throughout history, the character and appearance of dragon continued to evolve and become more complicated, taking seemingly endless forms in various legendary stories.
DRAGON AS ROYAL AUTHORITY FIGURES
The Ancestor of Ancient LeadersDragons symbolized supernatural powers in ancient societies and provided the spiritual support for the common people. With the arrival of the hereditary dynasty system in China, dragons assumed the role as the ancestors of the ruling family. In the writings of the Shang Dynasty, the horns of the dragon are represented by the word qiu which is the radical for zu, meaning ancestor. Among the artifacts of the Shang Dynasty, dragon designs can readily be found
Man and Dragon as One BodyAccording to legend, when Huang Di was manifesting a tripot (Ding) at the foothill of the Jing Mountain, a dragon with long beard descended from the heaven. Huang Di thus rode on the dragon and descended into the heaven, and never appeared again. From this, we see that beloved leaders never died in the heart of the Chinese people. The robe of Emperor Xia Yu, according to the legend, had twelve symbols representing authority, with dragon being one of them. Male jade figures of the Shang Dynasty unearthed in Anyang of Henan has 'Fu' patterns on the collars and the back, a dragon head on the chest, a descending dragon on each arm and an ascending dragon on each leg. This confirms the legend of the twelve symbols on the royal robes. There is another story originated from the Xi Han Dynasty that Emperor Liu Bang's mother mated with a dragon in her dream giving birth to Liu Bang. According to the legend, Liu turned into a dragon after he got drunk. This was the justification for the Han Dynasty to replace the corrupted Qin Dynasty. From this one can see unification of man and dragon as one body. Since then, phrases like 'dragon complexion', 'dragon body' are used to describe the look and the health of the Emperor. Moreover, phrases like 'dragon's robe' and 'dragon's seat' are used to describe the Emperor's furniture, etc.
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