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The Origins of Dragons in Chinese Culture

Dragons are among the most popular mythological creatures in the world, most especially in Chinese culture. 

Although the origins of the dragons is unclear, stories of huge flying serpents were described as early as the time of the ancient Greeks and Sumerians. This went on for centuries and across different cultures with each culture developing its own description of the mythical creature and creating its own tales and legends. The Asian dragon, specifically the Chinese dragon, has a long serpentine body, deer-like antlers, the head of a camel, and claws of an eagle.

‘The Gods of the dragon’

Compared to other ancient cultures, dragons were the most revered in Chinese culture. Until today, they are seen as very powerful creatures, even being associated with life-giving water and the Emperor of China. As dragons are considered a symbol of imperial power throughout Chinese history, people who offer admiration to their emperors believed that they came from a dragon. 

This belief stems from the legend of a tribal leader named, Yandi, who was born from his mother’s telepathic connection with a mighty dragon, leading to the start of Chinese civilization. Even the ancient Chinese referred to themselves as “the gods of the dragon” since the Chinese dragon represents evolution from the ancestors and qi energy.  

Dragons have long been embedded in Chinese culture. It can be dated back to the discovery of a dragon statue from the fifth millennium BC from the Yangshao culture in Henan, as well as jade badges of rank in coiled form from the Hongshan culture circa 4700–2900 BC.

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Excavating dragon bones and more

Surprisingly, the ancient Chinese have referred to unearthed dinosaur bones as dragon bones and even documented them as such. The modern Chinese term for dinosaur is written as 恐龍; 恐龙; kǒnglóng (‘terror dragon’), and villagers in central China have long unearthed fossilized “dragon bones” for use in traditional medicine, a practice that continues today.

Throughout folklore and Chinese mythology, dragons have taken on a significant role. Some believe they originated from the snake or the Goddess Nüwa who has a human torso and snake tail. Through these tales, they are depicted as having an unlimited range of supernatural power — from possessing the ability to disguise themselves as tiny silkworms to powerful deities of the sea and sky.

As they have been strongly associated with water and weather for centuries, ancient Chinese people believed that dragons were the rulers of moving bodies of water, such as oceans, rivers, waterfalls and lakes. This encouraged them to make offerings to the mythological beings in times of drought as it was believed to bring rain.

The dragon has always been a significant symbol in the Chinese culture, continuing to influence generations to come — from the dragon symbol being proudly worn on the robes of emperors to being depicted in precious materials like gold jewelry and jade figurines.

Dragons have also been used as a mascot in festive celebrations and dance performances within the Chinese culture. What’s more, they have also been featured in numerous literature and various art forms.

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