Ancient China Dragons

Sally Painter
Chinese dragons coil up a pole.

Chinese temples and artifacts often depict ancient China dragons.

Ancient Depictions of Dragons

The oldest known depiction of a dragon was discovered in 1984. It's called the Coiled Dragon and was carved out of jade. The figure was found on the burial chest in an ancient cemetery dating to the Honshan era (4700 - 2920 BC). Other jade carvings of dragons have been found in abundance during the Liangzhu era (3300 - 2200 BC).

Here are some websites in which you can find ancient dragon depictions:

Physical Appearance of Ancient China Dragons

The Chinese dragon has a distinct appearance. Traditionally, the Chinese royal dragons have five toes or claws. The Chinese four-toed dragons are considered common and not part of the nobility. Korean dragons have four and the Japanese dragons have three. The Chinese dragon has chin whiskers that tend to be shown as long tendrils.

Other Physical Attributes:

  • Deer - Horns
  • Camel - Head
  • Rabbit - Eyes
  • Snake - Neck
  • Cockle - Abdomen
  • Carp - Scales
  • Eagle - Claws
  • Tiger - Paws
  • Ox - Ears

Descendants of Dragons

The dragon is the historical symbol of the Chinese Emperor. Ancient Chinese believed they were descendants of the dragon and claiming lineage was a way to claim ethnic standing. They built temples and shrines to honor dragons. Pagodas were built throughout the country to burn incense and offer prayers to the dragon gods.

Nine Sons of Dragon King

Mythology states that the yellow dragon king had nine sons. They each were sent into the world with specific duties as protectors of the earth and its people. There is much debate over the actual names of these nine heirs of the dragon king, but the attributes are always the same. Below are the most commonly accepted names for the nine dragon princes.

Nine Dragon Sons

  • Qiu Niu - Music lover. Motif for stringed instruments
  • Ya Zi - Short-tempered and always fighting. Likeness carved on swords, knives, battle axes and other weapons.
  • San Mi - Dragon Lion. Enjoyed making fire and smoke. Likeness used in front of homes for protection. Also used as a motif on incense burners.
  • Ba Xia - The Tortoise. This dragon was exceptionally strong. Found as book holders and other stone objects that can support weight.
  • Chao Feng - The Fearless Risk-taker. Observed the world from high places. Used for embellishments on roof corners, especially found in ancient palace architecture.
  • Pu Lao - Noisemaker. Enjoyed hearing his own roar. Image used on bell handles.
  • Fu Xi - Dragon god of books, literature. Found on libraries, book bindings.
  • Bi An - The Tiger. Sees into men's souls and knows whether good or evil. Found as statues and motifs on government buildings, prisons, courthouses.
  • Chi Wen - This dragon god was known to swallow up all kinds of things, especially flood waters. Found in palaces to ward off fires.

Dragon Symbolism

In feng shui philosophy, based upon the Chinese culture and belief system, the dragon symbolizes prosperity and abundance. The dragon (Lung) is powerful and can overcome all obstacles because it's valiant and heroic. It's also a great protector of the people.

The Four Dragons Myth

The story of the four dragons is one of several that explain the Chinese reverence for dragons. In ancient times the Jade Emperor ruled over the earth. The four dragons, Long Dragon, Black Dragon, Pearl Dragon, and Yellow Dragon asked the Jade Emperor to send rain to the drought-stricken world. The people were dying. The Jade Emperor agreed, yet never sent the rain so the four dragons took it upon themselves to gather water from the lakes and spray it across the heavens.

When the Jade Emperor discovered what they'd done, he had four mountains placed over the dragons so they would be trapped for all eternity. The four dragons turned themselves into rivers to flow around the mountains. The rivers became known as the Long River (Yangtze), Black Dragon (Herilongjian), the Pearl River (Zhujiang), and Yellow River (Huanghe).

The Nine Dragons

In Chinese culture, nine is the sacred number of the emperor. There are three Nine Dragon Walls in China. The most notable one in Beijing that depicts over 635 dragons.There are nine different types of dragons that serve the world. The dragon king can change into nine different forms. Nine sons were born to the dragon king. The significance of the number nine continues throughout Chinese mythology and culture.

  • Horned Dragon - Giver of rain
  • Winged Dragon - Domain over the wind
  • Celestial Dragon - Protector of heavenly mansions of gods
  • Spirit or Spiritual Dragon - Blesses earth with rain and wind
  • Earth Dragon - God of lakes, rivers and seas
  • Dragon of Hidden Treasures or Underworld Dragon - Guardian of hidden treasures such as gems, gold and other precious metals
  • Coiled or Coiling Dragon - Water dweller of lakes and oceans
  • Yellow Dragon - Emerged from water to bestow art of writing to Emperor Fu Shi
  • Dragon King - God of the wind and sea and all four directions, east, west, north and south

Dragon Elements In Every Day Life

Ancient China dragons are such an intricate part of the Chinese culture that they're found in almost every kind of artform and architecture as symbols of protection and prosperity.

Ancient China Dragons