If you’ve visited China or even Chinese restaurants, you know the dragon is huge business – it’s everywhere. But what’s therefore special around it the it merits every this attention? turns out there’s a lot much more to the Chinese dragon than meets the eye.

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In the beginning

Everybody to know dragons don’t really exist. And also yet everybody to know what dragon look like. They perform in China too, at least well enough to depict them already at the dawn the history. Now, what if you can go ago in time, emerge through the mist and see one increase close? transforms out girlfriend can, almost.

The Chinese word for ‘dragon’ is in evidence on the very an initial examples of Chinese writing, dating back about 3,500 years ago.

In those earliest of times, when the Chinese were just entering background with the radical invention of created records, most writing was ceremonial in nature. The king’s diviners asked the oracle even if it is a hunt would rotate out well, if an foe state had placed a curse on the court or if rain would fall, come name just a few. The oracular exchange were climate inscribed on animal bone, tortoise shells or bronze vessels, depending on the period. The is indigenous these old fragments the we know that the dragon did indeed exist in some way and what it looked like.

What’s in it for me

And why do you require to recognize this? Well, 1.3 exchange rate Chinese case to it is in “descendants that the dragon”. With about 5,000 years of background to its name, China is among the earliest living civilizations in the world. In the sense, the dragon is symbolic not just of China’s heritage but additionally of the spectacular climb to success in modern times. So, in a way it goes prefer this: know the dragon, recognize China. Just a small bit.

Listen up

But us are acquiring ahead the ourselves.First, a quick word around Chinese creating in general. Favor writing everywhere, Chinese writing began as pictures or stylized pictures. World drew what was essential to communicate. A horse, a cow, the moon, the sun – things to feeling by hand, things to verify by sight. Together societal complexity grew, an initiative was forced in make the magic shift from points to summary concepts. Over time, this breakthrough synthesized into formal pronounced level of the written representation of points which is what made the primitive images transition into actual writing. Here’s crucial point: no sound, no word. Save this in mind once you see the dragon.

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The earliest versions, inscribed on bone, maintain an image-like quality, while later incarnations, from copper vessels, show up rather an ext stylized. Today, in its present form, the dragon is all but unrecognizable native its forebears: 龍 in Chinese (Traditional), 龙 in Chinese (Simplified) and 竜 in Japanese. One of two people way, the concern that begs asking more than anything rather is this: what on planet is it? to answer this, we must look both in ~ the type and the sound because that this elusive creature.

Don’t judge a dragon by its scales

Experts in early on Chinese writing tell united state that the personality is pictographic in origin, an interpretation that it’s attracted to look prefer a real creature. The left-hand side is stated to stand for the head and also the right-hand next the body.

Some develops see foot attached come the body. The pointy ar on the “head” is described as one of two people horns or an ornamental headdress that’s also present on two of the various other sacred four pets (the phoenix and also the tiger). Some have speculated the it could be a kind of lizard or crocodile. But, really, what’s so an excellent about basic reptilians that you’d desire to elevate them come the high condition afforded the dragon end millennia? There’s got to be more to the story.

And words was with…nature

When kind has got to its limit, sound bring away over. In contemporary Chinese, the dragon is recognized as lóng. We don’t understand for certain what the sound was hundreds of years ago, however researchers have actually reconstructed a most likely scenario based on ancient rhyme dictionaries. According to one, it might have sounded something favor ljwong – of course there’s essentially no method to verify this.

Often, researchers room able come pair words in families, the is, words that share a common simple meaning. In the situation of the dragon, family members ties aren’t feel to it is in clear, a authorize that we’re taking care of a unique word indeed. One researcher posits that the word might be regarded a created Tibetan word, ‘brug, which way ‘thunder’ or ‘dragon’.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Staying within the Chinese language, the could also be regarded lóng (ancient ljung) 隆, definition ‘thundering’ follow to one source. One more potential household member could be hóng (ancient gong) 虹, which way rainbow.

Interestingly, the earliest graphic kind of 虹shows an arched dragon v a head at either end, the so-called rainbow dragon.


In part ways, this would certainly make sense since the Chinese dragon is a famously elusive creature and often associated in famous mythology to the watery elements, regularly as the managing entity, and weather phenomena such as rain, clouds and thunder. In fact, one scholar cases that that is the linked elemental forces of rain and thunder that give rise come the “true” an interpretation of the Chinese word because that dragon, specific ‘lightning’.

A storm is coming

In some ways, this notion of the dragon as relating to weather phenomena is supported by the summary of the dragon in an authoritative thesaurus from the 2nd century CE. Here’s what it says:

”The foremost among scaly and also reptilian creatures, the dragon could hide in darkness or show up in daylight. It can diminish or enlarge, shrink or elongate. The ascends the skies in spring and also dives to the depths of the pool in autumn.”

This had led one researcher to speculate even if it is the dragon is in reality the binding force, so come speak, in between air and also water, that is, embodying hydro-electric power: thunder, storms, lightning. We’ll leave you to ponder this for a moment. Viewed with a happy hat on, this explanation neatly ties with each other all facets of the dragon:

The form: the phenomenon of lightning given form, based upon the twisting movement of a symbolic snake-like biology whose sacred elemental condition is indicated by a routine ornamental headdress. The sound: a nature-mimicking pronunciation approximating the thunderclap. The meaning: a primal natural pressure – hydro-electric power

All this symbolized through one single entity. Pure genius.

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Whodunnit?

So, was it really all that simple to crack the dragon code? probably not. The dragon is a complex entity that can have a lot an ext going for it 보다 we’ve touch upon here. For starters, the dragon is not just a Chinese phenomenon – nearly the entire people is riddled with dragon lore and also legends. Old Mesopotamia has its Marduk, Mesoamerica has actually its Quetzalcoatl, the Norse has actually their Midgard Serpent – and also these are just the ceiling beginnings. As much as the Chinese dragon is concerned, though, well, we won’t steel its thunder. It’s old enough to speak for itself.