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CHINA: Good and bad dragons



Dragons have had a bad press. The Bible speaks of "the dragon, that old serpent, who is the Devil and Satan" (Revelations, 20,2). That is why St. George, St. Michael and King Arthur killed them. The dragon and the serpent which tempted Eve symbolized fertility. The Chinese revere dragons. That is perhaps why there are a billion of them. Paul Simon says:

"The Chinese Dragon is a fascinating subject. If I remember my Tolkien, his world was populated with evil, sly, treasure-coveting dragons, no? In China the dragon is a symbol of intelligence and power. In Imperial times only members of the Emperor's household were allowed to have depictions of 5-clawed dragons. Chinese art often shows the dragon holding the pearl of wisdom, and arising from the sea. Geomancy is big on dragons, too. It is vital to one's Feng Shui that one determine where the "dragons" lie in the topography. Siting a building on the dragon's eye could be horrible bad luck, if you believe in this stuff. And even most occidentals know that in the Chinese zodiac, the year of the Dragon is the most auspicious. Even after some years in China, I still chuckle over the pretentious names given to small shops and restaurants. A little dumpling stall might be the "Splendid Good Fortune Golden River Inn". Many of these lucky and good-sounding names involve dragons. A favorite of mine in Shenyang was the "Profit Dragon Dog Meat City"

"Long" is dragon in Mandarin. The most prominent Chinese place-name including this is probably HeilongJiang (Black Dragon River) Province. (The HeilongJiang is the Amur if you are on the other side in Russia). Chinese view Dragons and rivers as kindred because they both are long and twisty. I won't go into an exposition here of Mandarin nouns and classifiers (counter particles) and how they affect culture and thought by categorizing things but Dragons use the same classifier as snakes, rivers, streets, and crullers [a kind of cake. RH].

A question for Paul: This is the year of the horse. I had been wondering how far back the white horse, which has had the honor of carrying the Napoleons of history, goes. Well, it occurs in Revelation, just before the quotation given: "And I saw heaven opened and, behold, a white horse, and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness doth he judge and make war". I wonder if the Emperor of Japan's white horse justified Pearl Harbor. What about China, Paul? Is it horse of a different color? Incidentally, my computer sits on a dragon's eye.

Ronald Hilton - 1/6/02


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