How many people in the US and elsewhere in the world have ever sat down at a Chinese restaurant and saw a simplified version of the Chinese zodiac on their placemat or menu? Continue reading “The Why of the Blog”
In the western cultures of the world, dragons are flying, fire lizards with wings that are, more often than not, something to be feared or an obstacle to be overcome when on a quest (see The Hobbit or any number of D&D campaigns throughout the decades) in our popular culture. In China, we have the exact opposite when it comes to cultural depictions. About the only traits they have in common are the flying and the reptilian look. No wings for the Chinese dragon, and an elemental association with water rather than fire for this mythical beast. Rain and weather in particular. And where the dragons in western myth are apt to be slain by the hero, in China and it’s sphere of cultural influence (Korea, Japan, etc.), the hero is more apt to seek the dragon out for help in his quest.
But you probably already knew some of that. But what you probably don’t know is just how utterly saturated the Chinese culture is with dragons in one form or another. Here’s a very much truncated list:
- The dragon as the symbol of the Emperor, as only he could wear a five-clawed dragon robe Everyone else had to settle for four or fewer claws.
- The dragon as the symbol of the Han Chinese ethnic identity. They have called themselves “descendants of the dragon.”
- The ancient Chinese called fossilized dinosaur bones “dragon bones” and this cultural legacy continues in the modern Chinese word for dinosaur that literally translates as “terror dragon.” Even today they use “dragon bones” in traditional medicine.
- Dragons are associated with the number nine.
- Dragon boats and dragon dances are popular during the New Year Festival
- Numerous Chinese idioms and proverbs, including the one that gives the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon its name.
And that’s not even going into the various traditional depictions of dragons there are. There are even more depictions in popular culture, some of which have seeped over here in the west.
- The White Dragon Horse in the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West, though from what I understand, he’s about as exciting as Perry the Platypus is when he’s not fighting Doofenshmirtz.
- The occasional western political cartoon about relations with China.
- More than a few anime feature Chinese dragons, most notably the Dragon Ball series with Shenlong
Again, this doesn’t go into half of all the dragon-lore China has. And we’ve been borrowing the feature of auspiciousness from the Chinese dragon for a while now. Luck dragons from The Neverending Story, anyone?
Next time: Immortality Possible! These Eight People Have The Secret!
You are probably wondering why I didn’t start with the Chinese creation story right away on this blog. There is a good reason for this: there isn’t just one Chinese creation story, and the ones we have are sparse.
Alright, let’s ease everybody into this whole thing with a quick look at how the Chinese zodiac came to be… Continue reading “Never trust a Rat; or how the Chinese Zodiac came to be.”