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Chinese Culture: What Is the Difference Between Chinese and Western Dragons?

Sep. 20, 2022

Dragons are deeply rooted in Chinese culture, as the dragon is one of the most important creatures that can symbolize China. Have you ever heard that Chinese people call themselves “descendants of dragons”? This may sound strange to people in the West, as dragons are normally seen as evil and unlucky in Western culture. Therefore, by learning about the differences between dragons in Chinese and Western cultures, you can better understand Chinese culture.

Chinese dragons

In Chinese, the dragon is called lóng (龙). In Chinese mythology, lóng (龙) has a deer’s antlers, a camel’s head, a hare’s eyes, a snake’s neck, a carp’s scales, an eagle’s claws, a tiger’s paws, and an ox’s ears.

Chinese dragon

What do dragons symbolize in China?

1、Power and authority
In ancient China, the dragon was taken as the royal symbol, symbolizing the son of Heaven, namely the emperor. For example, emperors’ seats were known as “龙 椅(lóng yǐ)”, or “dragon chair.” The creature is the representative of power and nobility both in ancient and modern times in China.

2、Success and high achievement
In Chinese fairy tales, dragons can ascend into the sky and ride clouds and mist, so they represent upward and positive energy. That’s why dragons are a symbol of success, high achievement, and prosperity in the eyes of Chinese people.

3. Justice, goodwill, and kindness
For the Chinese nation, the dragon represents justice. In Chinese folklore, the third son of the Dragon King of the East Sea violates the rules of Heaven for he makes the rain fall on a village without the Jade Emperor (the Highest Emperor)’s permission. The reason why he does so is he can’t bear to watch what the drought of the land has brought to the local people. To commemorate him, people set up the Eryueer Festival (èr yuè èr jié 二月二节), a traditional Chinese festival held on the second day of the second month of the Chinese calendar. It also has another name: the Longtaitou (lóng tái tóu 龙抬头) Festival. Longtaitou means “Dragon raising its head”.

4、Wealth and good fortune
Dragons in China are always related to water. In Chinese legend, the Dragon Kings were believed to be the rulers of weather and water, such as rainfall, waterfalls, rivers, and seas. In ancient agrarian societies, abundant water often meant a good harvest, so dragons are also related to bumper grain harvests and affluent and comfortable lives.

What do dragons symbolize in the West?

In the West, dragons have been portrayed very differently from Chinese ones. In western culture, a dragon doesn’t bring good luck, bu but a fire-breathing monster. For example, in the English poem, Beowulf, the dragon is depicted as a treasure hoarder, and it is capable of emitting fire. It gets furious after finding a golden cup is stolen and has a battle with Beowulf, but in the end, it is killed by Beowulf who also died due to its poisonous blood.

west dragon

Western dragon is more of a negative character, an outrageous monster, which makes the heroes valiant and renowned, who defeat and slay the evil dragon. Like in the Book of Revelation, Satan appears as a Great Red Dragon.

The differences between the Chinese dragon and the Western dragon are just the epitome of the cultural differences between China and western countries. Sign up for eChineseLearning to know about more interesting Chinese cultural facts!

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