In China, for instance, dragons are portrayed with four legs, a long sinuous serpentine body and a snake-like tail; they ranged in size from a few feet long up to the Great Chien-Tang who was over a thousand feet in length. They could speak, were able to alter their forms and sizes and had a varying number of claws.
Chinese emperors adopted the five-clawed dragon as a sacred ancestor, symbol of their power. Only Imperial dragons were said to have the special five claws on each foot. All other Oriental dragons had only three or four claws. It became a law that only the Emperor could have a five-clawed dragon embroidered on his robes or painted on anything.
According to tradition, China’s history dates back to 3000 b.c.e., although modern historians only goes back to 1600 b.c.e. A clay vessel from about 2000 b.c.e., is decorated with a dragon picture. The dragon symbol and figured still exist in modern-day Chinese art and celebrations.
The Chinese divided their dragons into groups or classes, each with different characteristics. There were four major Lung Wang dragons, or Dragon-Kings. The names of these brothers were Ao Kuang, Ao Jun, Ao Shun, and Ao Ch’in. They also had specific duties: the t’ien lung supported the mansion of the gods; the shen lung brought rain; the ti lung controlled the rivers; and the fu-ts’an lung guarded hidden treasures and deposits of precious metals. The Lung Wang or Dragon Kings, resembled the Indian Nagas, or sacred serpents. They were the patron deities of rivers, lakes, seas and rain. They had valuable pearls in their throats and lived in magnificent underwater palaces.
Further divisions produced the kiao-lung, or scaled dragon; ying-lung with wings; k’ui-lung with horns; chi’i-lung which was hornless; the p’an-lung which was earth-bound. The ch’i-lung dragon was red, white and green, the k’iu-lung blue. Chinese dragons were also entirely black, white, red or yellow with yellow considered superior.
When it came to using dragons for decoration, there were nine distinct categories; the p’u lao was carved on gongs; the ch’iu nui and pi hsi on fiddles and literature tablets; the pa hsia at the base of stone monuments, the chao feng on the eaves of temples; the ch’in on beams of bridges; the suan ni only on the throne of the Buddha; the yai tzu on the hilts of swords; and the pi han on prison gates.
Chinese experts were said to be able to tell the age of Oriental dragons and their origins by their colors. Yellow dragons were believed to be born from yellow gold a thousand years old; blue dragons from blue gold eight hundred years olds; red, white and black from gold of the same color a thousand years olds.
To the Chinese, dragons could be either male or female. They laid eggs, some of which did not hatch for a thousand years. When a hatching did occur, it was known because of great meteor showers, violent thunderstorms, and great showers of hail.
The number of scales on a dragon was also of importance. Some Ancient dragon experts in China maintained that a true dragon has exactly 81 scales, while others stated that the number was 117. They were never said to be covered with anything except scales. This is characteristic of dragons worldwide.
Chinese dragons were said to have the head of a camel, horns of a stag, eyes of a demon, neck of a snake, scales of a carp, claws of an eagle, feet of a tiger, and ears of a cow. Although, as one can see from ancient pictures, all Oriental dragons did not fit conveniently into this description, they all were said to have a lump on the top of the head. This lump enabled them to fly without wings. Although this flying-lump was considered an essential part of Oriental dragons, it is rare to see it portrayed in pictures.
Oriental dragons could change their forms by intense concentration or when extremely angry. All dragons are said to have the ability to take on human form. One can see reasons behind a draconic being passing as a human; dragons are intensely curious about all things and may wish to directly experience human life from time to time. It is a possibility that, while in such a form, a dragon could contact a human and establish a line of communication that could be continued after the dragon resumed its own form.
The Chinese even had methods of protecting themselves from annoying dragons. It was said that they could be frightened away or controlled by the leaves of the wang plant(or Pride of India), five-colored silk thread, wax, iron, or centipedes. It is difficult to imagine a dragon being deterred by wax or centipedes. Perhaps this idea grew from a single dragon who reacted in fear to these objects, just as some humans fear crawling things, heights, or mice. After all, dragons have very distinct and individual personalities just as we do.
In Chinese medicine, the skin, bones, teeth, and saliva were considered very valuable. Powdered dragon bone was a magickal cure-all. Old medical textbooks are quick to point out that dragons periodically shed their skin and bones, like snakes do. Since the skins glowed in the dark, presumably they were easy to locate. Some of the bones were listed as slightly poisonous and could only be prepared in non-iron utensils. How “bones” could be shed is a mystery unless it is not really bone, but something that looks like it. The shedding and regrowth of teeth is known to occur among certain animals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Dragon saliva was said to be found as a frothy foam on the ground or floating on the water. It was usually deposited during mating or fighting. One Chinese story tells of a great battle just off the coast near a fishing village. The people watched the great dragons rolling in the black clouds and leaping waves for a day and a night. Their echoing roars were clearly heard by all the villagers. The next morning these people set out in all their fishing boats to the place of the battle. They scooped up whole boatloads of dragon saliva that they found floating in huge piles on the ocean.
The blood of Oriental dragons was sometimes red, other times black. Dragon experts said it changed into amber when it soaked into the ground. Wherever dragon blood fell, the ground became incapable of supporting any vegetation. Although the blood was considered dangerous, sometimes deadly, in Oriental myths. European heroes bathed in it to create invulnerability or drank it to become wise. This transformation of the blood into amber could well be alchemical expression of the manifestation of magickal power and elemental energies into a desired physicial result.
Oriental dragons did not figure in Chinese creation myths. Only rarely, and then only by accident, did they come in conflict with the gods or heroes. They tended to mind their own business and keep a benefical attitude toward humans. Oriental dragons had specific duties such as controlling the weather and keeping the land and animal fertile, as well as assignments to help humans learn certain civilized arts. Although dragon parts were widely esteemed in Oriental medicine, these magickal creatures were not hunted down as were Western dragons.
“Dancing with Dragons”
D. J. Conway