No one knows exactly how dragons got started in China, but they may date all the way back to Neolithic times. The oldest dragon statue ever found is from the Yangshao culture in Henan, in the fifth millennium BCE. There are also ancient jade badges and amulets that are made in a coiled dragon form. And the character for "dragon" in the earliest Chinese writing shows the same type of coiled form.
|An ancient character for "dragon"|
Some scholars think that the idea of the dragon was based on the Saltwater Crocodile, which lived in China during long-ago times. This crocodile is able to tell if rain is coming because it can sense changes in air pressure. Which may be how people started thinking that the dragon could control weather, and especially the rain.
|This is a Saltwater Crocodile, which looks a little|
like a dragon, but dragons are much prettier!
Other scholars believe that dragons evolved from the totems that different tribes used. A couple of tribes had snakes as their totems, and the first Emperor of China, Huangdi, used a snake as his coat of arms. So there was a legend that every time the Emperor conquered another tribe, he made their totem be part of his own. And this is how the dragon ended up with the body of a serpent, the legs of a crocodile, the antlers of a deer, the talons of an eagle, the soles of a tiger, the scales of a carp, and the eyes of a demon. Oh, and a Chinese dragon has exactly 117 scales, but I'm not sure why.
In China, dragons usually don't have wings, which is one easy way to tell them apart from European dragons. Chinese dragons rule over moving water, such as waterfalls, rivers, and seas. They represent power and strength and good luck, and that's why they were symbols of the Chinese emperors. Yellow was the color that only emperors could wear, so the imperial dragon was always yellow or gold. Dragons with five claws were a symbol of the emperor, and ordinary people could only have dragons with four or three claws. The dragon was a yang, and its yin was the phoenix, which was the symbol of the Empress.
|Phoenix and dragon|
1. Tianlong, the Celestial Dragons. Their job was to pull the chariots of the gods and to guard their palaces.
2. Shenlong, the Spiritual Dragons. They controlled the wind and rain.
3. Fucanglong, the Dragons of Hidden Treasures. They lived in the underworld and guarded natural and man-made treasures. When the Fucanglong burst out of the ground to report to heaven, that's what caused a volcano.
5. Yinglong, the Winged Dragons. These are the oldest Eastern dragons, and the only ones with wings.
6. Qiulong, the Horned Dragons. The mightiest dragons of all.
7. Panlong, the Coiling Dragons. Water dragons who mostly lived in lakes.
8. Huanglong, the Yellow Dragons. They came out of the River Luo and gave the Emperor Fu Hsi the elements of writing. These dragons were very scholarly.
9. Long Wang, the Dragon Kings. There are four of these Kings, and they ruled over the four seas.
|The Chinese word for "dragon" is lóng.|
Nobody really worships dragons in China anymore, and they are mostly used for decoration. But people still think dragons are very special, so if you do something to mess up a dragon picture or sculpture, you might get into a lot of trouble!