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The Meaning of the Chinese Dragon

Chinese dragon meaning

Everything You Need to Know About the Chinese Dragon

In China, dragons are everywhere. We find these creatures in the :

  • Mythologies and legends related to the history of China
  • Festivals
  • Astrological signs
  • Names
  • Art
  • Regional languages

After reading this article, you will understand why Chinese dragons are central to Chinese history, culture and life. And why it fascinates them so much!

dragon chinese
Chinese Dragon

The Dragon in Chinese Mythology

A. Origin of the Dragon Myth

The very foundation of Chinese civilization is inspired by a story of a dragon, as told in the story of the heroes Yuandi and Huang di.

According to Chinese legend, several thousand years ago, a legendary tribal chief named Yandi was born from the telepathy between a dragon and his mother.

At the same time, the Yellow Emperor Huangdi launched a salvo of assaults against nine tribes of the Yellow River Valley.

After defeating his opponents, the emperor seized the symbols of each of their totems to make his own. This is how the dragon’s totem pole was born.

That’s why the Chinese dragon has characteristics of nine other animals: shrimp eyes, deer horns, bull mouth, dog nose, catfish whiskers, lion mane, long snake tail, fish scales, and hawk claws.

Thus Yandi, Huangdi and the Chinese dragon were seen as the ancestors of Chinese civilization. From then on, the dragon was a sacred animal in China. Indeed, the different tribes that populated China made it their fetish totem.

huangdi dragon
Huangdi: The Yellow Emperor

B. The Chinese Dragon During Antiquity

Later, during antiquity, the dragon was the hero of the founding texts of Chinese culture. For example, in the Huainan Zi, encyclopedia written in the IInd before J-C, two dragons confront each other:

one caused a flood by breaking one of the pillars of the earth,
the other the fight, tries to stop the floods and restore balance on earth.
Some versions of this story, notably in Shi Yi Ji, a set of Chinese mythological narratives, mention the ruler Yu the Great.

This is the very first legendary Chinese emperor, founder of the Xia dynasty. In the story of the flood, it is him who re-establishes the order of things by being helped by a dragon.

So now you understand how the dragon became the symbol of the emperors of China.

Yu the Great
Yu the Great

C. Evolution of the Dragon Myth Over Time

In the course of time, the dragon has mutated. It has gone from ancestral Chinese mythologies and legends to the current festival mascots.

Thus, this creature embodies the spirit of the Chinese people, namely imperturbable and innovative.

He has kept up with the times. In fact, in addition to being extremely popular with the people of China, the dragon has become a symbol for Chinese expatriates.

Chinese festival dragon

Chinese Dragon Vs Western Dragon

For Westerners, the dragon is a giant, flying reptile, which is found in many works (novels, movies) and legends. Generally speaking, the European dragon spits fire and is a harmful, destructive being that sows chaos and discord. In mythology, it is often defeated by a hero.

On the other hand, in Asia, the dragon symbolizes the exact opposite! Especially in China, where dragons are in popular culture and are an integral part of daily life. Chinese dragons embody power, luck, fortune, longevity, nobility, joy and benevolence. That’s all there is to it!

Chinese Dragon Vs Western Dragon
Among these two legendary creatures, will you be able to recognize the Chinese dragon?

Recognizing a Chinese Dragon

You will quickly notice that in China, the dragon is not represented in the same way as in Europe.

The main difference is that the Chinese dragon has no wings. However, this creature does have the ability to fly thanks to its crest, as mentioned in different stories.

The Chinese dragon has the peculiarity of possessing the attributes of different animals such as the scales of the carp, the paws of the tiger, the nose of the dog … According to some sources, this would come from a tribal chief whose totem animal was a dragon. Each time he won a victory over another tribe, he would add their totem animal to his own.

The body of the Chinese dragon is very long, like that of a snake coiled around itself. The snake’s neck is also quite similar to that of a dragon.

Most of the time, the Chinese dragon is represented playing with a fire bead. It is placed under his chin or in his throat. It is a very important element that gives it its power.

Finally, it is important to pay attention to the number of claws of a dragon! The more claws it has, the more powerful the dragon is.

Indeed, dragons with five claws per leg are only those linked to Chinese emperors.

If you see only four, then it is either a Vietnamese, Korean, Indonesian dragon. It can be a Chinese dragon, but it is not related to the Chinese emperor, but to one of his vassals. If it has only 3 claws per leg, then it is a Japanese dragon. Yes, the Asian dragon loses or gains claws, depending on where it lives!

Some of these Chinese creatures may even have demon eyes.

chinese illustration dragon

Differentiating Chinese Dragon Types

Generally speaking, the Chinese dragon is represented according to the indications specified above. Only, it is necessary to distinguish the different types of Chinese dragon. The Chinese word for dragon is “Long“. To distinguish them, its specificity is added to the word “Long”.

In Chinese mythology, each dragon has its role:

  • The dragon of the sky, or celestial (Tianlong) is the guardian of the palaces of the gods.
  • The spiritual dragon (Shenlong) controls the weather in a beneficial or evil way. We already had the opportunity to talk about this Dragon in the article about the 7 dragons that have marked the cartoons. Indeed, Shenlong inspired the famous dragon Shenron, from Dragon Ball.
  • We continue: the land dragon (Silong) takes care of the bodies of water.
  • Fu-Zang Long guards the treasures of the world.
Here’s the sumptuous Tian Long

Long wang is the dragon king. This one has 9 sons, each with their own particularities:

  • Bixi (elder): he has a turtle body with sharp teeth. He likes to support heavy objects. It is regularly observed on monuments or tombs.
  • Qiuniu: It is a yellow dragon filled with scales. This creature loves music. Moreover, he excels at it. It is therefore frequently found on musical instruments.
  • Yazi: It has a snake belly and a leopard head. He likes to fight, even kill. He regularly decorates the handles of swords.
  • Chaofeng : dragon who loves adventures. We often see it on the totids of palaces.
  • Pulao: it is a whining being, who makes noise! Frequently perceptible on the handles of bell,
  • Chiwen: a creature that lives in the sea and has a rocky voice. It fills its belly with marine predators. Often visible on palaces,
  • Bi’an: He is a keen advocate of laws and jurisdictions. He works close to the prison gates,
  • Suanni: it has a lion’s body. It smells with delight of incense. It is regularly found on the incense burners and seats of Buddhist temples.
  • Fuxi: it is the Chinese dragon that is most often represented.

If you are lost, don’t worry. By familiarizing yourself with the Chinese universe, you will quickly learn to differentiate these legendary creatures!

dragon sons
9 sons of the dragon

Deciphering the Symbolism of the Chinese Dragon

In the Chinese dragon, everything is symbolic: its name, its color, its shapes, the number of its claws and toes, and even its scales …

So you’ll have to pay attention to the details to know what kind of dragon you’re dealing with (in case you find yourself facing it… you never know!).

Generally speaking, the dragon symbolizes power and wisdom. For example, every emperor was considered the son of a dragon and wore clothes adorned with dragons. This privilege was reserved exclusively for them.

As far as the appearance of this creature is concerned, everything is also very significant. The number 9, a very auspicious number in China, is very present: the dragon is composed of elements of 9 animals, it has 117 scales including 81 males (9×9) and 36 females (9×4) …

Colors are also important. For example, the blood of the dragon is red and yellow to recall the dominant colors of the sky and the earth

On the other hand, if the dragon is represented swallowing the sun or the moon, then it symbolizes eclipses.

Still according to Chinese mythology, dragons are the masters of water. Thus, they can provoke rain during a period of drought, and thus participate in the good harvests of the peasants. This is why, generally, Chinese dragons crib in aquatic environments: at the bottom of seas, lakes, rivers … We find quite similar characteristics in many creatures from Asian countries: Vietnamese Dragon, Japanese, Korean dragons …

Deciphering symbolism Chinese dragon

The Chinese Dragon: in Art and Popular Culture

We reassure you, even if the dragons in China are nice, you will not really meet any during a stay in this wonderful country.

We are sorry to disappoint some or some of them, but no tangible proof of the existence of Chinese dragons has been found.

In fact, even if you stumbled upon a dragon’s egg (by chance), according to legend, you would have to wait 1000 years for it to hatch. And another 1000 more years to see this creature reach adulthood.

However, we can guarantee that you will still come across one on your journey. Indeed, dragons are everywhere in China. As well in decorations, dances or even in language.

Chinese Dragon Digital Art by Joachim Fritz

A. Chinese Dragon: Festivals and Celebrations


This traditional event takes place in many Chinese festivals, especially during the Chinese New Year.

Be careful not to confuse the Lion dance and the Dragon dance, which are two extremely popular dances in China.



During the traditional dragon boat festival, you can see ships dressed in the manner of a Chinese dragon.

This was once an ancestral custom used to pay homage to Qu Yuan, and attract happiness and prosperity.

Today, in addition to being a folklore, it has also become an extremely popular sport throughout the world. There is an international race that takes place in Hong Kong.

dragon boat festival

B. The Forbidden City

You will also encounter the dragon in ancient imperial buildings, such as the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The Chinese dragon embodied the legitimacy of emperors to rule. Thus, everything related to dragons, could only be raised by the emperor, in the Chinese feudal society. Ancestral emperors called their children “dragon seeds”. They adorned themselves with “dragon robes” and sat on dragon chairs.

If you enter the Forbidden City, you will see Chinese dragons almost everywhere: on the golden roofs, emperor’s chair, walls, wooden pillars, ramps, stone floor …

By the way, you can have fun to recognize the 9 dragon’s threads in the ornaments !

Forbidden City
Forbidden City in Beijing

C. Imperial Embroidery and Museum

If you think about visiting a Chinese museum with relics from ancient times, you will see the Emperor’s clothes embroidered with Chinese dragons.

Certainly, at first glance, these creatures look quite similar to each other. But if you pay attention to the color, the number of toes and the postures of the dragons, you will see that they are different.

In the emperor’s robe, the dragon has four legs and five toes on each. On the Emperor’s robe, the dragon has four legs and five toes on each leg, but on the vassal’s robe, the dragon has only four toes on each leg. This was a mark of imperial prestige: the dragon has five toes, it was for the Emperor of China!

kangxi emperor
Kangxi, Chinese emperor of the Qing Dynasty, with traditional embroidered dragon garment

D. Chinese Opera

Many Chinese opera performances have a title that includes the word “dragon”.

In these shows, dragons can also be seen on imperial robes, when characters from imperial families are portrayed.

Chinese Opera

E. Chinese Zodiac

As you probably know, the sign of the dragon is a sign of the Chinese Zodiac. It is therefore one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac in the Chinese horoscope. It is even the most powerful of them all.

Chinese Zodiac also tells stories about the dragon. It is a divinatory art based on the study of the stars and constellations to predict work in the fields, or a traditional festival, for example.

The different interpretations following the observation of the stars make it possible to imagine stories. They attribute to each neighborhood and year its animal, including the Dragon.

The dragon is therefore part of the Chinese calendar. Here are the years of the sign dragon: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012 or 2024.

chinese zodiac

F. Feng Shui

Of course, we find the Chinese dragon in Feng Shui. He is even one of the celestial creatures of China that has the most energy in him. And moreover, it brings good luck!

In Feng Shui, we often see the famous symbol of Yin Yang, where the dragon and the tiger are represented. This represents the balance and harmony of opposing forces.

Amplify your passion for the Chinese Dragon

As you have understood, Chinese dragons are nicer than the European winged dragons which are fearsome.

In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a symbol of luck, power and wisdom. Beware, however, whoever rubs against it stings himself. Some Chinese dragons are terrible creatures.

In any case, the Chinese have worshipped them for thousands of years. Dragons are present everywhere throughout China: in stories, expressions, ornaments, ornaments, zodiac signs, opera, parades, precious metals …

You can discover the Chinese Dragons from another angle, in the very interesting article realized by Chine magazine.

You can also immerse yourself more in the fabulous world of Chinese dragons by taking possession of their relics. You can find them on our shop: in the form of t-shirts, sweats, rings, paintings and many other forms …

Discover also the Chinese dragons through pocket watches as well as a huge collection of all kinds of watches.

6 thoughts on “The Meaning of the Chinese Dragon

  1. great

  2. A fascinating dragon!

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  5. Chinese dragons are the best

  6. Awesome post about the chinese dragon

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