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YEAR OF THE DRAGON

The Dragon permeates very nearly every aspect of traditional Chinese culture. All major feasts and celebrations feature them and dragons used to be (and still are to an extent) portrayed on every side in both town and country - on ships, bridges and roof gables, embroidered on silk, glazed into ceramics and carved into wood and stone. Particularly so in Peking where the Emperors once ruled.

They used to be surrounded by images of the dragon. They sat on a Dragon Throne, slept in a Dragon Bed and had five-toed dragons embroidered onto their official robes and the banners that accompany them everywhere. A dragon (or a pair of dragons playing with a pearl) was the seal on their and all books authorized or commissioned by an Emperor also bore his dragon seal.

One reason for the profusion of dragons around the Emperors is that the earliest legendary ones such as Huang Di and Shun were believed to have dragon blood in their veins, and even to have been able to turn into dragons at will. Even Yu, founder of the historical Xia dynasty in about 2,000 BC, was said to have been born as a dragon and have supernatural powers. His much later successors were said to still have had a dragonish cast to their features, and to be called 'dragon-face' was then considered a great compliment in China. In a very literal sense the Emperor was seen as the incarnation on earth of the spirit of his people, which was a celestial dragon.

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