The Fascinating Story Behind the Luck of the Year of the Dragon

Camel's head, deer's horns, demon's eyes, bull's ears, snake's neck, clam's belly, carp's scales, eagle's claws, and tiger's paws. All combined to form the majestic creature of Chinese legend - the dragon. This mythical being...

Camel's head, deer's horns, demon's eyes, bull's ears, snake's neck, clam's belly, carp's scales, eagle's claws, and tiger's paws. All combined to form the majestic creature of Chinese legend - the dragon. This mythical being holds a significant place in Chinese culture, symbolizing imperial power, benevolent divinity, and unity. But why is the Year of the Dragon considered so lucky? Let's dive deeper into the fascinating world of Chinese mythology and folklore to find out.

The Most Potent Zodiac Symbol

The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals, each representing a year in a 12-year cycle. The dragon, being the fifth in the sequence, holds the position of the most potent and desirable zodiac symbol. According to Richard E. Strassberg, an expert on Chinese culture, the dragon possesses the combined powers of nine animals, making it supreme. When the Year of the Dragon arrives, birth rates in China tend to boom as many believe that a child born during this year, a lucky dragon baby, will be destined for success. The dragon's association with intelligence, authority, and good fortune further enhances these high expectations.

The Birth of the Zodiac

The Chinese zodiac system has ancient origins, but the exact time when it became associated with specific animal symbols is still debated among scholars. The zodiac is believed to have appeared during the Han dynasty, which ruled China from 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E. The legend behind the zodiac involves a race where animals compete to be included in the zodiac calendar. The dragon, despite its powers of flight, stops midway to provide water to a drought-ridden village, establishing itself as a symbol of selfless benevolence. This act solidifies the dragon's position as a beloved creature in Chinese culture.

Early Forms in Art

The dragon has been a part of Chinese art for thousands of years, even before its symbolic significance in the zodiac. However, early representations of the dragon were more ambiguous and lacked specific associations. It was during the Han dynasty that the dragon's commanding form emerged, influenced by China's contact with Central and Western Asia. This amalgamation of different living forms created a powerful and recognizable image of the dragon, which has persisted through the ages.

Creatures of Cosmology

The dragon is not a singular entity in Chinese culture; instead, it exists in various forms with distinct mythologies. Texts like the Shan Hai Jing and Huainanzi offer insight into this rich lore. The Azure Dragon, one of the "Four Symbols" in Chinese astrology, rules over the east and controls thunder and wind. It represents the rise of the sun and symbolizes benevolent guardianship. Dragons also feature in other aspects of Chinese folklore, such as the Nine Sons of the Dragon, each with their unique characteristics and associations.

A Spiritual Neighbor

The dragon was believed to dwell in oceans, lakes, and rivers, making it a spiritual neighbor to the people. Farmers prayed to the dragon for good weather and bountiful harvests. Unlike the fire-breathing dragons of European folklore, Chinese dragons were considered benevolent and mysterious. They were revered for their power but were not to be encountered directly. The dragon's association with water and its ability to control rainfall further solidify its importance in an agrarian society.

The Emblem of the Emperor

The dragon played a crucial role in the consolidation of the Chinese imperial state. The birth of the first Han emperor was blessed by a dragon, linking the dragon with imperial authority and ascendancy. It became a symbol of ultimate power and found its place on the clothing of emperors and senior royals. The dragon's association with the emperor was so strong that it became taboo to refer to the emperor directly, with dragons acting as a means of honoring the emperor from a respectful distance.

In Conclusion

The dragon is not only a legendary creature but also a symbol deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and history. Its significance in the Chinese zodiac, its early forms in art, its diverse mythologies, and its association with the emperor all contribute to its status as a revered and lucky symbol. As we enter the Year of the Dragon, let us embrace the wealth of meaning and fortune that this mythical creature brings, and may it guide us towards prosperity and success in the coming year.

A Zhou dynasty wine vessel featuring a depiction of a dragon - Public domain via Wikimedia Commons