The false facts about the Chinese dragon

Chinese dragon on festival

Most people have probably seen images and reconstructions of the Chinese dragon. Big, long, looks a little bit like a lizard, has no or very small wings and flies. Well, there is only one little flaw in that description, according to some of the books on the topic.

The Chinese dragon is probably one of the more famous ones and they are seen in many different contexts. Of course, there is the celebration of the Chinese new year where the dragon is in parades and at festivals. There is Mushu in Disney’s movie Mulan, and many other examples. But in some stories and context, the Chinese dragon flies. Even though is has really small wings, or sometimes no wings at all, it flies in movies and pictures.

Dragons may be mythological beings, but it doesn’t mean they are magical. They still apply to the laws of physics. This meaning, they cannot fly unless they have the wings for it. Obviously, the bumble bee disputes this, but the dragons are not really like a bumble bee. They need to have wings big enough to fly, if they are to fly.

So far, we know the Chinese dragon can’t fly, since it has wings way too small, if any wings at all. But the idea of it flying must come from somewhere, right?

Well, since the Chinese dragon is one of the more lissom ones, very flexible and also very strong, it can move very quickly. It can sometimes almost look like it’s flying when it quickly moves in the mountains, in the forest and wherever it is. With it being able to climb mountains very easily, it’s easy to understand that it might look like it’s flying.

So in conclusion, the Chinese dragon can not fly. It has very small, or no wings. However, it is very lithe and flexible, so it may look like it’s flying when it moves. Therefor it might have gotten the reputation that is now widely spread. Even a mythological being like the Chinese dragon must follow the laws of physics.


Dragons in different times

As I have written before – dragons have been around in many different cultures since a long time ago. Somehow, dragons came to be known all around the world – although in different times and places. How did time change the perspective of them? Are they the same now as they were before, and does that change differ anything from each other if you look at it for two different parts of the world?

In ”The book of imaginary beings”, writer Jorge Luis Borges says that ”We are ignorant of the meaning of the dragon in the same way that we are ignorant of the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the dragon’s image that fits man’s imagination, and this accounts for the dragon’s appearance in different places and periods”. I found this quote really interesting, and decided to try to dig into the subject a little deeper.

In a way, I find this to be really true. Each time and place seem to have their kind of dragons, that somehow reflects the time being. No matter if it´s Daenerys Targaryens fire breathing beasts in “Game of thrones” or the green friendly guy in “Pete’s dragon” – the dragons continue to show up in movies and books in different shapes and sizes. The more you look for dragons in culture history, the more you’ll find – often in places where you don’t expect to. You can even find them in 19th century posters promoting sobriety, in the shape of the “wine dragon”. For the most part, dragons have been assigned to be evil creatures. from Tolkien’s Smaug to the dragon with the golden skin in the story about the Greek hero Jason. All evil, most of them slain. Through the centuries, lots of dragon lifes has been claimed.

I wrote in the last post about that one common idea of how the idea of dragons came up was that people found dinosaur skeletons and created an image based on that. That might have been the case – but what made people from different parts of the world relate those findings to dragons? One theory is that dragons, in most cases, carry the resemblance of the three biggest predator threats – snakes, felines and birds of prey. That could be one explanation to why dragons popped up in different parts of the world during different time periods – all people simply had the inherited fear of the same things, which they combined to get something as terrifying as dragons.

Eastern dragons are mostly portrayed as fortune bringing creatures, in opposite to their relatives in the west. But according to some people – it doesn’t have to depend on cultural differences, but the difference in historic time. The Chinese culture, which is the oldest one, would have had more time to domesticate their dragons than the younger civilizations in the west would have. It’s an interesting thought, and to me it really does make sense. Dragons does seem to have gotten a lot more good-natured in the west lately. If you compare the dragons that are portrayed today with the ones from medieval times, they do seem a lot nicer today for the most part. During the medieval time, dragons were often used as a tool to scare people. Being scared of the same things could really unite people, and that’s what the stories about dragons was used for. Those be-winged beasts were also used as a symbol for power, evil, or simply the unknown. Dragons were used as a marker on maps to mark dangerous or un-explored areas – hence the expression “Here be dragons”.

So maybe it is time that makes the difference between how dragons are shown in different cultures – and not the cultures itself. An interesting thought, at least in my opinion. We don’t really know how dragons came to be – but maybe they are just a result of the fears all people have in common – although from different places of the world. As we have conquered those fears and grown as society, the perspective we used to have on dragons might have changed. Since those creatures have been around for longer time in China for example – their view on dragons have had more time to change, making their portraits of dragons so much more different than the ones in the west. At least, it could be.

 

petas-dragon

A screenshot from the re-make of ”Pete’s dragon” (2016)


Dragons in different mythologies

I’ve been writing about dragons from both the english and the chinese culture now, as well as the dragons seen in movies. Obvioulsy, dragons has been part of the myths and stories in different parts of the world for a long time – and no one really knows where they first come from. They have been part of the Chinese culture for a very long time, but they have been around for quite a while in other parts of the world too – like in europe, where dragons are common in stories and myths as well. But we may never know exactly where the dragons originals came from, or who came up with them first.

One very common idea of how the dragons were ”invented” is that somewhere, a long time ago, people came across a dinosaur skeleton. Not knowing that dinosaurs used to walk the earth, I can see why they found it quite frightening. Other people think that the idea for the dragons came up after seeing crocodiles or some other kind of large reptiles. However, it is hard to make out what inspired the dragons, ecpecially since they look different in different kulturs and mythologies. Like I wrote in the post about dragons in chinese culture, the dragons there looked mostly like snakes – long and slim. In European mythology though, most dragons have legs and wings, and doesn’t look that much like snakes.

In Southern Europe, they believed in what is called the ”Greek dragon”. In Greece, the first mention of a dragon is from the Iliad – where Agamemnon is said to have a blue dragon motif on his sword belt as well as on his chest plate. But the greek word for dragon can also mean snake, so there is a possibility that it actually were images of stakes that Agamemnon carried. But since this was the first mention of the word ”dragon”, the name ”Greek dragon” stuck around. In another greek book, called On Animals, there was a type of dragon that inhabited Ethiopia. That dragon hunted elephants, and could grow to a length of 180 feet, or 55 meters. In Eastern Europe though, they believed that dragons had three heads, and usually the heads were believed to grow back if not all three heads are cut off at once.

But there are some things that the Southern and Eastern Europe mythology have in common. The dragons were scaly, and some of them could breathe fire. The dragons were also believed to have magic powers, which came from something called ”drakonita”. This was like a small stone, placed in the förehead or inside the head of the dragon. You could pick it out and use its magic, but in that case it would have to be removed while the dragon was alive. The stone has a bit of resemblance to the pearls that can be seen with dragons in the chinese mythology.

So even if the dragons are a bit different in the different cultures, they do have a lot in common. We will probably never know who came up with the idea of dragons first, but it’s internsting to see that people from opposite sides of the world believed in pretty much the same thing. Did the word simply spread by stories, or is there some other reason that the entire world used to believe in dragons? Maybe they actually did exist for a while?

 

 

 


The dragons in England

St.George and the Dragon

Probably have you heard or at least are familiar with the story of St George and the dragon. The story has many versions and sounds like a typical fairytale story. It wouldn’t be a surprise If inspirations from the story of St Georges was taken to the storyline of Disney’s movie “Sleeping beauty”. There are several similarities both with princess, prince, white horse and the main character – the dragon. In Europe during the middle age a dragon was a symbol for the devil. The story about St George and the dragon starts with a dragon terrorizing a small town called Libya. The dragon was said to poison the countryside and bring death to the small town. To satisfy the dragon who lived in a lake nearby, the population of the town decided to do sacrifices. They started with the farm animals such as sheep but soon they ran out of sheep. The only choice left was to sacrifice the children of the village which they did. Soon it was time for the Kings daughter to sacrifices to the dragon but the King wouldn’t let that happen. The time was running out without a sight of a knight but then St. George heard the story. He was willing to give it a try and rode day and night to get there in time. St George made it and was just in time to see when the princess was on her way to the lake. The dragon is said to have been over 50 feet long and have a scale so hard it broke St Georges spear. It was a typical European fire breathing dragon with a green colored skin.

However, since this was story was taking place for so long time ago the story has a lot of different versions. Including divided opinions whether the dragon was living in a cage or in a lake. One more divided opinion is how St. George killed the dragon. One version say the dragon was killed by St George near the cage while another version tells St. George brought it back to the city where it got killed. Different stories but the same ending with the dragon getting killed and the prince rescuing the princess. You might have seen paintings and statues of St George sitting on a white horse while he pierces the dragon with his spear. After St. George killed the dragon he was named as the Saint of England. Why the villain was a dragon is hard to answer but statues and paintings are found from earlier than the 12th century showing a knight on a white horse slaying a dragon.

Another interesting aspect is that in this story of St. George the dragon sees as an evil villain. As mention before the dragon was associated with the devil and Satan during this time. But looking a bit earlier in the history when the first humans boarded England. We find out that England, in the beginning had a flag with a dragon. It was used during battles and as the country’s coat of arms. The interesting in this is when you are looking at the founders of England. It was said the flag and symbol of the founders was a white dragon on a red background. The white dragon is called the English dragon and is still seen as the emblem of Wessex. Compare to the story of St. Georges the white dragon symbol doesn’t have any history before entering English ground. The white dragon was worn by King Alfred the Great while he was defeating the Viking army. It has nether any religious connections but the symbol belongs to Anglo Saxon Jutish origins. There are some stories mentioning two dragons, one white and one red fighting against each other in a den. The two dragons represent the war between England and Wales. The white dragon is said to be English and the red one is representing Wales. In another story the legendary wizard Merlin is mentioned and from reading the story he gets to witness a fight between a red dragon and a white. In the story of Merlin the red dragon defeat the white dragon.

Nowadays you can still see flags with symbols of dragons in England. Especially in areas where Anglo Saxon people live in. Wales still have their red dragon in their flag and it is often used from the government and other public services. Some people want to bring back the white dragon flag since it represents the Englishness better than the St. Georges flag. England is referring to the name “Three lions” nowadays. In the coat of arms there are a lion holding the emblem together with the unicorn of Scotland. There are no sign of any dragon and maybe it will continue to be so or maybe the population get what they want.


Dragons in Chinese culture


Dragons

There are no other continent where you will find as much dragon-related trinkets and decorations as in China. For over 7000 years’ dragons have been a part of the culture and life in China, especially at New Year. You might have seen pictures from the celebrations in China and can recall people dressing out with big, red dragon’s heads and all dancing in the streets. Since the dragons in China is seen more as a snake shaped animal it takes a few people to dress out like a dragon. However, if you would happen to meet a Chinese dragon you don’t have to run. To meet a Chinese dragon is a blessing and the dragon itself stands for good fortune. It’s not like the dragons from Europe or Scandinavia where the dragon symbolizes evil and darkness. No, the Chinese dragon is colorful and even if the body has a shape like a snake it is not creepy at all. It can fly although they don’t really have any wings. The dragon has four short legs and the rumors say it has several elements from different animals. For example, the dragons head have similarities with the head of a camel. The skin of a dragon has similarities to a fish called carp which you can find in both Europe and Asia. On the dragons, upper head, you will see horns and these horns is said to be the same as a giant stag also called deer. Sometimes the eyes of the dragon can seem a bit scary and some say they have the eyes of a demon. But the eyes of a Chinese dragon are also similar and compared to the eyes of a rabbit or hare. The ears can you find right beside the horns and they are the same as a bull. Because of the short legs the dragons neck is like a snake and therefore can wriggle its way through. Often the dragon walks and wriggle at the same time but since the legs are so short there is a possibility the stomach can get injured. To protect the stomach while wriggle its way through the stomach is in the same material as clams. The legs and paws who the dragon use to carry itself with is like a tiger but with claws from an eagle. You can also see the dragon have mane like a horse which starts from the head and goes all the way to the end of the tale. Very Interesting elements from different animals and it is probably the best of all worlds.

If you would ever try to find one of these famous dragons, you should start to look close to water. The dragons are said to be found near the ocean, lakes, rivers and very deep ponds. They enjoy to be in and under the water and it is best to be friends with a Chinese dragon. If you ever would do a Chinese dragon mad you can expect flooding, storms, tsunamis and so on. This is since the dragons are the ruler of the water and therefore have power over the ocean. However, there are four dragon kings who all have each sea to take care about. East China Sea, South China Sea, West Sea also called Indian Ocean and the North Sea are the four seas which all have a ruler in form of a dragon king. For many centuries, the farmers and fishermen who lived nearby the ocean or any large lakes build temples in honor for their dragon king. Whenever it was bad flooding or storms sacrifices were made to the dragon king of the village. But mostly the dragons in China are known as kindhearted and a symbol of power. They may control the sea and the rain but they are good to people since they help driving out evil spirits from people’s house. If you are innocent and helpless they are also known to help a person in need.

In paintings, you may have notice a flaming pearl beside the dragon. According to the legend, the pearl is a key to enter heaven. The pearl possesses all the characterizes a dragon have: spiritual energy, wisdom, power, prosperity and immortality. Often you can witness the Chinese dragon holding this flaming pearl in its claws or close to its head. There are also common with paintings showing two dragons fighting with each other over the flaming pearl. It might seem like all dragons belong to the same race but there are nine different types of dragons in China. Qiulong, also called the horned dragons are the mightiest dragons of all. Yinglong, the winged dragons are the only ones with wings and the oldest dragon of all. Panlong, the coiling dragons which spend most of the time in the lake of the Orient. Huanglong, are known as the yellow dragons but also for their scholarly knowledge and writing. Dilong, are the underground dragons but they are spending their time on the earth controlling the streams and rivers. Fucanglong, these dragons are called the dragons of the hidden treasures. Just as it sounds you will find them underground guarding the buried treasures. Shenlong also known as the spiritual dragon is controlling the wind both also the rain. The celestial dragons, known as Tianlong are the dragons you will find pulling chariots of the gods. Their task is as well to guard the palaces of the gods. Last but not least the dragon kings called Lóng Wáng who can take the shape of a human if they want to. They live in palaces with lifeguards such as shrimp soldiers and crab generals patrolling around. Even if they can take the shape of a human they prefer to be in normal dragon form.


Dragons in movies

Welcome to Little Dragon, a blog about dragons! The subject for today is dragons in movies, and who knows, perhaps you’ll find inspiration for a Christmas Gift for someone special?

You have heard of them and maybe seen images of them in your childhood. From the childhood, you might remember the cute little dragon named Mushu from the movie Mulan. A friendly dragon with the size as a full-grown cat and not able to fly. But you also might remember the terrifying large black and purple colored dragon in the end of Maleficent. Probably the first sign of dragons for most of the population. Both dragons were made as cartoons but for the audience they brought up two completely different moods. Mushi taught us that dragons can be friendly and helpful when humans are in need. The dragon in Maleficent is the opposite of Mushu since the dragon is large and would probably be over 65 feet. Compare to Mushu the dragon in Maleficent can also fly if she wants to. Her flame is almost killing the prince while he tries to rescue the sleeping beauty. Already in the childhood we got to learn to know two different types of dragons. It might be a bit confusing how two creatures of the same element could be so different. There is no coincidence that Disney introduced the world to two different types of dragons. The history of dragons go back over 300 years and bones from a T-rex discovered by the Chinese historian Chang Qu started it all. Since the discovery of the bones, the dragons can be spotted in almost all religions. From China and Japan to America and Scandinavia. Wherever you go, you will find a difference between the dragons in both temperament and appearance. For some it means luck and fortune while other see the dragon as a fire breathing beast representing Satan. It is described in fairytales and stories as protective and valuable but also a dangerous and unpredictable animal. It might be one of the most popular mythologic creature but the legendary animal has brought some mixed feelings to the population of the world.

Therefore, in movies you can and will come across both good and aggressive dragons. The size and the imagination of dragons have always been different all over the world. If you ask a person to imagine a dragon, some may see a reptile look alike creature with wings. Others may refer the dragon like a relative to the snake with no wings. However, the dragons seem to never go out of style or be boring. One excellent example of showing this is the series: Game of Thrones. You can spot three baby dragons in the beginning and you get to follow them while they grow up. In the series, you will have difficulties to decide whether the dragons are good hearted or bad. But you will see one thing and that’s loyalty. They are very protective of the people they know but can easily get angry if they are threatened by an enemy or anyone else. Another interesting detail is that the smaller dragons get locked in under one mountain to protect the population. The Queens hand later release the dragon since they shouldn’t be locked up because it can hurt them. One dragon who doesn’t mind living under a mountain is the 65 feet long Smaug who you will find in the movie: The Hobbit. He is guarding a large amount of gold and specially the stone called The Arkenstone. Smaug would probably be the modern dragon of Disneys old Maleficent. Just as terrifying and careless who takes what he wants. His hobbies is to kill everything attempting to take his gold and to burn down cities.

Another movie that got great ratings and where the main character is a dragon is in the movie “How to train your dragon”. A modern cartoons movie where the storyline takes place during the time of Vikings. The movie became very popular, so popular the first movie got two sequels. The dragon in the movie can fly but is friendly and gentle to its rider. But if you look at the storyline of the movie you will find out that the dragons in the beginning is believed to be evil and dislike people. The movie demonstrates the imagination and the different images of the dragons. You will see dragons of all sizes, color and characteristics. Some are as small as a human paw while other are large as a mountain.

When it comes to dragons in movies it isn’t the easiest to make them look real. However, there are no look which is consider to be right or wrong when it comes dragons. This gives the movie directors and writers a lot to work with and you can make them how terrifying you want or how charming you want. It’s all up to your own imagination and fantasy. That is a luxury to not be able to get judged since every single person have their own opinions and thoughts of how a dragon look like.