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LEXICON

 

 

dragon

A mythical, sometimes winged, reptile-like monster able to breathe fire. In ancient Chinese mythology the earth's natural process of procreation takes the form of a dragon, animating all things in the unending cycle of life, death and rebirth. It embodies the process of change itself, appearing only to disappear again, thus being in constant transformation. It therefore appears frequently in Chinese festivals, especially during Trut Jihn, the Chinese lunar new year (fig.). Dragons also symbolize immortality, wisdom and might, and are seen as benevolent deities, though in later Buddhist thought they are sometimes described with malevolent influences. It has since long been the national symbol of the Chinese and in ancient times it was often used as a metaphorical title referring to (the might of) the emperor. It is hence frequently seen in iconography, as well as in architecture (fig.), often with diverse appearances, that depend on their function and origin, with some having wings. It often holds or alternatively chases an enormous magical flaming pearl (fig.), which symbolizes wisdom and has the power to multiply whatever it touches. Initially, Chinese dragons were depicted with any number of claws, varying from only three to five, but over time a system was introduced in which the number of claws represented the status of the owner, with five being the highest and reserved for noblemen (fig.). Around the 13th century AD it was decreed that the emblem of the Emperor was a completely gold-coloured, five-clawed dragon (fig.), whereas that for imperial nobility and certain high ranking officials was a four-clawed dragon in various symbolic colours, whilst the emblem for lower ranks and the general public was a three-clawed dragon. In addition, it was forbidden for commoners to wear any cloth with certain patterns reserved for the nobility. Improper use of the rules was considered an act of treason, punishable by execution of the offender's entire family or clan. The system was later abolished. Chinese dragons are typically described to have 117 scales, i.e. 81 yang and 36 yin, each the sum of a multiple of the mathematically unique number nine. There also are nine forms of the dragon and the very first dragon had nine sons, hence there are a number of places in China and Southeast Asia called Nine Dragons, such as the rivers of the Mekhong Delta in southern Vietnam (fig.). The dragon is also the fifth animal of the Chinese zodiac as the fifth year of the animal cycle (fig.) and represents virtue and sanctity, though for those who view the dragon as a representative of evil power, take it to be a medium of destruction. Those born in the Year of the Dragon belong to the element jin (), that represents metal or gold and correspondents to the colour white and the celestial stems geng (庚) and xin (辛). According to their astrological aspects, those born in the Year of the Dragon are articulate, philosophical, witty, and wise, but they are not delicate or refined and lose their temper easily, though they are charitable and generous, and like to travel. In some countries of Asia, dragons are described as having a certain feature of each of the other 11 creatures of the zodiac, i.e. the whiskers of the rat, horns of the ox, claws of the tiger, belly of the rabbit, body of the snake, legs of the horse, beard of the goat, brain (wit) of the monkey, crest of the rooster, ears of the dog and the snout of the pig. In a trigram, the dragon is represented by three unbroken lines, which also stand for Heaven, strong and head (fig.). In addition, the dragon is counted as one of the four animals from Chinese paradise, associated with happiness, together with a unicorn or alternatively a (white) tiger, a hongse or (red) phoenix, and a tortoise. Depicted together with a phoenix, it is a symbol of the Emperor (fig.). In that case, the phoenix becomes entirely feminine as the Empress, and together they represent both aspects of imperial power (fig.). The dragon features on many a Thai postage stamp, including the Zodiac Year of the Dragon Postage Stamp, issued in 2012 (fig.) and the Songkraan Day Postage Stamp, issued in 2000 (fig.). Dragons woven from cord fibers (fig.) are an OTOP product from Roi Et. In Thai called mangkon. See also flaming pearl.

 

dragon