Thousands of years ago humans lived as tribes. And every tribe had a totem. Animals were the most common symbols used for totems.
There was once a strong tribe near the Yellow River that conquered many other tribes. Although their totem was a snake, they would add totem features from the tribes they conquered to their own totem. Soon their snake totem would have the antlers of a deer. The head of a crocodile. The ears of a cow. The scales of a fish. And the talons of an eagle.
Over time, the snake tribe’s totem feature evolved into today’s Chinese “dragon”. The tribe would also create a letter to represent this legendary creature in Chinese mythology, Chinese folklore and Chinese culture at large.
At the time, humans feared nature, so they took comfort in observing stars. There were 28 stars, which were divided in to 4 groups consisting of 7 stars each. The 4 big star groups were in the north, east, south, and west.
By connecting the 7 stars in the East group people could see the shape of a dragon. This group would become East Dragon star group.
Later, people came to associate the Dragon group with rain, which is essential to agriculture and food.
People now saw the dragon as spiritual, if not holy. With rain bringing thunder, it is believed that the dragon offers rain to the land with the sound of thunder as the roar of the dragon.
This is why the dragon is called “龙(long)” (the pronunciation sounds like the sound of the thunder). ).
Throughout time the dragon has become a holy totem of ancient China with people paying homage to the dragon. Here is the earliest dragon feature that we know of.
It dates back 8,000 years.
The dragon is on the left side. On the right side is a tiger. The tiger is also related to the stars and is the west star group or tiger star group.
This is an abstract dragon made of jade, which was created in around 6,000 years ago.
Also, the jade dragon is a decoration created around 5,300 years ago.
This is a dragon painting on pottery made around 4,000 years ago.
Before long, the dragon would be used by the imperial family. And only royalty could use the dragon feature. As the dragon continued to represent power, different dragon hierarchies were established. The dragons now had four or five toes. In the latest dynasty, only the emperor was allowed to use the 5 toe dragon feature.
The Chinese letter for a dragon is “龍”. As we know, a Chinese letter is a pictograph. The letter comes from the physical feature. Today, we use a simplified version for easy writing as “龙”, but this is where the letter comes from. As stated, the original letter is a mark of combined totems. Although the stars and thunder made the letter look scary for a while, the letter would become kinder as the rulers started to describe themselves as the descendants of the dragon. This helped to garner the trust and support of the people. The letter came in three parts, the left side is a dragon, the middle part is a snake representing evil things and the right side means human. The letter shows us that humans ask the dragon to help kill evil things. The dragon would also help humans train the evil animals to work for people.
2024 is the year of the dragon, we believe the dragon will bring fortune to us. We hope everybody has a strong and wonderful year.
1Jade Dragon Hongshan Culture, Neolithic Age, National Museum of China, (https://en.chnmuseum.cn/collections_577/collection_highlights_608/artifacts_handed___down_from_ancient_times_612/202008/t20200831_247580.html)
2Jade Dragon Lingjiatan Culture, Neolithic Age, The Value, https://en.thevalue.com/articles/education-lingjiatan-hongshan-culture-c-shaped-dragon-evolution-of-image-of-dragons
3Painted Pottery Plate Longshan Culture, 2500-1900 BC, China Daily, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201512/18/WS5a2b462ea310eefe3e99f4ef.html