The Black Dragon at back of the main alter in Bak Kai (North Creek) Temple, Marysville, California is the oldest continuously operating Chinese Temple in America. It was founded in 1854.
Qing Dynasty Imperial Golden Dragon
About the Chinese Dragon
The Chinese Dragon is often seen as a symbol of divine protection and vigilance. It is regarded as the Supreme Being among all creatures, a divine mythical animal that can ward off wandering evil spirits, protect the innocent, and bestow safety to all who carry its emblem. The Chinese Dragon is regarded as the ultimate symbol of good fortune.
Traditionally there are also nine places Dragon images are used, each revealing a different dragon characteristic:
- on tops of stone tablets because of Dragons' love of literature;
- at the bottom of stone monuments since dragons can support heavy weights;
- on the eaves of temples since dragons are always alert to danger and symbolized divine protection;
- on the beams of bridges since dragons are fond of water;
- on Buddha'sBuddha's throne since dragons like to rest;
- on the hilts of swords since dragons are also capable of killing.
- on prison gates since such dragons are fond of quarreling and trouble-making;
- on tops of bells and gongs due to the beast's habit of shrieking when attacked;
- on the screws of fiddles since most dragons are fond of music.
Historically, the Dragon was used as a symbol of the Emperor of China. In the Zhou Dynasty, the 5-clawed Dragon was assigned to the Son of Heaven, the 4-clawed Dragon to the nobles (Zhuhai), and the 3-clawed Dragon the ministers (Dafu). In the Qin Dynasty, the 5-clawed foot dragon was assigned to represent the Emperor, while the 4-clawed and 3-clawed dragons were assigned to the commoners. The Dragon in the Qing Dynasty appeared on the national flag.
The Dragon is sometimes used in the West as a national emblem of China. However, this usage within both the People'sPeople's Republic of China and Taiwan as the symbol of the government is not common. Instead, it is generally used as a symbol of culture. In Hong Kong, the Dragon is part of its brand to promote itself internationally.
The five-clawed imperial Dragon, or long, the majestic symbol used only by the Emperor, represents the male, positive principle of the universe, known as yang in traditional Chinese thought. The Dragon used by this Shaolin lineage is the 5-Clawed, Nine Section, Golden Dragon.
During the Ming Dynasty, it was a capital offense for anyone - other than the Emperor himself – to ever use the completely gold-colored, five-clawed dragon motif. Improper use of the claw number and/or colors was considered treason, punishable by the execution of the offender's entire clan. The five toes rule has first enforced in AD 1336. Because nine was considered the number of the Emperor, only the most senior officials were allowed to wear nine dragons on their robes – and then only with the robe completely covered. Even the Emperor himself wore his dragon robe with one of its nine dragons hidden from view.
Every Chinese dynasty, beginning with the Han (206 BCE–CE 220), used the motif of a pair of dragons fighting for a pearl and, for the national flag, a five-clawed dragon with the red sun or jewel on a yellow background.
The Emperor's robe was bright yellow, and his emblem was composed of four medallions with five-clawed coiling dragons on the front and back. The heir to the throne wore an orange robe embroidered with the same four imperial medallions. Dragons were also portrayed on the Emperor's furnishings and possessions and those of his courtiers.
The Emperor also wore the five-clawed Dragon because legends state that the Dragon King moves in all four directions simultaneously; the fifth direction is the Center, where he remains.
The "flaming pearl," an innovation introduced during the Tang Dynasty by Buddhism, representing the (如意寶珠) "wishing precious pearl." It is depicted with the imperial Dragon because the Dragon guards this pearl. There are five Dragon Kings, corresponding to the five sacred mountains, and once per year, they rise out of the water and up to heaven to report to the Heavenly Emperor.
Yellow (Golden) Dragon (黃龍 Huánglóng) The Dragon of the Center.
The Azure Dragon or Blue-Green Dragon (青龍 Qīnglóng), or Green Dragon (蒼龍 Cānglóng), is the Dragon God of the east, and the essence of spring. His proper name is Ao Guang (敖廣).
The Red Dragon (赤龍 Chìlóng or 朱龍 Zhūlóng, literally "Cinnabar Dragon," "Vermilion Dragon") is the Dragon God of the South and of the essence of summer. His proper name is Ao Qin (敖欽).
The Black Dragon (黑龍 Hēilóng), also called "Dark Dragon" or "Mysterious Dragon" (玄龍 Xuánlóng), is the Dragon God of the North and the essence of winter. His proper names are Ao Shun (敖順) or Ao Ming (敖明). (See a photo of a Black Dragon on the right.)
The White Dragon (白龍 Báilóng) is the Dragon God of the West and the essence of autumn. His proper names are Ao Run (敖閏), Ao Jun (敖君) or Ao Ji (敖吉).
In the Daoist religion, the Dragon symbolizes the Dao, the unseen but powerful life force which pervades the universe and represents the North, while the tiger depicts the South.
Citations: Perkins, Dorothy. "dragon in Chinese tradition." Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2000. Modern World History.
Sleeboom, Margaret. Academic Nations in China and Japan: Framed in Concepts of Nature, Culture and the Universal., 2000. Routledge publishing.
© 2012 by Honan Shaolin (Cultrual & Historical) Association, Alberta, Canada, and Honan Shaolin Association, Golden Dragon Team, Inc.™ 河南少林金龍會, New York.