The dragon in Asian art and culture.

Dragon, decorative, art, illustration, Anton Seder, animal
Dragon. The animal in decorative art by Anton Seder.


Decorative motives of oriental art by Katherine M. Ball

Great monarch of the air.
Exhale thy magic breath!
Shape whirling clouds
With moisture charged.
With rain refresh the earth.

The animal in art occupies as important a place in the Orient as the portrayal of the human species or the representation of the beautiful in the realm of natural scenery. For, since the dawn of human intelligence, its kingdom has played a serious part in the varied systems of philosophy and religion which have ministered to the welfare and contentment of mankind.

In the arts of savagery may be found examples of Totemism, which appears to have been practised as early as Tree Worship, one having been associated with the polity of these primitive peoples and the other with their devotional life.

Animals were chosen—as the distinguishing device of a family clan or tribe—whose characteristics in some way expressed the qualities deemed worthy of emulation, or which bore some relation to the particular country in which these races dwelt.

The animal selected for this high office was protected and reverently regarded, becoming not only a dominant factor in all the affairs of life, but also an ever-present icon, which—due to its being wrought in enduring stone—has often been preserved, thereby furnishing an invaluable means for unravelling mysteries of the past.

Such totems were the symbols not only of particular groups of people, but also of their chiefs and rulers, a fact which is of value to the student of archaeology in tracing the common origin of nations.

An example having a bearing upon this subject may be found in the history of the ancient Mayan civilisation, as revealed by explorations in Central America of a comparatively recent date.

Dragons, decorative, art, illustration, Anton Seder, animal
Dragons. The animal in decorative art by Anton Seder.

There, a study of the traditions of the different nations, in conjunction with the interpretation of the arts of antiquity found (luring the excavations, has not only furnished convincing proof of a civilisation as remote as 11,500 B.C., but has shown that the serpent was, even at that early time, as much a nation’s emblem as is the eagle of our own Republic; and, that it was also the particular blazon of their king, just as the dragon was China’s national emblem as well as the insignia of the Emperor.

The selection of the serpent of Mayach *) was due to the resemblance of the form of the country to a local reptile, the head of which was identical with the peninsula of Yucatan and the tail with the southern continent; and that it was no ordinary serpent, but one apparently akin to the oriental dragon, is evident from the tradition which credits it with having not only both fins and wings, but a “green back—from its verdant forests that cover the domain; a yellow body—from its internal fires that cause its surface to wriggle like a serpent; a blue crown—from the azure canopy of the overhanging heavens; wings—from the smoke of its volcanoes, and fins — from its lofty mountain peaks.”

*) Mayach being the Mayan name for Yucatan. There is in Central America, a great peninsula called Yucatan. More than 11500 years ago, that peninsula was known as Mayach.

It is further interesting to note that while the serpent was the totem of the nation, it was also the insignia of its ruler ; for the word can, by which his title was designated, was also the Mayan word for serpent, just as to this day “khan” is the title of the kings of Tartary, Burma and other Asiatic countries where Serpent Worship—another of the great primitive religions—prevailed for many centuries.

The thought of the transition from can to khan and then to king may well entice the archaeological speculator, while the connection of ancient China with the Mayan civilisation offers opportunities for serious investigation. There are many evidences pointing to such a conclusion, the Chinese themselves having a tradition that a settlement had been made in their country by a tribe coming from the west.

Jar, Dragon, Design, 1700s, Korea, porcelaine,
Jar with Dragon Design, 1700s. Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).

Another indication of China’s connection with a still more remote civilisation lies in the absence of any relics of a primitive art, since its oldest specimens are a highly evolved and mature product, implying that they were imported from some other country.

Then, again, a clue in this direction is offered by the Chinese legend relating to Hsi Wang Mu, *) the Royal Mother of the West.

*) Xīwángmǔ chinese 西王母, Pinyin Xīwángmǔ, W.-G. Hsi Wang Mu – „Queen Mother of the West“. She is one of the oldest Chinese deities, who played a prominent role in medieval Daoism as an immortal, teacher, symbol of transcendence and mediator between the heavenly and earthly realms, but she is also still a high deity in modern Daoism, especially among the masters of heaven. In addition to religious cults, there have always been popular cults centred around this goddess in China.

Why the West and whence? Could the West have been the lost continent of Atlantis where, we are told, in the dim past flourished a great civilisation now buried under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean?

From Plato we learn that this empire included three great islands. North America and South America of to-day, and Mu. “Mu” the very name of the Royal Mother of the West. And did not this empire lie to the west of China?

Dragons, decorative, art, illustration, Anton Seder, animal
Dragons. The animal in decorative art by Anton Seder.

This Island of Mu was thought to have included Central America and Yucatan; the latter, now definitely known as the locality of ancient Mayach, is at present the source of much information regarding the history of a great past.

That not only China, but Hindustan, Egypt and Babylonia were colonies of this ancient civilisation is an assumption derived from recent investigations in our own country. One evidence pointing to such a premise is the discovery in both Egypt and Mayach (Mexico-Maya) of the same hieroglyph, which in both countries had the same meaning;— “Land of the West.’

Then again, from the ancient sculptures and paintings which adorn the walls and palaces at Chichen Itza and Uxmal, the following is taken: “King Can, a serpent, founder of these cities, had three sons: Cay, a fish; Aac, a turtle; and Coh, a leopard and two daughters: Moo, a macow; and Niete, a flower.” But what is of special interest is that Moo became Queen of Chichen, and after her death was worshipped as the goddess of fire in a magnificent temple built upon a great pyramid. In the same region there was another Queen Moo, who may some day be proved to be the original fairy of China. Has this presiding genius, migrating to a new country and there endowed with fresh attributes, on Horse of the River Lo become the Hsi Wang Mu of the Kw’en Lun Mountains where grows the “Peach of Immortality” on the great cosmic tree, a tree which also may be a relic of another primitive religion—Tree Worship ?

Another line of evidence to be followed lies in the mural drawings, paintings and stone engravings to be found in ancient tombs of China, representing legendary personages having bodies terminating as serpents or dragons. A notable example is given in one of the illustrations, in the stone rubbing taken from the seplulchral tablets of the shrines of the Wu family in which Fu-hsi, the mythical founder of the Chinese Empire (2960 B.C.), and his consort, Nü Kua, are represented with serpentine bodies intertwined.

Such representations show Central Asiatic influence pointing to the Nagas of India, who were originally serpent worshippers, but later, becoming converted to Buddhism, carried to the new faith the semi-divine beings, half human, half serpent, which are portrayed in many of the arts of antiquity.

Auguste Racinet, Chinese, Japanese, Art, Ornaments, Silks, Flowing, Patterns,
Chinese and Japanese textil art. Silks and Flowing Patterns with dragons.

The Nagas, who were a Scythian tribe which overran India in the seventh century B.C., had a tradition that their mother country was Patalo—signifying a region under the earth. This has been interpreted to mean a locality antipodal to their own, thereby placing it in Central America, a theory which would make these people colonists of Mayach.

Following this line of thought, we approach the dragon. Studying its manifold representations, we find no evidence of its having been evolved in China through the natural processes of growth, for it is structurally the same in the examples coming clown from the dim past as it is in those of modern artists. Hence, it is logical to assume that it came to China as an adoption from some still more remote civilisation, laden with all the symbology of the mother country.

That it is a mythical beast, the creation of human imagination, there is no doubt, although ancient Chinese and Japanese books account for it zoologically. In fact, the given illustration—which includes the three varieties of dragons —is taken from a book entitled “Drawings from Nature” which describes the dragon as a real creature and King of the Scaly Tribes.

Surveying the deductions of different writers upon this interesting subject we must conclude that the powerful factors in its fabrication were not only first Serpent Worship and later Sun Worship, but also those great sciences of hoary antiquity, astronomy and astrology.

From both the study of the heavens and the human desire to know “the what and the wherefore of this earthly existence,” astrology which has played so important a part in the life of the empire—had its inception. Seeking for causes and representing them symbolically led to the invention of a world of devices which, through the centuries, have been employed not only to teach philosophical lore but to beautify the art products of the nation.

Draco, Dragons, decorative, art, illustration, Anton Seder, animal
Draco. Dragons. The animal in decorative art by Anton Seder.

An interesting example of such symbology is to be found in the given illustration of an early uranoscope *), the Ssu Fang, “Four Directions” which are represented by the Ch’ing Lung, “Blue Dragon of the East”; the Kuei Shen, “Black Tortoise entwined with the Serpent,” also known as the “Sombre Warrior of the North”; the Chu Ch’ieh, “Vermilion Bird of the South”; and the Pai Hu, “White Tiger of the West.” But true to oriental customs—which ever reverse the occidental order—the south appears at the top of the map and the east at its left.

*) The uranoscope or white scorpion fish

Then, again, ancient books contain accounts of the Sm Ling, “Four Fabulous Animals,” which control the destinies of the empire. These include the Ling, “Dragon” — chief of all scaly animals — which presides over authority; the Fênghuang, “Phoenix” — chief of feathery animals — which presides over virtue; the Ch’i-lin ” — chief of all the shelly animals — which presides over divination. These animals with man — who is said to be nude — constitute the five tribes of the quinary system of the ancient Chinese.

The dragon as previously stated is a mythical monster — a composite embodiment of the most terrible, imposing and powerful characteristics of a number of creatures — commonly described as having the head of a camel with horns of a deer, ears of an ox, eyes of a hare overshadowed by heavy bush eyebrows; a formidable beard with long streaming bristles; lengthy tusks; the body of a serpent covered with the scales of a fish, and topped with a bristling row of dorsal spines extending to and surrounding the mouth; a serpentine tail, terminating in a series of sharply pointed fins; four legs, with feet that combine the paw of the tiger and the talons of the hawk; and flame like appendages emanating from the shoulders and hips

The scales of its body are limited to nine times nine, which is the most lucky of numbers, while those of its neck are placed in a reversed position from that of those of its body. Its claws vary in number according to its rank, the ordinary dragon having four, while the one related to the Imperial household possesses five. In its head exists the po-shan, “foot rule,” without which it is unable to make a flight.

In its throat it holds the chu, which is its chief possession and glory. From its body issue whirling flamboyant nebulae filling the surrounding space.

Its breath is charged with fire and water, but generally it is converted into spiral clouds of beautiful pattern said to be the manifestation of active cosmic forces. Its wisdom and power supersede that of all other creatures, for it is able to assume un limited transformations, ranging from so small a creature as a silkworm to a size large enough to cover the earth.

It ascends into the heavens at the spring equinox and descends into the river at the autumn equinox; hence it is known in Japanese art as Nobori Ryū, “Ascending Dragon,” and Kudari Ryū, “Descending Dragon,” examples of which are shown in the given illustrations.

When seen soaring to the summit of the peerless Fuji no yama as in the print by Hokusai, it foretells the coming of great prosperity. But it appears only to the great, and then on rare occasions, when its great body is interwoven with the clouds of its own creation, for it is said that “no mortal may look upon its entire body and live.”

Concerning its genesis, there are many traditions, one being expressed in what the Chinese term Li yü tiao lung mên, “The transformation of fishes into dragons.” This is claimed to have had its origin in the belief that all sturgeons which are able to pass the rapids of Lung Wen on their ascent of the Yellow River — whither they go for spawning purposes — are transformed into dragons. This figure of speech is particularly applied to students who successfully pass the examinations for literary honours, when they are said to Ko Lung Men, “Leap the Dragon Gate.”

Dragon, gate, Japanese, fairy, world, Ascent, William Elliot Griffis, Illustration,
The Ascent of the Dragon’s gate. Japanese fairy world.

In the accompanying illustration entitled “The Birth of the Dragon,” the gate referred to is shown inscribed with two characters of Yü and mên, that is Yü gate, “The Gate of Yü,” so called because it was constructed by the Emperor Yü — the founder of the Hsia dynasty (2205-1766 B.C.), who was styled “The Conqueror of the Flood.” Tradition relates that he spent nine years building a system of canals and cutting a pass through the Wu mountains, thereby liberating the waters of a flood that had devastated the country for several years. At the entrance to these canals he built a gate obstructing the passage of the fishes which, in order to return to the rivers, they were obliged to jump.

Those succeeding became dragons and were called li’. In like manner, the students who passed the Imperial examinations— for which a thousand presented themselves and in which barely a fifth succeeded — were said to have “Jumped the Gate of Yü.”

Japan has many legends relating to dragons, which deal with a Dragon King — variously known as Ryujin, Ryūjin Sama and Ryūō Kyo — who lives at the bottom of the sea in a wonderful Palace called Ryūgū. His chief messenger — Ryūja or Hakuja — is shown as a small white serpent with a face of “an ancient of days” and carrying the Tide ruling Jewels, while his minor attendants are represented as small oni. “demons,” with short horns.

These legends generally refer to the Tide-compelling Jewels which are believed to contain the spiritual essence or operating principle of the universe. The dragon is ever in pursuit of one which is generally represented as a spiral-topped sphere from which emanates tongues of flame. To the Japanese it is known as the hōju no fatna, “jewel of omnipotence,” while the Chinese call it a chu.

This jewel, which is regarded as the attribute of divinity, may be acquired by both man and animals, but only through the practice of the most fervent austerity continued for centuries. It is said to progress from its original gaseous state through a watery existence into a crystallised jewel of great luminosity and beauty. Originally Taoist, it was adopted by the Buddhists, becoming the most exalted of their symbols.

A Japanese legend, known as Mugé Hōju no Tama, describes the theft of one of the Dragon King’s much-prized jewels and its recovery by the female diver, Muge, a fisher girl. She swam to the Dragon Palace at the bottom of the sea, found the treasure and, although she was pursued by the dragon hordes, succeeded in returning it to its rightful owner, Kamatari. Two of the accompanying illustrations represent her hazardous undertaking.

god, thunder, china, myth,
THE GOD OF THUNDER. From a Chinese picture in the Yohn Rylands Library, Manchester.

Another legend of this character which pertains to the Japanese Empress, Jingū-kōgō (a.d. 200-269), describes the conquest of Korea. In this it is related that through the good offices of the god of Kashima and Kasuga, the Dragon King presented to the Empress the Kanji, “Pearl of Ebb,” and the Manji, “Pearl of Flood.” Then when the Korean warships were arrayed for battle, the Kanji was thrown into the sea, causing the waters to sink and the dry land to appear. This opportunity the Koreans seized to attack the Japanese fleet. They therefore left their ships, but before they had proceeded very far the Manji was thrown uj^on the chy ocean bed, and immediately the waters rose again, entirely engulfing them. In the accompanying illustration, an emissary of the Dragon King is shown presenting the Tide Jewels to Takenouchi no Sukune, the prime minister of the Empress Jingo.

Again, in the legend entitled “The Happy Hunter,” there is a narrative of like character. This relates that Hiko-hohodemi lost a fishhook lent to him by his brother and later recovered it through the assistance of the Dragon King. The latter supplied for his homeward journey a crocodile steed, which proved to be none other than one of the daughters of Ryūjin, whom Hohodemi subsequently married and who is said to be the ancestor of the Mikados.

In the given illustration Toyotama-hime is impersonated by Taishinno, also known as Tai Chên Wang Fujên, who is charming a White Dragon with the dulcet strains of her one-stringed lute.

A dragon legend familiar to every child in Japan is that of Yawata no Orochi, also called Uwabami, “Eight-headed Serpent,” which echoes the ancient Nāga myth of a similar creature, and parallels the occidental fable of Perseus and Andromeda. Here we find Susano-o Mikoto” — “The Impetuous Male and Ruler of the Tides” — rescuing Kushi Inada-hime from the jaws of an eight-headed monster, who annually collected a toll of a beautiful maiden. Susano-o, seeing the parents of the girl weeping, devised a plan for destroying the creature. He placed for its gratification eight cups of sake — white wine — from the drinking of which it fell into a drunken stupor, thereby enabling him to cut off all its heads.

Then, to make sure of its death, he cut its body into small pieces, but when he reached the tail, he struck something hard — nearly snapping his weapon — which proved to be the most beautiful and wonderful of swords, for it was none other than the one treasured in the Dragon Palace.

Susano-o then married the maiden and presented his trophy to the temple of Ise, where it became known as Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi, “Sword of Black Clouded Heavens.” There it remained until it was given to Yamato Dake, who used it in various exploits, after which it was called Kusanagi no Tsurugi. It is now preserved at the temple of Atsuta, where it is I’egarded as one of the Sanshū no Shinki, “Three Sacred Relics.” It is described as having a hilt composed of the vajra, the tama, nine serpent rings, and a blade decorated with dragons.

This sword, however, must not be confused with any one of three others including the vajra-hilted sword of Kōbō Daishi, the Amagoiken, and the Amakurikara-ken, both of which are “Praying for Rain Swords,” and the one dedicated to Fudō, since each of them is frequently found in the glyphic arts as a dragon-entwined sword.

— TU FU, A.D 712-770.

Have you seen the dragon? Approach him cautiously, for no mortal can survive the sight of his entire body. . . . He is the spirit of change, therefore of life itself. . . . Hidden in the caves of inaccessible mountains or coiled in the unfathomed depths of the sea, he awaits the time when he slowly rouses himself to activity. He unfolds himself in storm clouds; he washes his mane in the blackness of the seething whirlpools. His claws are in the forks of the lightning; his scales begin to glisten in the bark of rainswept pine-trees. His voice is heard in the hurricane which scattering the withered leaves of the forest quickens a nerc spring. . . . Coiling again and again in his strength he sheds his crusted skin amid the battle of the elements and for an instant stands revealed by the brilliant shimmer of his scales.

Chinese, dragon, face, porcelain,  ceramic, china,

The dragon—mothered by the serpent of legendary Lemuria of the West; cradled by dawning human intelligence; reared by the romanticism of early races; nurtured by the poetical imagination of succeeding generations; and endowed with the potency of the most powerful creatures of the animal kingdom—eventually in Far Eastern Cathay becomes a real entity, impregnated with a dominant and influential potentiality, the protecting genius of a great nation and the emblem of its ruler.

This sovereign symbol of the Far East should not be regarded as a creature of the animal kingdom, but as an embodiment of the operating force of nature—that force which, as the supreme energy of perpetual change, evolves worlds through processes of generation, growth and dissolution, and compels production and destruction to issue from each other.

Mediaeval, dragon, cloud, China,
A Mediaeval picture of a dragon upon its cloud. (After the late Professor W. Anderson).

As such the dragon typifies the underlying cause and dominant power, not only of the generation but of the regeneration which permeates all things. As the rain-giver it impregnates and refreshes the earth, bringing happiness and prosperity to humanity. It is therefore, quite the opposite of its occidental counterpart, a genius of benevolence.

But its appearance may be ominous. Like the storm of its creation it may cause havoc and devastation as well as bestow blessings. So we find it an object, not only to be worshipped but propitiated.

The symbology with which it has become associated is derived from a number of sources. Beginning in the shadowy past as the embodiment of the union of the Yang and Yin, the masculine and feminine principle of nature, it has, through the centuries, acquired from prevailing systems of philosophy and religion varied qualities and attributes.

From the earliest times it has been associated with the principle governing the element of water, which, Lao Tzu said, “is the weakest and softest of things, yet overcomes the strongest and hardest.”

Coming in contact with Taoism, it became possessed with the knowledge of magic which enabled it to defy all physical law. It therefore not only flies without wings but can also transform itself into innumerable things, Received into Buddhism, it became endowed with spiritual qualities and subordinating itself to the Great Illuminator.

Buddha, it assumed the position of a protector of divinities and a guardian of temples. Influenced by the tenets of this faith it acquired a new significance and became the symbol not only of the impermanence and transitoriness of earthly life, but also of the sold of man, which according to the doctrine is in a perpetual state of change and evolution.

Concerning its origin there are many traditions. Some claim it to be purely an imaginary creature evolved from the activities of the storm. In both the tortuous swirl of the waterspout and the forks of lightning flashing through mountainous caves, the unsophisticated found conclusive proof of its actual existence.

Again others claim that it was a real creature which according to palaeontology —as much even as a million years ago coexisted with man; a monster of immense size which, crawling or ijossibly flying from its lair in the deep sea or a subterranean cavern, devastated vast regions in search of prey and terrorised humanity.

Such a foe, too formidable for warfare, had to be propitiated by gifts of cattle or even of human beings as related in such legends as the Yawata no Orochi, “Eight-headed Serpent,” given in the preceding chapter,for which a maiden was sacrificed.

But while the dragon myth may have begun with fact, it culminated in fiction. The traditional narrative may originally have been a truthful record of the struggles of prehistoric man with a monster, but in its repetition through the centuries—subject to the play of human imagination — it became so modified that it barely resembles the original.

That it was considered a real creature is borne out by the fact that it is one of the twelve animals comprising the signs of the zodiac, all of which have actual existence. That it differed in nature and significance from the serpent is proven by both having been given a separate place in the astrological zone.

Concerning the genesis of the dragon there are many legends. One of particular interest is derived from Japanese sources although it undoubtedly originated in China.

This relates that the dragon is born of the ryū no tama, an egg the size of an ostrich-egg, in which its foetus, a small snake, is encased in a heavy shell of stone. For a thousand years this egg had to lie dormant at the bottom of the sea, hen, having concluded its life in the waters, it rose and floating to the shore was picked up by someone who
was attracted by its beautiful colours.

On land it had to remain another thousand years before its hatching could take place. Then, when the hour of its birth arrived, the stone split and the small snake crept forth. But simultaneously with its appearance, as if by magic, it increased in size and generated a storm. Then woe to those who dwelt under the roof which housed it. Before they could make their escape they were enveloped by a hurricane, during which the dragon, belching forth terrific winds and foreboding clouds, grew larger and larger until it forced out the walls, wrecked everything on the premises in order to free itself and make its heavenly ascent. The little snake had become the four-legged celestial dragon.

A narrative—giving its growth from a water snake—contained in an ancient Chinese book states that after the little creature had reached the age of five hundred years, it changed into a chiao, a “dragon in embryo.” Then an additional thousand years were required to reach its full growth, when it is called a lung. To grow its horns, called chi mu—which must be one foot in length before it is able to hear, and without which it is unable to fly—another five hundred years were required to enable it to become a chiao lung, “horned dragon.” Again, still another thousand years had to be added to its life in the waters before it attained the dignity and full power of the ying lung, “flying dragon.”

That dragons are believed to have been evolved from still other sources is shown by a narrative given in the Book of Changes. Here it is recorded that in the time of Fu-Hsi, the legendary founder of China, an ordinary mortal—through the practice of austerity— was rewarded by being transformed into a dragon of supreme power.

He began his hermit life under the sea, where he spent a thousand years. Then rising to the land he passed another period of the same length in similar devotion and became a dragon of the skies.

Chinese, dragons, china, painting, clouds,
CHINESE DRAGONS AMONG THE CLOUDS. From a Chinese painting in the British Museum

Of the three kinds of dragons—the legends of which manifestly prove the creature’s spiritual evolution—the water dragon was regarded as the symbol of a scholar; the land dragon, the symbol of the statesman; but the dragon of the skies was exclusively the insignia of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven.

The Japanese have a tradition derived from the Nihongi relating that Izanagi, their revered creator, when his wife, Izanami, died at the birth of the fire god. Kagustuchi, in anger cut the child into three pieces, each of which became a dragon.

An old Chinese book describing practices of divination gives a legend in which dragons are described as river gods who cause high Hoods by their fighting. And should anyone be so unfortunate as to see these battles or even to behold the dead body of a worsted combatant, it would forebode for him ruin and disaster.

As the chief function of the dragon was the production of rain —which the ancients believed to be caused by its carrying water from the earth to the skies when a drought occurred, it was appealed to by prayers and propitiated in Various ways. But if these intercessions were disregarded, then, by invoicing the power of magic, it was compelled to act.

Not only were incantations resorted to, but also all kinds of things distasteful to it, such as poisonous plants, the bones of tigers, and their clay images, were thrown into its pools and streams. It was also annoyed in other ways, such as clanking copper vessels— particularly those engraved with its image—in front of its den, to irritate it with disturbing noises.

But after the advent of Buddhism a different method was resorted to. Then the priests would read the Dai Un Suō Kyō — the Scriptures which control the clouds and the rain— whereby they would summon a company of one hundred and eighty-six dragons to aid suffering humanity.

Of dragons there were many kinds. They are generally classified according to their functions, colour, size, and parts. According to one authority: “The Celestial Dragon guards the mansions of the gods and supports them so they do not fall. The Spiritual Dragon causes the winds to blow and produces rain for the benefit of mankind. The Earth Dragon marks the courses of streams and rivers. The Dragon of Hidden Treasures watches over the wealth concealed from mortals.”

In Buddhism it plays an important part either as a force auxiliary to law or as a malevolent creature to be converted or quelled. One example of its response to instruction is given in the Dai Un-shō Kyō, where it is stated that when a priest preaches a sermon, dragons to the number of thirty-eight thousand assemble to listen to him. Its usual character, however, is such that it is regarded as the guardian of the faith under the direction of the Bodhisattva and the arhats.

A very beautiful dragon legend told in Japan is associated with Sâkya-muni. It relates that the Holy One, while walking on the mountains at eventide and looking into the depths below, saw the Great Dragon who knew the meaning of all things. Thereupon the Holy One asked him many questions, which were satisfactorily answered. Then the Holy One in great expectation propounded the one of Life and Death which he most wished to know. The Dragon replied that, before revealing the last great truth, he must have his endless hunger fed. To this the Holy One answered, “I will bestow my own body for this purpose.” The Dragon then uttered the sacred mystery, and the Holy One, true to his promise, hurled himself into the abyss toward the monster. Just as the great jaws were about to engulf him, the Dragon miraculously became transformed into a lotus blossom, which received him and bore him up to his former place on the mountain, where he continued his profound meditation for the alleviation of suffering humanity.

Chinese, Dragon, Groot,.
A Chinese Dragon. (After de Groot).

In studying the many representations, both in sculpture and painting, of the seated Buddha, the above legend is recalled to account for the ever-present lotus throne.

Some dragons derived their names from their colours, which include red, violet, blue, green, yellow, white and black. The rain dragon was said to be black, while the dragons of the mountains, caves and marshes were amber in colour. To the White dragon was attributed the production of gold, through its breath being blown upon the soil of the earth; to the violet one, the creation of crystal balls which were naught but the drooling of the creature.

Among all, the yellow dragon was the most honoured because it is said that yellow was the colour of the mythical creature which rose from the River Lo. This sometimes was described as a dragon, again as a tortoise, but generally was represented as a dragon-horse, of which an illustration was given in the preceding chapter.

Hence the yellow dragon was peculiarly symbolical of all that pertains not only to the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, but also to the Imperial household, and was used for the decoration of its entire appanage. So intimate was the association that the Emperor was regarded as the personification of the dragon. His countenance was spoken of as the lung yen, “dragon-face,” and his throne as the lung kuei, “dragon’s seat.” His anger was known as pi lin, “the reversal of the dragon-scales,” and any reproof given to his majesty was designated as pu kun, “mending the dragon’s robes.”

This creature of might and mystery is also the attribute of a number of deities and sages who use it as an attendant, or as a steed. Those who are shown riding it through space, generally heavenward, as in the reproduction of the works of Chao-yüan and Kunisada of the given illustrations; or driving it, harnessed to a royal cart, over clouds or sea as portrayed by the woodcuts taken from the Shan-kai Ching, “The Book of Wonders of Land and Sea,” reputed to have been written four thousand years ago, include the following: Benzai-ten, the Brahmanic Sarasvati, the devi of learning and eloquence and goddess of love; Kuan-yin (Jap. Kwannon), the goddess of mercy; Li Po (Jap. Rihaku), a sage; and Tai Chên Wang Fujên (Jap. Seiōbo no Shiji or Taishinno Fujin), the sister and attendant of the Royal Queen, Hsi Wang Mu.

Other sages shown with the dragon are Mao Meng (Jap. Bōmō), who stands on the head of the animal; Ch’ên Nan (Jap. Chin-nan), who sometimes appears as one of the Eight Sennin, a mendicant represented invoking a dragon from a bowl of water; Mao She-huang (Jap. Bashikō), who performs accpuncture on a sick dragon’s back: and Pan-tho-chia (Jap. Handaka Sonja), who sits on a rock beside a crouching dragon.

Several Emperors, likewise, used the aerial monster as a means of transportation Huang Ti, who is shown riding one; Yü, whose carriage was drawn by two; and Ming Huang, whose boat was borne upon the back of one while he was fleeing from an enemy. Upon one occasion, however, when the last named Emperor was crossing the Yangtse-kiang River, two malicious dragons tried to get under his boat to upset it.

Undisturbed, he merely exhorted them, saying: “I received my appointment from heaven and I do my utmost to benefit mankind. To lie born is the course of nature, to die is heaven’s decree. Why be troubled by dragons?” Hearing these words the unruly creatures, startled and alarmed, fled from the scene.

The two most important associates of the dragon are the tiger and phoenix, but the exposition of these relationships will be reserved for the chapters devoted to these two animals.

In poetry the dragon is almost unknown. The emotion it kindles, born of fear, begets a reverence mingled with unrest, rather than the gratification consequent to the contemplation of beauty, which is the real source of poetic inspiration.

In the Orient the fields of the arts are closely defined. They are not permitted to usurp each other’s functions. Hence the great mythical drama, where from the heavens the mighty dragon—cloud-sheathed and awesome of mien, breathing fire and vapour into the tumult of the storm—found its chief expression in the graphic and glyptic arts.

The picturesque characteristics of its long, undulating body interwoven with whirls of spiral clouds, alternately revealed and concealed, has given to the oriental worker —ever conscious of the beauty of line and the value of contrasting masses—the exceptional opportunity to create wonderful designs.

For two reasons one the expression of its significance which brought spiritual merit to the artist, and the other the desire to portray its beauty—the dragon has become almost omnipresent in the land of its inception. For there is no art and rarely an industry where it is not used as a decorative motive.

This is well exemplified in an account of the birth of the dragon, taken from an ancient Japanese record. Beginning with the statement that nine dragons are hatched simultaneously, it proceeds as follows:

“The first young dragon sings, and likes all harmonious sounds; hence the tops of Japanese bells are cast in its form. The second delights in the sound of musical instruments; hence the koto, ‘horizontal harp,’ and the tsuzumi, ‘a girl’s drum,’ struck with the fingers, are ornamented with its figure. The third is fond of drinking therefore goblets and drinking-cups are adorned with its representations. The fourth likes steep and dangerous places; hence gables, towers and projecting beams of temples and pagodas have its images carved upon them. The fifth is a great destiroyer of living things,fond of killing and bloodshed; therefore swords are decorated with its golden images.

The sixth loves learning and delights in literature; hence the covers and title-pages of books and literary works are decorated with its likeness.

The seventh is renowned for its j)ower of hearing the gentle sounds of the tree leaves. And since all healing is associated with leaves and the medicine made therefrom is kept in bottles and similar containers, it is depicted on these objects. The eighth enjoys sitting; hence easy-chairs are carved in its image. The ninth loves to bear weight; therefore the feet of tables and hibachi are shaped like its feet.”

As a theme for painters it has ever been popular. Its picturesque characteristics, enhanced by its mysterious qualities, have made it a most interesting subject. However ferocious its aspect, it is always attractive and never loathsome and repellent like the snake to which it is so frequently compared.

Its first representation, according to ancient records, occurs as early as the reign of Huang Ti. the Yellow Emperor (2693 B.C.); but Chu-ko Liang (a.d. 181-234) is reputed to be its first painter. It was, however, Ts’ao Pu-hsing, also of the third century a.d., who immortalised himself by painting it in so real and lifelike a manner that, even after two centuries had elapsed, during a prolonged drought it averted an impending famine by causing clouds to gather and a heavy rain to fall, when held over a body of water.

This artist was said to have derived his knowledge of the Thunder Lord from a red dragon which he saw swimming in a lake, and which furnished the pattern for the delineation of dragons for all succeeding generations of painters. He also was the first to depict it on the walls of Buddhist temples, setting a fashion which has ever since prevailed.

In the fourth century, tradition relates that Ku K’ai-chih, a great sage of art, habitually painted dragons without eyes and, when questioned concerning their absence he proudly replied: “My dragons live and if I give them eyes they will fly away.”

Since that remote time the eyes of the dragon are its last features to be delineated, for should the dragon be so realistic as to leave the painting, it might cause imtold disaster. Such an experience had Chang Sêng-yu of the sixth century.

So great was his painting, so imbued with life his dragon, that no sooner had its eyes been completed than it gathered black clouds from which issued thunder and lightning, and, to the astonishment of the artist, left the painting and, forcing its way through the walls of the house and wrecking the building, disappeared into the heavens.

Another artist, Chang Sang-yin of the sixth century, painted so wondrous a dragon that as soon as it was completed, by painting in the eyes, a black cloud arose from the paper and, filling the chamber, sent forth peals of thunder, during which it burst through the walls and vanished into the sky.

Again of Wu Tao-tzŭ of the eighth century—one of China’s greatest geniuses, who was said to be the reincarnation of Chang Seng-yu—a similar tale is told. His remarkable dragon, when viewed by sympathetic observers, actually moved about the canvas, and upon the occasion of a storm would envelop itself in black clouds.

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The accompanying illustrations by Ch’ên Yung-chi and Mu Ch’i remain unexcelled in the organism of then- compositions, the restraint of their patterns and the mastery of their technique. These two illustrations offer nota1)le examples of the claim that no one can look upon the entire dragon and live; hence it is depicted in parts, the remainder of its bod}’ being hidden by clouds.

Again, the dragon is dramatically portrayed in beautiful line compositions in the reproductions taken from the T’u Shu Chi Ch’êng, the “Imperial Eneyelopaedia” compiled by the Emperor K’ang Hsi of the Ch’ing dynasty (a.d. 1662-1723).

The Japanese dragon differs only in minor details from its Chinese prototype notwithstanding that it reflects the particular characteristics and temperament of the nation.

Its only distinguishing structural deviation lies in its claws, which are three in number, while the Chinese dragon has four, except for Imperial usage, when there are five. It was brought from China by Buddhist priests during the Sung and Yüan dynasties (a.d. 960-1368); its earliest representation by a Japanese artist being that by Chō Densu (the latter part of the fourteenth century), who, following the example of Ts’ao Puhsing, also used it for ceiling decorations of temples. Since that remote time it has been done by successive generations and schools from the academic Kano of the aristocracy to the less tutored Ukiyo-ye of the lower classes.

In the screen paintings by Ōkyo, the founder of the Maruyama school of the eighteenth century, is shown a typical example of the portrayal of the dragon by a great artist, while in the works of Kuniyoshi, Yoshitsuye, Keisai, and Sensai, who were designers for wood-block printing and not painters, may be seen its less pretentious representations in the field of art. The delineations of Keisai and of Sensai furnish interesting patterns of line, the former being distinguished for its impressionistic brevity and the latter for its adaptation to a circular enclosure.

For half a century Japan has not regarded this dragon symbol seriously, and China, since the establisliment of the Republic, has assumed the same attitude. “The Dragon is dead” they loudly and proudly acclaim; and the Imperial standard of old, golden and gorgeous, which gracefully floated against the azure skies, glorifying the cities on holiday occasions—is gone. The dragon flag, which for centuries thrilled multitudes with aesthetic and poetic emotions, stirring them with national pride and loyalty, has been displaced by a twentieth-century device devoid of the first element of beauty.

After all the dragon is not dead. It liess lumbering in the heart of every oriental and fives in every art of the past. Its use has been so general that little exists of Chinese handiwork that does not display it in some form. That it has not whoUy passed is gratifying to occidental students, who all the more relish the arts of the Orient because of the paucity of symbolism in their own traditions. That the dragon may become re-enthroned—not to blazon ancient and mediaeval superstition, but to stimulate the poetic imagination and revive the love of the beautiful—is the hope of modern designers.



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