Notes: Chinese theory on origins of the dragon

Chinese Dragon Originates From Primitive Agriculture
A Chinese archeologist engaged in studying the origin of the Chinese dragon has a new theory, saying the concept of dragon was formed as human beings began to develop primitive agriculture.
Zhou Chongfa, a renowned archeologist in central China’s Hubei Province, said that the initial inspiration of the prototype of dragon was lightening, and the Chinese pronunciation of dragon — “long” resembles the natural sound of thunder.

“As farming and animal husbandry began to take the place of hunting and fishing to be the main source of food, human beings prayed for good weather for crops, and the imaginative figure of dragon has been gradually created as an agriculture omen,” said Zhou, who is also vice-director of the Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau of Hubei.

His explanation counters the first widely shared argument of the dragon’s origin, which says the dragon was made up as a combination of a number of animal totems of different primitive clans, when they were merged.

Zhou said his research of the primitive culture suggested that totem was the mark and sometimes the name of a clan, and it was unacceptable for tribal men to mix up their sacred totems, even when they were defeated.

Moreover, the totem theory cannot fully explain the origin of the image and sound of dragon, said Zhou.

He went on to elaborate that primitive agriculture was largely dependent on rain for irrigation. The need for rain had also led to primitive worship of other animals that live in the water, such as carp and crocodiles, whose features were added into the incarnation of dragon.

Through centuries, Chinese ancestors living in different regions continued to enrich the dragon image with features of their familiar animals. For example, human society flourished along the Liaohe River in northeast China and added characteristics of their familiar animal — hog — into the dragon image. People in central China created cow-dragon, and people in north China region, which is in the present-day Shanxi Province, produced snake-dragon.

Despite minor variations, the holistic image of dragon has come down from generation to generation, which has come to be the common identity of all the Chinese.

China is known as the “land of the dragon” and the Chinese people regard themselves as “children of the dragon.” For thousands of years in Chinese history, each emperor of ancient China deified the dragon, and proclaimed himself the “son of the dragon” to consolidate his supreme authority.

(People’s Daily 02/05/2001)

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