Dragons are mythical creatures that are well-known symbols in many places in the world. Normally being depicted as an extremely large reptilian creature, its physical form is very similar in both Eastern and Western society. There are, however, significantly different associations with the creature depending on the part of the world that you are in.
The Dragon in Eastern Culture
The dragon is a deep rooted symbol in Chinese culture, as they originally believed that their entire population had descended from dragons. As a prominent symbol of good fortune, the creature represents prosperity, abundance, fertility, and wisdom. The Chinese depict the dragon with a snake-like body, four short legs and no wings; even though it is still believed that they can fly.
The Emperor was thought of as a dragon in his country because of his great power and desire to always be victorious. The beast was adopted as a symbol of royalty, and has been included in many architectural structures and decorative items throughout the country’s history.
Always visible during Chinese celebrations, including their New Year, the dragon is associated with spring and new beginnings. Performers do the ‘Dragon Dance’ to encourage abundance. Their colours are normally red and gold, which mean good luck, prosperity and good fortune.
In other Asian cultures, including Japan, Vietnam and Korea, the dragon is normally associated with water and the beginning of new life. The Japanese thought of the animal as a great water serpent. In other areas it was believed that they had magical powers which made it possible for them to bring rain and cause floods.
The Dragon in Western Society
In European culture the dragon is depicted as a gigantic winged lizard with hard scales, a long tail and sharp claws. It is a fearsome creature that symbolizes aggression and evil. With the ability to breathe fire they were thought to be intent on causing as much destruction as possible, and stories depict them burning down entire villages and killing countless animals and people. They provided the opportunity for men to prove themselves as heroes by rescuing the villagers, or damsels in distress, from the clutches of this menacing beast. The nickname ‘Dragon Lady’ is still given to women who display these personality traits.
Dragons were said to live in caves in the hills with hordes of treasure that they had acquired, which they would do anything to increase. As a result of this, they are also highly associated with trickery and greed.
One Western culture which has defied the norm and embraced dragons as a positive symbol is Wales. The country’s royal badge includes a red dragon, which was added to a green and white background to become what is now their national flag.
In both Eastern and Western cultures the dragon is seen as a symbol of longevity, as it is believed that they can live for many centuries. This legendary beast has always been a fascinating addition to books and films, and its incredible popularity suggests that it will continue to enthral audiences for generations to come.