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January 19, 2012

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Behold the Dragon

UNLIKE the evil Western dragon, the Chinese dragon is basically benevolent, controlling the rains and symbolizing the Chinese nation. The auspicious Year of the Dragon begins next Monday. Tan Weiyun reports.

With the head of a horse, eyes of a demon, horns of a stag, whiskers of a tiger, body of a snake, scales of a carp, legs of a lizard and viscera of a long-lived tortoise, the Chinese dragon (long) is omnipotent, ruling life-giving waters and wielding supreme authority.

The dragon, symbol of the emperor, represents supreme power and good fortune. It can expand to fill the universe or shrink to the size of a silkworm. It rises to the skies in spring and plunges into the waters in autumn. It can change color and make itself invisible. It loves music.

Though ferocious - it must be appeased to ensure rain - it is wise, auspicious and generally benevolent. Since it brings rain, it's a symbol of prosperity for an agrarian nation. Unlike Western dragons, it is not evil, and Chinese warriors, unlike Western warriors, never slay dragons. It doesn't breathe fire, but water vapor known as "divine spirit" (sheng qi) and it is often depicted playing in the clouds. It moves in the heavens and the oceans - jagged lightning is said to be the dragon glowing in a storm.

For 10,000 years the dragon in some form has been the Chinese people's totem.

January 23, 2012, to February 9, 2013, is the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. It's the most auspicious sign in the Chinese Zodiac and dragon people are said to be extremely successful, thus many families decide to have dragon babies this year.

Dragon people are said to be bold and enterprising, charismatic and confident; they are often leaders. Sometimes they are rash and headstrong. This Dragon Year is linked with the water element so the extreme dragon traits are tempered.

It's common to wish someone's son becomes a dragon or to wish someone to be as healthy as a dragon and a horse.

It is said that when the Yellow Emperor (2697-2599 BC) united 72 tribes in China, he wanted a totem and there were many ideas, including snake, tiger, eagle and horse. He couldn't decide but one night in a thunderstorm he saw a bolt of lightning that flashed in the sky and swam in the clouds. He had a vision of a creature with a horse's head, demon's eyes, cow's ears, tiger's whiskers, snake's body, lizard's legs, phoenix's claws, stag's horns, carp's scales and tortoise's viscera (the tortoise symbolizing longevity). There are various versions of the dragon's composition, all fantastic, involving camels, clams, hares and other animals.

The Yellow Emperor called it long (dragon), a magical, omnipotent animal that can fly in the clouds, hover with the wind, overturn the rivers and upset the seas. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) Emperor Li Longji (685-761) created a Dragon Pool, where rituals were held to worship the dragon kings and the emperor prayed for rain.


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