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January 19, 2012

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Crocodiles and flying lizards hint at long origins

THE dragon is the only mythological animal among the 12 Zodiac signs, but some people believe that some form of dragon existed, perhaps a dinosaur, a pterodactyl or flying lizard, perhaps the ancient Yangtze River crocodile. Maybe a huge snake.

"It's not reasonable that the other 11 animals are real and just the dragon is mythological," says Zongjia Laoqi, author of the popular novel "Journey to the Dragon's World," which has received millions of clicks on the Internet.

Dragons are pervasive in Chinese culture and are popular motifs, so Chinese are probably predisposed to see dragons. In fact, over the years there have been a few "dragon" sightings reported online - these appear to be flying dragons, but there hasn't been one lately. Perhaps the Year of the Dragon will bring out the dragons and encourage the imagination.

Dragon a long way

Paleontologists have found fossils in South China indicating that the crocodile might be the origin of the dragon. Unique to China, the Yangtze River crocodile originated around 200 million years ago and was related to dinosaurs and pterosaurs, flying lizards. The crocodile, the largest living reptile and one of the oldest, was very popular during the Xia Dynasty (2070–1600 BC). People raised them as "pets" as well as banquet food. Chinese sometimes call crocodiles "earthly dragons" and they do have some dragon features, big jaws and teeth, bulging eyes, reptile body, powerful tail and legs.

In any case, the dragon goes back a long way in China.

According to the Lunar Calendar, February 2 (February 23 this year) is the festival of long tai tou, which literally means the "dragon is raising its head." This marks the beginning of warm spring when it begins to rain a lot. It is said that the dragon is awakened from hibernation by the spring thunder and raises its head.

The dragon is often pictured with a phoenix, which controls the wind. Chinese believe when the water and the wind move in harmony, a harvest year is blessed. Thus in some fables, dragon and phoenix are a couple though the mythological phoenix is both male and female. A circle containing a dragon and phoenix is said to represent yang and yin, or hot and cold, positive and negative energy.

Cang long, the imperial blue dragon, is one of the four auspicious animals of ancient astronomy, including the bird, tiger and snake-body turtle. The dragon represents the east, the bird the south, tiger the west and turtle for the north. Each has a color - blue dragon, red bird, white tiger and black snake-body turtle.


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