Unveiling a world steeped in mystery and ancient symbolism, let’s embark on a journey to explore Chinese dragon tattoos. Ever since ancient times, China has held profound worship for dragon totems. With various types of dragons imagined by the people, we will focus on the most widely recognized ones in this article. From the early and widely known “Zhu Long,” whose eyes illuminate the world, to the Fire Dragon, we are about to open a colorful book of dragons!
General Look and Symbolization of Chinese Dragons
Chinese dragons, ancient mythical creatures, stand as the embodiment of the Chinese nation’s spirit. They are fabled to possess the ability to fly, command the weather, and morph into various forms. They often symbolize good luck, power, authority, and were seen as an emblem of imperial power in ancient dynasties.
In terms of their physical appearance, Chinese dragons are an amalgamation of several animal attributes. Luo Yuan, in his work “Er Ya Yi” finished in the Song dynasty, outlines the unique features of these mythical beings: antlers like a deer, a head reminiscent of a camel, rabbit-like eyes, a serpentine neck, scales similar to fish, eagle-like claws, and tiger-like paws, complemented by broad, bull-like ears. Furthermore, the Ming Dynasty’s “Ben Cao Gang Mu Yi” elaborates on other physical aspects: dragons possess inverse scales under their throat, a bright pearl under their chin, and 81 scales on their back.
Luo Guanzhong, in his famous historical novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” accentuates the shape-shifting capabilities of the dragon. He portrays them as creatures that can expand or contract, ascend to the skies, or lurk beneath the waves.
These descriptions make Chinese dragons more unique and mystical, representing both the tangible and ethereal aspects of life.
Chinese Cultural Meanings of Dragon Tattoos on Different Positions
After browsing the magical description of dragons, let’s talk about dragon tattoos on different body parts. Tattoos often carry deep cultural significance, especially when it comes to dragons, the legendary creatures in Chinese culture.
- Dragon Tattoo on Legs: Imagine a dragon gracefully coiled around the leg. This is believed to signify a person with strong resistance to bad luck. It’s one of the most popular tattoo designs, hinting at stability in life.
- Dragon Tattoo on Shoulders: A dragon draped majestically across the shoulder. It screams of impressive aura and grandeur. There is also a saying that this tattoo suggests the deep bond between good friends or brothers.
- Dragon on an Arm: This design is also prevalent in China. The dragon wrapped around the arm signifies divine protection.
- Huge Dragon on the Front and Back: Starting with the dragon’s head at the heart and its body stretching from the chest to the back, ending with its tail on the lower back. The meaning? Divine assistance in every endeavor.
- Dragon Emerging from Water: Those involved in business or building their empire often opt for this kind of tattoo. The emerging dragon represents a bright and promising future. If the dragon controls the water or turns the river flow, it is also said to help wearers survive dangers.
Different Types of Dragons and Their Legends
Moving forward, our exploration of Chinese dragons wouldn’t be complete without delving into the distinct types and their associated legends. Each type of dragon has its unique characteristics and tales. Let’s move closer and see the beauty of these magical creatures.
Torch Dragon (烛龙 zhú lóng) – Dragon That Lights The Day
One of the most widely known dragon figures in Chinese mythology is Zhu Long, the Torch Dragon. As depicted in the very ancient Chinese book “The Classic of Mountains and Seas,” Zhu Long is a unique dragon, residing far away in the north beyond the Red Waters and the Northwestern Sea. It is a god with a human face and a serpent-like body, controlling day and night simply by opening or closing its eyes. When the sun cannot reach the darkest corners, it is the glow of the Torch Dragon that illuminates the world.
In “Chuci – Heavenly Questions,” the author asks: “Where does the sun’s radiance not reach, and where does the Torch Dragon shine?” The Eastern Han scholar, Wang Yi, answered: “There is a country in the northwest where the sun does not reach. There, the Torch Dragon shines.”
Some believe that the Torch Dragon is a grand deity with a human face and dragon body. In contrast, others see it as a spirit of fire, a manifestation of the sun itself.
Azure Dragon (苍龙 cāng lóng) – Dragon That Protects The East
Next, let’s dive into the lore of the Azure Dragon, or “青龙” in Chinese. This mythical creature stands as the guardian deity of the east. You may be wondering, “Why Azure?” Well, based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang and the theory of the Five Elements, the east corresponds to the green wood element in Chinese culture. Thus, the dragon of the east takes on this color and is known as the Azure Dragon.
Chinese ancestors took the imaginative step of looking at the seven constellations in the eastern sky and envisioning a dragon. These stars’ appearances and disappearances correlated with rainfall, leading to the belief that the Azure Dragon held dominion over precipitation. And as you can guess, rain is essential for agriculture, and agriculture dictates the quality of life in farming societies. So, this Azure Dragon evolved into a crucial totem in ancient Chinese agrarian communities.
A fascinating account in “Huainanzi – Geographic Training” describes a cyclic process involving the Azure Dragon. It states that the specific energies of the eastern Earth rise to form azure clouds in the heavens, which after 800 years turn into a substance called “qing zeng.” Another 800 years pass, and “qing zeng” transforms into “qing jiong,” which, after yet another 800 years, becomes lead. Following an additional 800 years, the lead becomes the Azure Dragon, which subsequently enters the Earth and gives rise to springs. The essence of these springs ascends to form azure clouds, and their collision creates thunder and lightning. This phenomenon triggers the rainfall that eventually ends up in rivers and ultimately flows into the sea.
So basically, the Azure Dragon is a god of the east and is born in a natural process on Earth.
Winged Dragon (应龙 yìng lóng) – Dragon That Has Wings
Yep, you didn’t mistake it. Ying Long is a kind of Chinese dragon with wings! While most people might associate winged dragons with Western lore, China, too, has its own take.
According to the legends in “The Classic of Mountains and Seas,” the winged dragon had many adventures. Residing in the wild northeast, this dragon killed two gods named “Chi You” and “Kua Fu” and then flew to the south. According to that book, this is why the south has more rain than the north (most Chinese dragons were believed to appear with rain).
The winged dragon has a unique place in the Chinese mythological hierarchy. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, it was suggested in “Shu Yi Ji” that the winged dragon was the ultimate evolutionary form of dragons. Fast forward to the Ming Dynasty, “Zhang Guo Xing Jing” noted that only dragons with wings were considered “true dragons.”
Fire Dragon (火龙 huǒ lóng) – Dragon That Plays With Fire
All the Chinese dragons above have the power to control weather and rain. However, during the Qing Dynasty, a rather fiery twist to this narrative started gaining traction. Enter the 火龙, the Fire Dragon.
This dragon still looks like a serpent, but it doesn’t come with rain but with fire. An account in the historical documentation “Qing Shi Gao” mentions a sighting in Emperor Qianlong’s reign, where a Fire Dragon appeared in the Shimo village. Descriptions are like: “all that passed turned to ashes” and “wherever it went, grass and trees seemed to burn.” Events like a dragon flying into people’s homes, leading to smoke and fires, or sightings of a reddish dragon leaving a blazing trail in its wake are sprinkled throughout these historical accounts.
Now, there’s speculation that these Fire Dragon tales started to take root because of the Qing Dynasty’s increased interactions with the West. But regardless of the origin, the narrative of fire dragons adds a sizzling touch to the rich tapestry of Chinese mythology.
The journey we’ve embarked on, tracing the profound legends and stories behind Chinese dragon tattoos, unveils more than just mystical tales. It reveals a continuous thread of culture, history, and philosophy that has been interwoven for centuries. Today, the dragon tattoo has not only left its imprint on the skin but also on the global culture. From Beijing to Barcelona, people are adorning themselves with dragon motifs, often without fully realizing the deep reservoir of stories they carry with them.
Yet, as the world grows increasingly interconnected, so do our stories and symbols. The dragon tattoo, deeply rooted in ancient China, has become a bridge connecting different worlds and narratives. When you spot a dragon tattoo on someone next time, remember it’s a chapter from an age-old saga, told and retold across continents and generations.
If you want to learn more about Asian tattoo ideas, welcome to our “Asian Tattoo” channel. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or ideas~ We are always here to exchange brilliant thoughts!