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Depictions of Dragons in Different Cultures

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3769 words Published: 3rd Jul 2018

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With the integration of global economy and technology, multicultural situation is inevitable. Culture exchange in various countries has become extremely important. Under its shadow, all culture becomes significant factors in this international environment. Today, in the information-crash society, the cultural has not merely be seen as separated signs but seen as a cross-cultural communication behavior. For a long time, people are keen to argue about superiority and inferiority among Eastern and Western cultures. However, in fact, we lack sufficient recognition of essential aspects on cultural differences and clashes. We should see through the appearance to the essence and take culture views to closely observe the tendency of global cultural development. H.L.Menken once said, “Culture itself is neither education nor law making, it is an atmosphere and a heritage”. Dragon culture, as a core culture reflects typical differences. Different countries have different cultural norms values, such differences lead to communication problems in Western thought, resulting in misunderstandings and conflicts. This article focuses on analyzing the “Dragon Culture” budded from two culture branches, and from a philosophical point of view to outline the ideology that reflects from two cultures.

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Dragon was one of the totem worship images in remote ancient times when people liked using the images of creatures or plants which they held in awe as symbols of their tribes. Loong seems a combination of numerous animals, such as snake’s body, pig’s head, deer’s horns, bull’s ear, goat’s beard, hawk’s claws and fish’s squama. One alternative view said in remote times of clanship, the Huaxia Clan which symbolized by snake totem in the Yellow River drainage area, conquered other clans and then grew into a big clan union by integrating others together with their totems. The other legendary figures like Nüwa, Fuxi are depicted as having snake bodies. Some scholars report that the first legendary Emperor of China Huang Di (Yellow Emperor) used a snake for his coat of arms. Every time he conquered another tribe, he incorporated his defeated enemy’s emblem into his own” (Li Rong, 1999, P14).

The exact origin of the dragon in Chinese culture remains elusive, though its earliest depictions can be traced back to the totems made by various ancient Chinese tribes. And we, Chinese people often consider ourselves as “the descendents of the loong”. From that time, loong has been the most important totem in Chinese traditional culture. Ancient people admire loong has magic power. It could change the length of its body as it wishes; it can either fly or swim and even bring rainfalls.

1.2 The symbolization of loong in feudal period

When Chinese went into primeval society, loong had begun to be caved on the bronze containers, designed in jewelry, and embroidered on cloth. Gradually, people who honored “loong” as “almighty God”, hoping that caving this special image on daily necessities can bless them well and bring them good fortune. People in ancient China often offered sacrifices to loong to celebrate favorable weather and good harvest. With the deification of “loong”, it was gradually monopolized by the imperial lineage, making these images embalmed the federal Chinese empires. Loong were a symbol of power, strength, success, luck and honor, and it was no surprise that they emerged as a representation of the imperial power of emperors. It was believed that loong was able to race across the sky with its divine power, and the emperors regarded themselves as exclusively entitled to the dragon’s attributes. Chinese empires thought they were real loong, so they addressed themselves as son of heaven, which meant they were chosen by the destiny to dominate the world. They held power over people’s lives and property, and had staff in their hands. Emperor became the most honorable person on the earth. Also “loong” became the symbol of imperial power. Thus, the imperial clothes were known as “dragon gowns” and their thrones were dubbed “dragon thrones.” , the descendents of empires were titled as “son or daughters of loong”, the health of an emperor was called “loong ti”, the bed they sleep named “loong bed”. In the Zhou Dynasty the 5-clawed dragon was assigned to the son of heaven, the 4-clawed dragon to the Zhuhou (seigneur), and the 3-clawed dragon to the Daifu. Up to Qing Dynasty, the 5-clawed dragon was assigned to represent the Emperor while the 4-clawed and 3-clawed dragons were assigned to the commoners. In the Qing Dynasty, the country even preferred to embroider “Loong” as a symbol on national flags. Carvings of loong adorns on the steps leading to many ancient palaces and tombs, most notably, the Forbidden City in Beijing. And it is still taboo to disrespect or disfigure any depiction of a loong in China.

2 The origination of western dragon

2.1 The development of western dragon in early time

About 11th century BC, the Hebrews made the concept of Seraphim, which was close to the concept of the dragon. Not only in Western mythology, religion, but also significance, the seraphim were the most consistent of loong in china. Seraphim was a constrictor in ancient Rabbinic which is the Seraph’s plural. There is other saying it was followed with a suffix on the meaning of the “flame” or “burning” and so. In the early Rabbinic language, because no “dragon” word, so often used constrictor to represent dragon. However, religious portraits and sculptures of the Seraphim have become a type of person now which is translated into Seraphim (Blazing Angels) generally.

The appearance of dragon is much later than the Seraphim, which is the object of Celtic worship, standing holy. The early middle ages, the Virgin caved ships like dragons to explore a new path on the Atlantic Ocean, hoping dragons to bless themselves with endless power. While in Britain, the dragon is more commonly associated with Wales due to the national flag has a red dragon as its emblem and their national rugby union and rugby league teams are known as the dragons. “This dragon may originate in Arthurian Legend where Myrddin, employed by Gwrtheyrn, had a vision of the red dragon (representing the Britons) and the white dragon (representing the invading Saxons) fighting beneath Dinas Emrys. The red dragon was linked with the Britons who are today represented by the Welsh and it is believed that the white dragon refers to the Saxons who invaded Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. This particular legend also features in the Mabinogion in the story of Llud and Llefelys.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seraph)

Specific reactions to alarm calls identifying several of predators have mately local cultural manifestations, maintaining to this day its shape and mature. Though we glimpse the dragon in the world of the ancient bandsmen-it does not spring into life from the murky depths of the primate brain until a particular point in cultural evolution-specially that point where a multiculturic-or loosely organized-polity moves toward centralization and ultimately statehood. (David E. Jones , 2001 ,P 107)

The birth of Christianity made the fate of dragons an earth-shaking change that to some degree became synonymous to Satanas. Dragon is regarded as the symbol of devil in the Christian which comes from Mesopotamia. In mythology Mesopotamia, the dragon is “the horrible life of the ocean, the scourge of people, the fate to be destroyed by God.” In Babylonian myth, the hero’s opponent Tiamato and Hittite myth Illuyankas, are all examples. Living in the Mesopotamia region nearby Jewish also affected, and inherited down such a concept. Dragon in Judaism and Christianity gradually became the symbol of the devil.

2.2. The image of dragon in western society in movies and novels

Western dragons aren’t necessarily evil, but they often are. At least, they tend to be greed, evil and solitary, which may represent the dark side of human natures. Quite different between Chinese Loong, the Western dragon is a huge, winged, green scaly skin, fire-breathing, and dinosaur-resembling creature. An alternative name for dragon is Wyrm, a word clearly related to “worn”, this name is more commonly used for serpentine, water dwelling dragons but can be used for any of them, Wyrms are to be especially common in Britain. In the traditional myths, fairy tales and legends, dragons live in caves, mountains, or virgin forests. They have vicious power to destroy buildings, cause catastrophe. They are the mindless monsters that know nothing but killing people, animals, and hoarding gold and silver, and treasure. All these images create an evil black reflection into the Western consciousness. Also, dragons can be found in many literatures and films, those quite significantly different between Chinese loong. In medieval legend, the highest merit of a hero was to slay of a dragon. In the Beowulf, the national epic of the English people, Beowulf fights against a fire dragon with single-handed. At last, the dragon is killed, but Beowulf is hopelessly wounded too. Maybe, it is the first complete dragon appears on the paper of English literature.

The Bible, Satan is a fallen angel who rebels God Jehovah. And Satan changes in to a image of a snake (dragon) to beguile Adam and Eva to eat the apple in the Eden. In the Bible story, Satan also is into a red dragon whose tail swept a 1 / 3 of the stars. it has seven heads, each head crowned, greedily devouring the new-born baby.

The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head” in Lord Peter Views the Body (London: Gollancz, 1928), in which a character refers to having seen “hic dracones” on an old map [spotted by both Andrew S. Cook and Benjamin Darius Weiss]. (Chales Gould ,1998, ,p126)

Thus, the Western dragon from the “miser” degenerated into the most evil, described as representatives of evil, cunning and cruel. With the Christianity spreading and European expansion, the Satan’s notoriety shadows dragon in Europe, even in the world.

3. Comprehensive analysis on the clashes of loong and dragon

3.1 Analysis from literature background

With the development of science, people gradually get rid of ignorance, the West has finally recognized that dragons only exists in imagination, and not fear it. But dragons in western culture still become a derogatory terms. In Western literature, the dragon has become a vivid description of the evil words. British writer Charles Dickens in his masterpiece Hard Times criticizes Mrs. Si Base is a evil dragon of keeper bank. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet heard her cousin was killed by Romeo, she said sadly:”ah, flower face hides a wild snake heart! Which dragon was perched once in this elegant heart?” Nowadays, it could easily observe the trace of dragon in some kinds of legendary novels, like Harry Potter.  

3.2. Explaination in social profounding of loong and dragon.

With a few centuries going on, the Chinese loong has crystallized the unique culture profundity. Till now, “Loong” is still superior to any of the mythological in people’s mind. “Loong”, this word have been extensively used in our daily life. For example, “Long tou qi ye”, of course, we can’t translate it word by word. In our China, this is an honor given by the local government to a company that achieves highest income through the commercial business. Here “Loong” means, “leading the top, being first”. So we can put it into “the leading enterprise”. “In the eyes of our ancestors, loong ,since it is held sacred, of course, also contacted with the good fortune together. With good metaphor, the image of the dragon goes into all aspects of social life. Such as lobster, longan, lichee, asparagus, Longjing tea, the noodle of Long Xumian, etc. The name of the foods are plenty from their shapes, while others are propitious meanings. Another example is the Seasonal Eating Custom, from the early Yuan Dynasty, it has been recorded “on Lunar February 2, loong flys up to heaven”. To express the hope of the harvest, people in many places are prevalent of eating noodle this day. Noodles made this day is called “noodle of Long Xu” pancakes called “Interfax”, dumplings called “fossil teech”‘. (Ji Chenming, 1998, p58)

And China has a lot of festivals about culture of Loong, such as dragon boat. Dragon boat racing which originates in China over 2000 years ago. For competiton events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails every annual Duanwu Festival. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary-dragon lady means “an overbearing or tyrannical woman, also glamorous often mysterious woman”. However-the Collins Cobuild English language Dictionary explains that if you call a woman a dragon-you mean she is unpleasant and fierce. In the famous Chinese TV play A Couple of Chivalrous Swordsmen and their Supernatural Eagles, there is a girl named little dragon maid. Maybe when the foreigners head dragon maid, the image appearing in their mind is ferocious instead of holy and pure.

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What’s more, the same characteristic of two kinds of dragons is that they have been interpreted as symbols of the power to control the nature. They often are associated with weather, like rain, lighting, thunder. Meanwhile, people in China regard Loong as controllers of weather. Thus, in folk, they are honored as “the king of Loong”. Negatively, dragon in western, this greater power of nature frequently carries a malign or destructive quality. When the character “Loong” appears in the words and expressions, we always refer it to the analogical meanings, which are formed by the profound civilization of China.

Above, we have explained two dragon cultures by analyzing the origination, development, and connotation, differences. Culture is a rich multi-dimensional extension, including value systems. Values are the essence spirit of national culture to decide the characteristics and style of culture. According to cite the difference of metaphors and symbolizations between Chinese loong and western dragon, we will explain the origin of Philosophy.

4. Explore the West “dragon” philosophical roots of cultural differences

4.1 The Chinese monism “unity of Nature and man

4.1.1 Living environment affect the Chinese values

Different ways of thinking led to the different “Dragon” metaphor, which leds to cultural misunderstanding. China is monistic of unity on nature and man, while Western mains dualistic. At an atmosphere of living on plain of farming growth, Chinese people have always focused inward-looking on Heaven, internal intermediation of national character. 7 Chinese people believe that nature is a loop. Everything is an element in cycle of nature .Of course, people also belong to the natural world, rather than the relatively isolated unit element. Therefore, people return to nature, to maintain harmony. Cultural identity is stick to the local community, calm solid, plain thick, peace. Chinese culture believe that people and nature, spirit and matter, subject and object, which both into one with God, focusing on both the interdependence and unity. In the relationship between human and nature, Chinese advocate the harmony between human and nature.

4.1.2. View of nature and the dragon’s supernatural forces in nature

In China, relationship and humans to nature is: harmony with nature, as follows: live according to the rhythms of nature; everything has its own character; be balanced. Chinese traditional medicine shows the cultural value of harmony with nature. Chinese people are deeply affected by the Confucian and the ideology in I Ching or Chouyi. They think that the more conducts a person makes in his life, the more meaning reflects. Therefore, people who has the largest political vision are affected by such a unitary value of life, most people do not want to be the one who is interested in Natural Science, which were trapped in the embryonic stage of scientific. Also, people have the wisdom to concentrate on political power, so that can create a real political culture super-solid model in a unique world. In this particular model, the Chinese will have a unique historical phenomenon. When the ancients could not fight against the natural or supernatural phenomena, they raise the imaginary loong for the ideal solution to be deified. “At the stage of no loong exiting, snakes, crocodiles, lizards and other reptiles are related to water, and even some on the living in the water. People who live on the land t are all produced mystery on crocodiles submerging in water, water snakes swimming fast in the water, no feet but can be free movement of snakes. This the mystery became to awe, and the myth. Into the real dragon time, people decided to give the loong their homes in the water. People have them lived in the water in order to let loong control water for the needs of agriculturing water.” (Yang Rong Liu Zhixiong , 2002,P106)

Therefore, the loong in Chinese legend would have exceeded the forces of nature. For example, loong could control clouds, rain, thunder, etc. Last loong gain the sanctity in people’s mind.

4.2. The western dualism of Host-guest

Western awareness of the environmental background

Western culture is restricted by the narrow scope on the island. In order to survive, for economic and cultural development, people often face an independent nature, fighting the sea, which develop the character of novelty, change, curiosity and hyperactivity and the view point of separation between heaven and nature. Western culture thinks that people and nature, spirit and matter, subject and object, where the uniform of God into two distinct lines, emphasizing the coexistence and the opposite binary. The mainstream of Western cultural values is dualism of Host-guest, the spirit of fighting for self-satisfaction.

“As if the destruction of the dragon cannot be too thorough for the human spirit-the dragon next appears to metamorphose into a palpably unreal character of fantasy”. (David E. Jones , 1984, p237 )

Western culture publicizes personality, emphasizes the protection of individual interests, focus on the potential of independent individuals and strengthens the awareness of individual rights. The famous Greek physicist Archimedes once said: “Give me a fulcrum and I can turn the entire universe.” Vivid demonstration of this sentence reflects a man’s spirit of bold exploration and transformation in the natural world.

4.2.2 Dragon culture derived from the western values

From old time to now, Westerners has a tendency to split into two different worlds universe, the separation of man and nature, ever against. Westerner’s self-awareness on the “original sin” is to enable them to atonement and perseverance to conquer nature, and transform them to be divine power, to achieve One God. Western culture emphasizes the playing of individual potential, personal goals and pursuing personal interests. Individual-based consciousness is the deepest core of Western culture, with the highest value. Western culture of “individualism” makes a analogy to the rule of survival of the fittest. Individuals only make through their own efforts, and ability to explore their potential, to protect their interests, to choose a place in society. Individual character in Western culture is extremely important value. The development of individual potential, personal hobbies, interests and personal rights are often paramount. The Western experience of human life separated from nature can be found in the Bible story of creation. As masters of nature .humans are encouraged to control it and exploit it in any way they choose to master the natural world. People need to study and explore it to figure out how it works, to figure out how a machine works before using it. Westerners prefer to show their power to control, transform, and dominate nature. Therefore, in the legend, the dragon changes into a wicked body, the embodiment of greedy, then brave knights fought for victory. All show that human stress the independence of the individual’s awareness; so they need some kind of evil forces to contrast out of people’s unlimited potential.

Be crucial, “unity of Nature and man ” and “Host-guest” the two different world view and values in the construction of Chinese and Western thinking way .And almost national character plays a decisive effect on the communication behavior.


Culture is a kind of social behavior, which is correlated with people’s customs and habits. With the intercultural communication, we should recognize the condition of our unique culture; acquaint other cultures to avoid unnecessary culture clashes and misunderstanding as far as possible. Loong and dragon cultures are very important parts to nations. Each nation’s special culture gives owe special cultural connotation. Western dragon and Chinese loong culture obviously have differences, which exactly result in the obstacle of cross-cultural social intercourse. If there is no communication, there would be no culture. The two cultures reflect the national characteristics, not only including historical and cultural background of that race, but also the position in nature, containing competitive viewpoint to life styles and the ways of thinking. Therefore, to comprehend the different culture, we have to explain the origin of philosophy. We not only need to have culture exchanged-but also need to value culture in the cross-cultural social intercourse process. Only we set out to analyze cultural differences, we can hold the deep contact of culture effectively.


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