The Chinese have a special relationship with their dragon, the “long”. They don’t fight him or think he’s evil. In China, the dragon is considered the ancestor of humans and the ruler of water. The first day of Chinese New Year falls on February 10 this year. The Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year, marks the beginning of spring. It will be inEmpire of the middle and celebrated widely in several countries in East Asia.
Traditionally, families gather for a hearty meal. The children receive gifts of money in small red envelopes called “hong bao.”
With the beginning of the lunar year, the rotation of the Chinese zodiac also begins. It extends over a twelve-year cycle and is each represented by an animal.
The 2024 Spring Festival celebrates the dragonImage: Zhang Tao/Xinhua/picture alliance
There are several stories that explain the zodiac sign: One legend says that the Jade Emperor – an important Chinese deity – invited all animals to a great race, with the first twelve winning his favor. The twelve animals that won, in order of appearance, are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
Famous Dragon Personalities
Anyone born in 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012 or 2024 can call themselves a dragon. Prominent dragons in pop culture include Japanese video game developer Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong), British singer John Lennon and 16-time Grammy winner Adele, and American pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Italian actor and Oscar winner Roberto Benigni, the Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) and the Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro.
And as luck would have it, martial artist and actor Bruce Lee (1940-1993) was also a baby dragon. His fans in Hong Kong gave him the nickname “Little Dragon” early on, and one of his most famous films was 1973’s “Enter the Dragon.”
Each animal year is assigned to one of the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal or water. Technically speaking, 2024 is the Year of the Wooden Dragon.
A creature no one has ever seen
The dragon is considered one of the luckiest and most powerful animals in the Chinese zodiac. It stands for happiness, strength, health and the male Yang element. Dragon people are considered charismatic, intelligent, confident, powerful and naturally lucky and talented. In addition, the dragon is the only mythical creature in the Chinese zodiac.
For a creature that no one has ever seen, the dragon plays a strikingly important role in the beliefs of ancient civilizations – in Asia as well as in Europe, Africa and America.
Celebrated in the East, feared in the West
In East Asian cultures, dragons are surrounded by a mystical aura. Many people assumed that he “breathed out clouds, influenced the seasons, and controlled rivers, lakes, and seas,” such as that American Museum of Natural History writes on his website. Although they are usually depicted as wingless, dragons can usually fly. In Chinese mythology, a “celestial dragon” named Tianlong guards the heavenly abodes of the gods.
According to legend, Saint George fought with a tyrannical dragon to free a city and its inhabitantsImage: Pascal Deloche/Godong/picture alliance
Medieval European dragons were often depicted as vicious, fire-breathing, bat-winged monsters that either guarded treasure or struck terror into villages, forcing heroes to rise up to kill them. A story often depicted in European art is that of the Christian Saint George, who saves the daughter of a Libyan king from a dragon and kills it in exchange for the promise of the king’s subjects to be baptized.
Quetzalcóatl, meaning “feathered serpent” in the Aztec language Nahuatl, was one of the most famous dragon-like deities of Mesoamerican culture. For both the Aztecs and the Maya, Quetzalcóatl was considered the god of the wind, the sky, the earth and the creator god. According to the encyclopedia Britannica He was venerated as the patron saint of priests, the inventor of the calendar and books, and the protector of goldsmiths and other craftsmen.
Did they fuel dragon myths? Dinosaur fossils in a museum? Image: Bildagentur-online/AGF-Lanzelott/picture alliance
The ancient Mesopotamian creation epic tells of the Babylonian god Marduk, who killed his dragon mother Tiamat – a four-legged, non-human mammal with wings, scales, horns and fangs – because she withheld water from humans by withholding the rain.
Driven by fossils or fears?
Adrienne Mayor, a professor at Stanford University, has written several books making connections between myths and the fossils of extinct prehistoric creatures.
Their thesis: Our ancestors may have misinterpreted the bones they dug up. This resulted in mythical creatures such as dragons, cyclops and griffins. In fact, Mayor’s work has inspired several museum exhibitions across the United States and has been featured in documentaries such as the History Channel’s “Ancient Monster Hunters” (2006) and the BBC film “Dinosaurs, Myths, and Monsters” (2011).
The US anthropologist David E. Jones of the University of Central Florida, however, argues in his book “An Instinct for Dragons” (2002) that the consistent characteristics of dragons in different cultures indicate a merger of the predators that humans have known since Ancients feared, such as raptors, big cats, pythons and crocodiles.
Pop culture icons
Famous dragons in popular culture today include the Jabberwock in Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s novel “Through the Looking-Glass”/1872 (German: “Alice Through the Looking Glass”/1966) and Smaug from JRR Tolkien’s classic “The Hobbit”/1937) (German: “The Little Hobbit”/1957). Fighting different types of dragons was one of the challenges at the Triwizard Tournament in JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Perhaps best known is the fantasy tabletop role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons,” which was released in 1974 and has since been adapted into digital versions and made into films, most recently in 2023’s “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”
Adaptation from English: Stefan Dege.