DRAGONS. Dragons figure into this story for three reasons. (1) They are part of the earliest cosmological iconography that we have from Chinese culture. (2) They are heavenly creatures who help mediate the mandate of heaven. (3) They are confabulated with bi and other ritual artifacts.
     Last updated 02/08/2009.


 

This is an Early Neolithic jade carving of a fish. It is interesting because it displays three types of dragons, already well differentiated stylistically at this early time. The eyebrow of the fish is the long, snake-like dragon. Near the middle of the body there is the J-shaped with the long crest. At the base of the tail is the "pig" dragon. These dragons have different functions. We are particularly interested in the J-shaped dragon that becomes integrated with bi and the "Pig" dragon may become integrated with ts'ung.




 

Typical middle Neolithic "Pig" dragon carved from jade




 

Another view of a "Pig" dragon showing the "crests" that are typical of this form.




 

Shang Dynasty elaboration of the "Pig" dragon




 

Typical Middle Neolithic J-shaped dragon.




 

Early Eastern Zhou jade dragon. This is one way in which the J-shaped dragon quickly becomes elaborated.



 

An Eastern Zhou example showing another way in which the J-shaped dragon is elaborated during the Bronze Age.



 

Yet another Eastern Zhou version.



 

A somewhat later example from the Waring States Period. Notice how the head and tail are both back away from the traditional J-shape.



 

This is a Qing Dynasty example, about 150 years old, just to show you that these basic forms survive a long time. However, notice the real scales, something that is absent in early representations.



 

Here is a simple Middle Neolithic dragon bi with three dragon backs seen along its rim.



 

This is a Shang Dynasty dragon bi.



 

And here we have a Ming Dynasty example of a dragon , just to show continuity.



 

And finally, here we have a Late Neolithic jade whose design foreshadows more modern-looking Chinese dragons.



 

Here we have a fourth type of dragon not seen in the belly of the Early Neolithic fish, seen at the top of this page. This is an abstract, Middle Neolithic, cloud dragon, who brings the rain at the command of the Jade Emperor in Heaven.



 

If you look closely at this Shang Dynasty jade box, you will find a highly elaborated "Pig" Dragon riding atop a phoenix. So even way back in the Shang period, the concept of the "dragon and phoenix throne" was well established.



 

This is an early Middle Neolithic snake-like dragon made of turquoise inlay.