The Dragon Empire

imperial dragon

After thousands of years of development, China was primarily self-sufficient and did not need or want Western influence to change its practices. Called the Dragon Empire by early traders, dragons held a very important position in Chinese mythology, as well as in the arts, literature, poetry, architecture, and music. By adopting the five-clawed dragon as their symbol, emperors became responsible to heaven for harmony on earth.

Perhaps the West's only contribution to ancient Chinese history was its name. Qin Shihuangd unified the empire in 221 B.C. and founded the Ch'in Dynasty (now spelled Qin Dynasty) which gave China its name in the Western languages for all the dynasties to come. It was also nicknamed the Dragon Empire.

Nine varieties of dragons had personalities ranging from quarrelsome to literary. They generally had a kindly if not mischevious nature - they could disappear at will - but if dragons were provoked they would transform into an awesome beast!

The five-clawed "lung" dragon was the life-giving symbol of rain, wisdom and divine power. Visually, the imperial dragon was a composite of parts from nine animals: the horns of a deer, the head of a camel, the eyes of a devil, the neck of a snake, the abdomen of a large shellfish, the scales of a carp, the claws of an eagle, the paws of a tiger, and the ears of an ox. Their wide, flat face sported whiskers, and flames sparked outward from their shoulder joints while a flaming pearl was tossed between their claws.

The official status of court officials was indicated by the color and symbolic decoration on their imperial dragon robes. Yellow silk was worn only by the emperor, empress, or empress dowager. Only those who attended and served at court could wear one of blue silk. Fewer than five toes on a dragon indicated a lower ranking official.

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dragon robe
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dragon robe
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