The Chinese dragon has many faces, nine sons and multiple cosmic roles. It's everywhere - in the clouds and heavens, in the rivers, the oceans and in the underworld where it guards jewels and precious metals and creates volcanos when it bursts out to report to heaven.
One kind of dragon is carved on incense burners, one on sword hilts, one on bells. One learned dragon taught basic calligraphy to the Fuxi, the Chinese ancestor. One loves music and his image is carved on string instruments. One protects houses from fire and his image is carved on eaves and beams. One is warlike and his image is carved on weapons.
Here's a smattering of dragon trivia:
Chinese scholars categorized the dragons according to their cosmic tasks:
The Celestial Dragon rules the dragons and protects the heavens. The Spirit Dragon controls the weather and must be appeased, lest there are drought and floods. The Earth Dragon controls rivers; it spends springtime in heaven and autumn in the sea. The Underworld Dragon guards precious metals and jewels. The Horned Dragon is considered the mightiest. The Winged Dragon is the only dragon with wings and was a powerful servant of the Yellow Emperor. He once helped a mortal to stop the Yellow River from flooding by digging channels with its tail. The Coiled Dragon lives in the sea. The Yellow Dragon known for scholarship taught the elements of writing to Fuxi, a Chinese ancestor. The Dragon King is actually four dragons who rule the oceans east, west, north and south. They were prayed to when there was no rain.
Cang long the blue dragon represents the emperor and has five toes.
Only the emperor was permitted to wear the image of the five-toed dragon. Dukes and princes were permitted to use dragons with four toes and senior officials were limited to dragons with three toes.
The Kangxi Emperor (1654–1722), one of the China's most powerful, planned to abdicate in favor of his son Yin Reng, but discovered that he secretly kept a five-claw dragon robe. The deal was off.
All dragons have 117 scales, 81 are positive yang (hot energy) and 36 are negative yin (cold energy). This accounts for the dragon's destructive and aggressive side - floods, terrible storms and droughts.
The pearl beneath a dragon's chin is the pearl of wisdom, representing the dragon's wisdom and allowing it to ascend to heaven.
It takes millennia for a dragon to develop - a millennium to hatch, a millennium to develop as a fish, a millennium to acquire dragon features. Then it takes 1,000 years to be considered long, a proper dragon, then 500 years to become a horned dragon, then 1,000 years to become a winged dragon.
In the famous story "Journey to the West," the Monkey King steals a weapon - a golden cudgel - that was a pillar supporting the Dragon King's Palace of the East Sea. The monkey stole the pillar by turning it into a tiny embroidery needle and hiding it in his ear.
Nine dragon sons
The dragon had nine sons. The first son Qiu Niu is mild, gentle and loves music; his image is often carved on string instruments. Second son Ya Zi is the god of war and his image is found on weapons, like sword hilts, to scare away evil. Third son Chao Feng is very gossipy, nosy and likes to gaze into the distance. His image is often carved on pinnacles and roofs. Fourth son Pu Lao lives by the sea but is afraid of whales and when he sees them he roars like thunder; his image is carved on bells and gongs and the stick used to strike the gong is carved in the shape of a whale. Fifth son Suan Ni looks like a lion and loves firecrackers and smoke, but he is very mild. His image is carved on incense burners. Sixth son Bi Xi looks like a turtle; he has great strength and likes to carry heavy loads, even mountains. His image is found on the foot of stone monuments. Seventh son Bi'an is crime fighter who sits in judgment of criminals. His image can be found on the gates of prisons and front doors of court houses. Eighth son Fu Xi loves calligraphy and literature, the only "literati" dragon. He is carved on inkstones. Ninth son Chi Wen has a dragon's head, a bird's beak and a fish's body. He blesses buildings and can spray water to put out fires. His image is carved on roof eaves and beams.
Dragon stamp uproar
The dragon is so potent a symbol of the Chinese people and nation that there has been an online uproar over its depiction - some say it's too ferocious and aggressive - in a commemorative Dragon Year stamp.
The stamp issued this month by the National Postal Service shows a glaring yellow dragon - head on, with an open red mouth and fangs - ready to attack. It's been called the ugliest dragon stamp ever, malicious, demonic and menacing. Some say it gives China a bad image.
It's the third dragon stamp issued since 1966: the first was an amiable, animation-like dragon, the second an abstract ink-wash.
"The dragon should be domineering and powerful. It's not a cartoon. It's our totem," Internet user Round Bubble writes on the weibo micrblog of stamp designer Chen Shaohua.
"The dragon is China's image. We've always played mild and soft. Maybe it's time to rebuild the image of China in the new year," writes Pineapple Zhazha.
Designer Chen says the dragon should be interpreted as a symbol of China's rising confidence. "The dragon is the emblem of imperial powers, it dispels evil, scares the ghosts, brings good luck and blesses the country."