From Jorge Luis Borges' The Book of Imaginary Beings, 1967

The Chinese Dragon

Chinese cosmology teaches that the Ten Thousand Beings or Archetypes (the world) are born of the rhythmic conjunction of the two complementary eternal principles, the yin and the yang. Corresponding to the yin are concentration, darkness, passivity, even numbers, and cold; to the yang, growth, light, activity, odd numbers, and heat. Symbols of the yin are women, the earth, the color orange, valleys, riverbeds, and the tiger; of the yang, men, the sky, blue, mountains, pillars, and the dragon.

The Chinese Dragon, or the lung, is one of the four magic animals. (The others are the unicorn, the phoenix, and the tortoise.) At best, the Western Dragon spreads terror; at worst, it is a figure of fun. The lung of Chinese myth, however, is divine and is like an angel that is also a lion. We read in the Historical Record of Ssu-ma Ch'ien that Confucius went to consult the archivist or librarian Lao-tzu, and after his visit said:

"Birds fly, fish swim, animals run. The running animals can be caught in a trap, the swimmer in a net, and the flyer by an arrow. But there is the Dragon. I don't know how it rides on the wind or how it reaches the heavens. Today I met Lao-tzu and I can say that I have seen the Dragon."

It was a Dragon which emerged from the Yellow River to reveal to an emperor the famous circular diagram symbolizing the reciprocal play of the yang and yin. A certain king had in his stables saddle dragons and draft dragons; one emperor fled on dragons, and his kingdom prospered. A famous poet, to illustrate the risks of greatness, wrote: "The unicorn ends up cold cuts, the dragon as meat pie."

In the I Ching, the Dragon signifies wisdom. For centuries it was the imperial emblem. The emperor's throne was called the Dragon Throne, his face the Dragon Face. On announcing the emperor's death, it was said that he had ascended to heaven on the back of a dragon.

Popular imagination links the Dragon to clouds, to the rainfall needed by farmers, and to great rivers. "The earth couples with the dragon" is a common phrase for rain. About the sixth century, Chang Seng-yu executed a wall painting that depicted four dragons. Viewers complained that he had left out their eyes. Annoyed, Chang picked up his brushes again and completed two of the twisted figures. Then "the air was filled with thunder and lightning, the wall cracked and the Dragons ascended to heaven. But the other two eyeless dragons remained in place."

The Chinese Dragon has horns, claws and scales, and its backbone prickles with spines. It is commonly pictured with a pearl, which it either swallows or spits up. In this pearl lies its power; the Dragon is tamed if the pearl is taken from it.

Chuang Tzu tells us of a determined man who at the end of three thankless years mastered the art of slaying dragons, and then for the rest of his life was not given a single chance to put his hard-earned art into practice.

There is a separate entry later for The Eastern Dragon, which summarizes various "Eastern" myths and tales, tells of the difference between Celestial Dragons and Sea-Kingdom Dragons, and notes that some lore exists for believing that dragons rise to the skies in the Spring of the year and then go under the seas in the autumn. Buddhism teaches that there are as many dragons in the world as there are fish in the seas. Another, separate entry for The Western Dragon cites refences from Homer and Pliny through the New Testament, recounting as well a diversity of medieval lore, almost all associating the dragon with evil and Satan. Jung wrote that it unites bird and reptile, the elements of air and earth.


thanks to kenny peck

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