The long, or lung, is the general term for the Chinese dragon. However, there are nine types, or degrees, of dragons; the yellow dragon is said to have nine sons; and the dragon itself is said to have five life stages.

As with many creatures in Chinese mythology, the long's physical makeup is of several different real animals. It had the horns of a deer; the head of a camel; the eyes of a demon; the neck of a snake; the abdomen of a large cockle; the scales of a carp; the claws of an eagle; the paws of a tiger; and the ears of an ox. The long had precisely 117 scales--81 infused with yang, the active, dominant, moving force, and 36 infused with yin, the passive, recessive, accepting force. This was said to keep the dragon in balance.

Dragon Types

The horned dragon, which is the true long, is considered the most powerful type of dragon, because of their power to produce rain. They are also completely deaf. The celestial dragon protects the Gods, their mansions, and the heavens. The spiritual dragon creates and controls the wind and rain for the benefit of mankind. The earth dragon rules all waters that run through the earth. The underworld dragon, also known as the dragon of hidden wealth, is the keeper of precious metals and gems, and also the protector of hidden fortunes. The winged dragon is the only one with wings; the coiling dragon dwells in the water, mostly very deep lakes and oceans. The yellow dragon is known to have emerged from the sea and gave the knowledge of writing to the ancient Chinese emperor Fu Xi. The dragon kings are a group of four dragons that control the four seas: North, South, East, West. The Chinese people went to these dragons when they needed rain.

The Yellow Dragon's Nine Sons

  • Qiu Niu
  • Ya Zi
  • Chao Feng
  • Pu Lao
  • San Mi
  • Ba Xia
  • Bi An
  • Fu Xi
  • Chi Wen

Qiu Niu was known to love music, and would sit at the head of stringed instruments. Because of this, his likeness is often carved on the bridge and tuning pegs of stringed instruments. Ya Zi was known for his bad temper, being inclined to fight. His image was often carved on sword hilts, knife hilts, and battle axe handles. It was thought that his image would increase the strength and capacity of the weapon. Chao Feng was fearless. He loved to take risks and watch from high places. For this reason, he is often depicted on the corners of the roofs of ancient Chinese palaces. Pu Lao likes to roar, and he enjoys making noise. The handles of bells were often crafted to look like him. San Mi strongly resembles a lion. He likes smoke and fire. His likeness is often seen as the legs of incense burners, and statues of San Mi are often placed by the front entrance of a house to guard it. Ba Xia resembles a tortoise. He is very strong, and likes lifting and carrying heavy items. He was often used to hold stone tablets. Bi An looks similar to a tiger. He is said to know if a man is good or evil, and so is often seen in prisons and court houses. Fu Xi loves literature and reading. His image was often carved on the sides of stone tablets, and the bindings of books. Chi Wen likes swallowing things, and is often thought to be in charge of rainfall. For this reason, his image was often seen throughout the palace as a safeguard against fire. While these nine were generally considered the sons of the dragon, some accounts did vary, so there is sometimes a different son here or there. These were Jiaotu and Gong Fu. Jiaotu was said to be as tight-lipped as a clam, so his image was often used on doors and locks and such, whereas Gong Fu liked water and his image was often carved upon bridges.

The Long's Five Life Stages

From birth to about five hundred years, the dragon is a 'water snake'. They do not look like Chinese dragons as we perceive them. From about five hundred years to one thousand, the water snake becomes a chiao, also called the chiao-lon or kiao. The chiao is said to resemble a carp. After the chiao stage, from the age of about one thousand to one thousand five hundred years old, the dragon grows quite quickly. This is when the dragon is known as a long, also called the li-long or chih-long. The long is hornless, and is often used to represent the scholar. After about five hundred years more, between the ages of one thousand five hundred and two thousand, the long gains horns, making it look much wiser. After the dragon is two thousand years old, it becomes a ying-long. Ying-long are dragons with wings. They also have no scales, meaning that the dragon has reached a point of such wisdom, it no longer needs the balancing effect of the yin and yang.

Longs are always seen in one or more of the five sacred colors--red, blue, black, white, and yellow. A white dragon was generally used during funerals; white is the color of mourning in the Chinese culture, and death is considered a time of celebration, of moving on to a better part of life.. A yellow dragon was an imperial dragon. In many instances, the long is depicted with a pearl, generally known as its Pearl of Wisdom. This pearl symbolized the dragon's power to ascend to heaven; also, it was the catalyst for the dragon's magical abilities.

The long was a portent of good fortune, and also symbolized prosperity, happiness, fertility, procreation, activity, and abundance. A dragon and a tiger depicted together symbolize yin and yang; whereas a dragon and a feng-huang, or phoenix, symbolize wedded bliss. It was the bringer of rain, and throughout Chinese history has been equated with weather.

Even though it didn't have wings, the long could fly through the power of its Pearl of Wisdom. The long was known to be able to shift into any creature it wanted, so citizens were careful to be well-behaved in case a dragon was watching them. It could change color, or disappear in an instant. Also, the long could make itself as large as the universe, or as small as a silkworm. In the spring, the long would rise to the skies, and in the autumn it would plunge into the oceans.

Generally speaking, the long bears little to no resemblance to the Western dragon. To the Chinese people, the long was truly a benevolent creature. In Western lore, the dragon is a symbol of evil and sin, and generally liked to wreak havoc upon mankind, steal helpless maidens, and burn Prince Charmings to a crisp.

The first long appeared to the mythological emperor Fu-Xi. It filled the hole in the sky made by the monster Gong Gong.

The Chinese people were eager to give the long worship and respect, seeing as when a mortal upset a dragon, the results would vary in severeness, depending on the power of the dragon. The stronger dragons would cause floods, droughts, and tsunamis, while the lesser dragons would cause smaller things, such as sticky rice or leaky roofs.

Chinese dragons are often depicted with either four or five claws on each foot. A four-clawed dragon is considered a 'common' dragon, whereas a five-clawed dragon was considered very powerful. A dragon bearing five claws on each foot was only allowed to be used by the emperor. Anyone else using it was put to death.

As one of the si ling--the four spiritual animals--the long is held in high regard by the Chinese people. The other si ling are the feng-huang, or phoenix; the qilin, or unicorn; and the qui-xian, or tortoise. When the Earth was created, the heavens were divided into four quadrants--East, West, North, and South--and each was protected by one of the si ling, which also represented the corresponding compass point. The long protected the East; it also corresponded with the season Spring, the color blue, and the element water.