Materials: Cloth, canvas, metal and ink
Dragons appear in multiple different cultures around the world. Though their appearance, meaning and significance varies between each culture, we still seem to have a deep fascination with the mythical creature. Western dragons from European myths typically have four legs and large wings. Quetzalcoatl from the Aztec culture is depicted as a double headed serpent without legs or wings. East Asian dragons usually have four legs and no wings, but the number of claws
on each foot varies between cultures. Chinese dragons typically have five claws, whereas the Korean dragons have four and Japanese dragons only have three.
This particular artifact, pictured above, was used in the “Here Be Dragons” exhibit at the Institute
of Texan Cultures. The exhibit was open April 22 to November 4, 2007 and featured representations of dragons from a variety of cultures. This dragon is specifically styled after the Chinese dragon, but there are very similar style dragons prevalent in Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures as well.
The exact date of origin for the Chinese dragon is unknown, but we do know that the word for dragon, 龙, lóng has been around since the Bronze Age. Dragons are highly revered in Chinese culture and have long been a symbol of imperial rule. The creature appears in many works throughout Chinese history, such as books, poems, paintings, clothing, weapons and statues. Clothing worn by the emperor, his consorts, and other members of the court were often adorned with intricately
embroidered dragons. The Emperor himself was even sometimes known as the Dragon. The dragon in Chinese mythology has deep associations with water and was said to bring the rains, storms, floods and typhoons. During autumn, the dragon would descend into water and remain there until spring came, when he ascends back to the sky and brings the rain. Water is the lifeline of humans and is worshiped as a god in many cultures. Civilizations have historically built their cities around rivers and other bodies of water for drinking as well as transport. Examples are Mesopotamia and the Tigris and Euphrates, Egypt and the Nile, China and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, and the list goes on. So it is no wonder why mythical creatures like the dragon water god would be so admired and worshiped. The creature is still a vital symbol and can be seen adorning buildings as art pieces and decorations every year during the New Year festivities all around the world.
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, follows the Lunar Calendar. The festivities include family gatherings with lots of food to eat and offer to ancestors as a way to honor them. The year begins on the first new moon of the year, which falls somewhere from late January to early February. The festivities span two weeks, concluding with the Lantern Festival on the first full moon of the year. Lion and dragon puppets, like this one, are created for parades and other celebrations. They can be made from a variety of materials; this prop uses plastic sequins, cloth and a light wooden frame for the head. Painted cloth and papier-mâché are two other common materials used. A paper dragon along with hundreds to thousands of paper lanterns are used for the Lantern Festival. The dragon props are usually meant to be a part of a dragon dance. The dance is orchestrated by a group of people holding the dragon up on sticks with one person leading the dragon using a ball called a dragon teaser. Dragon dance competitions are even held every year in China. You can come see a live performance of the dragon dance during Asian Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures. [Amanda Bell. Edited by Adriana Christian]