Posts Tagged ‘Asian dragons’

Qilin are a creature of Asian mythology with a proud history of their own, although in the U. S. they are often identified either as a smaller dragon species or an exotic variety of unicorn. If you want to think about hierarchies, most Asian legend ranked them in the top three, along with the dragon and the phoenix.

Qilins do have distinctly dragon-like features. The head, particularly, is that of a dragon, with antlers and mane. The body is scaled, but resembles that of a large animal such as a horse, ox or deer. It always has cloven hooves. Different cultures and times have added other features such as a lion’s tail, carp whiskers, flaming mane, or a single horn rather than two antlers. Like dragons, most Qilin have golden or jeweled scales. However, as nature spirits they can take on any color that matches their dwelling place.

In folklore, Qilin were nature spirits and residents of the celestial domain. Some tales had them as pets/companions of gods and goddesses, and they would come to Earth on divine business. Their nature was peaceful and gentle. It was said they hovered or flew at all times, to avoid crushing even a single blade of grass. Qilin would never eat meat. Their voice was said to sound like bells or chimes, and it was extremely lucky to hear them speak.

Qilin had a supernatural instinct to seek out truth and purity. They were called on as judges in some stories, because they would always know who was telling the truth. Qilin would only visit the domain of a wise and benevolent ruler. Just one thing could provoke their wrath — to see the wicked inflict harm on a righteous person. If this happened, watch out! Qilin would show their dragonish side by breathing flame or summon the elements to punish the offender!

Some scholars have suggested that Qilin were created as an effort to explain giraffes. Indeed, several modern Asian languages use qilin as the name for the giraffe. Historic documents do show that these animals were imported from Africa to China in the past. However, if you look at the artistic depictions of Qilin, they lack the long neck that is a hallmark of giraffe anatomy.

Many cultures throughout Asian have told tales of Qilin by different names. Japanese know them as Kirin, Koreans as Girin, Thais as Gilin, and Vietmanese as Ky Lan. They are associated with both Buddhism and Taoism teachings.

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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It’s hard to believe that I’m heading into my seventh year of blogging here at Wyrmflight. Way back in 2012, I was looking for ways to publicize a podcast of my middle-grade novel, Masters of Air & Fire. The book is focused on a family of kid dragons, and I thought a blog might be a good way to begin.

I figured I would go with the topic until I ran out of ideas. At the time, I was most familiar with the European idea of a dragon, though also aware that there were Asian dragons, too. Six years later, I haven’t run out of ideas yet.

Sure, there are legendary dragons like Fafnir, Typhon and Tiamat. There are literary dragons like Morkeleb, Smaug and Kalessin. But who knew there were trees named after dragons? Or flowers? Or fish? Who knew dragons could be ghosts? Or rivers? Or cosmic guardians? Who knew a dragon could rule the underworld?

So here’s to all the dragons, from ages long past and from contemporary minds. And here’s to you, my readers, whether you’ve been following for all six years or just found me. Long may we fly on the wings of dragons!

Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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One thing that distinguishes Asian and European dragons, aside from their obvious physical differences, is the underlying concept that Asian dragons have a life cycle. In European lore, dragons tend to be individuals. Think Fafnir and Hydra. Each dragon is unique, it lives in one place (as Hydra does at Lake Lerna) until it encounters a hero who vanquishes it.

By contrast, Asian dragons are a species widely distributed across China, Korea, Tibet, Japan, Thailand, and into the islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. These dragons, collectively known as Lung dragons, are born, grow, and gain power. Human beings will not know of one single dragon, which they can avoid if it is dangerous. Lung dragons can be encountered near any body of water and in some mountain ranges or even large towns.

Lung dragons are hatched out of eggs, laid on the banks of rivers and streams. They may appear as beautiful stones, and will remain for thousands of years before hatching. Possibly there needs to be some sort of spiritual imbalance that “tells” the embryonic Lung it is needed in the world. When they emerge, they have long, fish-like bodies and various appendages depending on who is telling the story. Cat whiskers, eagle talons and tiger legs are among the possibilities. According to some lore, Lung are born without horns and cannot yet fly.

The young Lung will take up residence in the water where it is born. It protects the environment there and people living nearby know it as a helpful and lucky spirit. The larger the body of water, the faster and more powerful the Lung will grow. However, if the water is diverted or drained, the dragon will be forced to move on and all the luck of the community will turn bad.

At about 500 years old, it will transform into a Kioh-Lung. Now more powerful, the Lung dragon gains stag horns and the power of flight. This allows it to extend its protection over a much wider area. Kioh-lung can personally bring rain to areas where it is needed. They gain more powers of transformation and can become as small as a silk worm or large enough to blot out the sun. Kioh-lung can even take human form to move among the populace. It pays to show kindness to strangers, for you never know who is a dragon in disguise!

During this phase, Kioh-lung can assume specific responsibilities, as described in my last post. Chulong, Fucanglong and Shenlong are all examples of the niche a Kioh-lung may fill.

After 1,000 years in all, the Lung again transforms to become a Yinglong. These dragons grow wings in addition to their other features and can move freely among the gods themselves. Like the gods, dragons are immortal unless somehow killed. Asian people believe that these friendly spirits have watched over them through the ages. They hope the dragons will always be there for them.

A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

Follow my Facebook page: AuthorDebyFredericks, for all my news and announcements.

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Yinglong was the eldest of all dragons in Chinese lore. His name meant “proper conduct dragon,” showing how he set an example for all of his kind. Unlike any other dragon, Yinglong had wings in addition to his stag horns, snake neck, camel head, demon eyes, cow ears, clam belly, fish scales, eagle claws and tiger legs.

In addition to Yinglong, Chinese legend features a number of dragons with specific roles to play.

Chulong, the Homeless Dragons, inhabit desolate areas such as mountains, marshes, and the bottom of the sea.

Dilong, the Underground Dragons, watch over rivers and streams. In some tellings, these are female dragons who mate with Shenlong.

Feilong are Cloud Dragons, who dwell among the clouds and mist.

Fucanglong, the Dragons of Hidden Treasure, live in the underworld and guard its buried wealth. When a Fucanglong comes out of the ground to report to the heavens, a volcano is formed.

Huanglong, like Yinglong, is an individual and one of the eldest dragons. He bestowed the gift of writing upon Fu-Shi, one of the mythical Five Emperors. Later, when a monster named Kung Kang had torn a hole in the sky, Huanglong filled that gap and his light restored life to the land. Day and night, months and seasons were synchronized with Huanglong’s breathing. Another version of this tale is called The Candle Dragon.

Jiaolong are Hornless Dragons, most likely similar to crocodiles, who are the rulers of all reptiles.

Longwang are the four Dragon Kings, each ruling one of the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Seas. These dragons appear in several legends, including The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea and The Rabbit and the Dragon King.

Panlong, the Coiling Dragons, live in ponds and lakes. These dragons have not yet been called to heaven.

Shenlong, the Spiritual Dragons, are rainmakers who watch over humanity. They are associated with storms and thunder.

Tianlong, the Celestial Dragons, serve the gods directly by guarding their heavenly palaces and pulling their chariots.

A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

Follow my Facebook page: AuthorDebyFredericks, for all my news and announcements.


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Yinglong are Chinese dragons associated with technological innovations in flood control. In various legends told over thousands of years, Yinglong most often appears as a sub-type of Chinese dragons, yet in some cases it seems the stories refer to a specific individual dragon.

Written accounts of Yinglong appear as early as 400 B.C.E. These dragons are associated with a group of mythical ancient rulers known as the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors (perhaps 2850 – 2070 B.C.E.). Each of these rulers is said to have invented some important technology — for instance, harnessing the power of fire — often with the guidance of dragons.

The most common tale regarding Yinglong is that he came to the aid of humanity during a time of relentless floods. A succession of kings had been trying to solve this problem. It wasn’t until the time of King Yu that progress was made. For whatever reason, Yinglong had sympathy for King Yu. Descending to the Earth, the dragon drew lines in the mud with its tail. Yu recognized that this was a map of China, and the lines from the dragon’s tail indicated where canals could be built.

By implementing Yinglong’s design, King Yu not only diverted dangerous floods from inhabited areas, but allowed better irritation of rice fields. He ultimately divided the land into the nine provinces that formed the backbone of Chinese identity for many centuries. King Yu also is credited with founding the Xia Dynasty, China’s earliest known civilization.

A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Long ago in Japan, the emperor was beset by a mysterious affliction. He was troubled in his mind and could not sleep at night. As soon as he fell asleep, he had terrible nightmares. The whole court was dismayed. A few faithful courtiers resolved to keep watch and discover what was causing this malady. Some stationed themselves just outside his quarters, while others watched the gardens around the emperor’s window.

To their horror, a black cloud appeared in the sky just after sunset. It swooped and swirled and came to rest on the roof above the emperor’s chamber. The courtiers inside heard the scratching of great claws on the roof. Then the hapless monarch cried out as a nightmare took hold. Something dreadful must be hidden within the vapors! Archers fired many arrows into the cloud, but they had no effect. The black cloud hovered over the roof until dawn, when it moved off toward the east and vanished.

As weeks of insomnia dragged on, the emperor grew very weak and ill. Nobody knew how to help him. They decided to send for a samurai named Yorimasa, whose skill with the bow was widely known. His charge was to discover what creature was attacking the emperor, and put an end to it.

Yorimasa came at once, bringing his bow and arrows and a single retainer. Alas, the weather was very bad that day. Savage winds and driving rain blocked the sky. How could Yorimasa even see the black cloud through this storm? But the samurai was not discouraged. At dusk, he and his retainer positioned themselves where they would have as good a view of the roof as possible, given the conditions. And they waited.

Hours passed and the storm did not let up, but eventually the emperor’s wail of terror told them the nightmares had begun. Yorimasa kept a steady eye on the peak of the roof. At last, luck favored him. A flash of lightning outlined the shape of a terrible dragon hidden within the cloud. As it faded, the samurai saw the evil glint of its eyes.

He raised his bow and shot for the eyes.  A howl, a crash! Something writhed on the ground, wrecking the emperor’s lovely garden. Wasting no time, the samurai drew his sword and leapt to attack. The evil dragon struggled and howled, but Yorimasa and his retainer slashed the monster nine times together. Soon all was quiet. The emperor slept peacefully for the first time in months.

The fearful courtiers emerged with lanterns to see what had been troubling the emperor. The dragon was a large as a horse, with a tiger’s body covered in scales, an ape-like head, wings of a bird, and a serpent’s tail. When the emperor awoke, he ordered the dragon skinned and kept as a trophy. As for Yorimasa, he was presented with a sword called Shishiwo (“King of Lions”) and promoted to the imperial court. There he met a noble woman named Ayame, and was granted her hand in marriage.

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Lately I’ve been pondering this question. Are the dragons of legend and folklore beings of this Earth or beings of the spirit? Of course, there are so many legends that it’s hard to make general statements. And then you add in the ones authors create for our own stories! Still, it’s something I wonder about.

Based on many tales, it does seem that dragons are fairly physical. They have an animal form, usually terrifying. Dragons do battle with knights and other challengers. They have physical appetites. Dragons hunger for food, whether that be human virgins, milk, or saki. For some writers, they consume the metals of their hoards in order to strengthen their scales. Dragons need to sleep. It’s the lucky thief or knight who enters the dragon’s lair while it’s wrapped in dreams. Dragons are shown to care for nests and eggs, so they must have a drive to reproduce.

At the same time, mythological dragons often have a higher purpose. Hydra, for example, guarded an entrance to the Greek netherworld. Many of the Asian dragons act as nature spirits and either protect nature or help nature to function. Both the African deity Aido-Hwedo and the Norse Jurmundandr were believed to loop around the world and keep it all together. These types of dragons are not shown to eat or sleep, but maintain a ceaseless vigil.

Dragons often are depicted as having great magical powers. They live a long time, and accumulate much knowledge during their lives. In many games, the most dangerous opponents are ancient dragons with spell-casting powers far beyond a lowly adventurer.

To bring this all together, perhaps dragons are like humans in that we are born with great energy, grow into our strength, and strive to make our mark in the world. As time moves on we learn wisdom and often become more spiritual. So perhaps the wisest dragons are those which survive beyond the fury of their youth and become truly mystical beings.

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This, to me, is the movie of the year. Certainly it’s the best animated movie — sorry, Zootopia fans — and possibly the best movie over all. Kubo has a terrific story, great imagination and a respectful depiction of Japanese folklore. It was made by Laika, the studio that specializes in a distinctive animation/stop motion hybrid. Previous films from Laika include Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and ParaNorman.

The lead character is Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who struggles to care for his mother, who is very ill. In the daytime, Sariatu exists in a daze, while at night she is cheerful and loving. Kubo gets money by telling stories in the markeplace, using an instrument called the shamisen to bring his origami figures to magical life. The stories he tell involve a powerful samurai, Hanzo, who dared gather enchanted weapons and armor that would allow him to take on the terrible Moon King. Kubo doesn’t tell the villagers that Hanzo, in fact, was his own father.

Sariatu makes Kubo promise that he will never venture outside at night, because the Moon King is still hunting him. He’s the one who stole Kubo’s eye, and he wants the second one, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Kubo kept his promise. Grieving for his lost father, he attends a lamp-lighting ceremony that is interrupted by his vicious aunts, Sariatu’s sisters. Sariatu appears, sacrificing her own life so that Kubo can escape.

I can’t say much more without spoiling things. There are chases, races, funny moments and amazing battles. There’s also an awesome dragon, very like the Asian-style dragon kite I mentioned in a post last year. Raiden, the Moon King, assumes this form for the final confrontation. It’s a dragon like you’ve never seen before.

If you’ve heard that Kubo and the Two Strings is a great movie, you’ve heard right. Beg, borrow or rent this movie. You won’t regret it.

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One brief announcement: I’m gonna be visiting a few blogs in coming weeks. Charles Yallowitz of Legends of Windermere will be hosting me Sunday, so look forward to that. On January 19th, my dragon character Tetheus will drop by Lisa Burton Radio on Craig Boyack’s Entertaining Stories.

It’s all to support my collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas. You have  bought yours, right??


Throughout history, there have always been special words to describe a woman who had a forceful nature. Harridan, bitch, nasty woman… My personal favorite has always been Dragon Lady.

We all know that dragons are so mean, right? Bold, fierce, rapacious. Or maybe just a little bit outspoken. All the things that a woman is not supposed to be.

Although English does contain a few references to an aggressive woman as a dragon or dragoness earlier than 1900, the specific term “dragon lady” springs from the character in Terry and the Pirates. (See my last blog post.) While supposedly a villain, Dragon Lady is one of those special characters who the public really took to their hearts.

Perhaps it was the slinky outfits she wore. Perhaps it was the mystique of the Orient or the woman’s determination to make her own way. Her image was wildly popular and influential. It’s said that numerous planes in World War II had Dragon Lady nose-cone art. Dragon Lady’s character evolved from a pirate queen to a freedom fighter. Even on the occasions when the good-guys captured her, they invariably found some reason to let her go. So in the reader’s mind she remained a supreme woman, undefeated and triumphant.

As the term “dragon lady” made its way into common use, it could be applied to any woman who made a mark on the world stage — especially if she was Asian. Wives of Asian leaders and actresses playing action roles were equally styled as dragon ladies.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the flogging. The label “dragon lady,” which was intended as a put-down, morphed as much as the Dragon Lady herself had. Nowadays, “dragon lady” is as much a term of respect as an insult. You can say that dragons are vicious, malicious and cruel — or you can say they’re tough, determined and smart. Like the phrase “nasty woman,” used by Donald Trump to annoy Hillary Clinton, “dragon lady” has taken on a life of its own.

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Terry and the Pirates was a long-running (1933 – 73) comic series by the noted American comic artist, Milton Caniff. It was basically a boy’s adventure story set in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. Young Terry Lee and his pal, the intrepid reporter Pat Ryan, busted gangs and scooped headlines in places where the actual authorities feared to tread. From the outset, one of their recurring foes was the Dragon Lady, a.k.a. Madam Deal. (Her birth name was Lai Choi San. I have no idea if that could be an actual Chinese name, or if the author simply made it up.)

At the time the series began, Americans regarded Southeast Asia much as contemporary Americans do the Middle East: a lawless and barbaric place where anything might happen (usually something bad). Anyone of Asian descent was subject to the most grotesque caricature. This is impossible to escape in the popular entertainments of the time, such as Terry and the Pirates. The Dragon Lady was definitely part of that package: sleek, seductive and coldly evil. Although she’s supposed to be Chinese, her image is reminiscent more of Greta Garbo than anyone Asian.

The Dragon Lady was a powerful figure in the Chinese underworld. She was boss of the pirates that Terry and Pat were always meddling with, not to mention drug smuggling and who knows what else. But as the series went on, the character grew beyond that role. Tensions were mounting toward World War II, and there was a lot of talk about the “Yellow Peril” (Japanese ambitions in the Pacific). After war actually broke out, the Dragon Lady’s role changed significantly. She became a resistance fighter trying to drive the Japanese out of China. This wasn’t completely altruistic, since the Japanese occupation was interfering with her underworld empire. Still, she became a “frenemy” who worked alongside Terry and Pat more often than not. She and Pat Ryan were in love, and she also shared moments of warmth with Terry. However, those feelings were never strong enough to interfere with her criminal lifestyle.

Check back with me on Tuesday for more about the Dragon lady.


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