Posts Tagged ‘Chinese folklore’

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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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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It’s been a good while since I covered this topic, but here’s an awe-inspiring statue of a dragon located at Wat Sampran Temple in Thailand. What I love is how it doesn’t just stand or sit majestically, but dynamically climbs and wraps itself around the tower.


Wat Sampran is a striking symbol for modern Thailand. It’s huge and splashy, visible for miles around, a sure draw for tourists. Yet it is also a working temple where Buddhist monks study and worship. Every part of it is based on Buddhist traditions. To quote the tourism website Life SE Asian Magazine:

“…80 meters high as the age of the Buddha, There are 16 storey … as heaven 16 heavens. … About the red color. The Chinese believe that red Color of bringing fortune.  Thai people believe The color of sacrifice and unity. …

“Dragons is meaning represent the strong, ascendancy high very halo are resolute, courage. Antique Chinese person used as a symbol of the Emperor. Dragon is entwined a the building the Buddhist monk from 1 story to 16 storey is meaning to The circulation of the low perspective to high perspective bores by take 108 with preaching by 108 monks to the nirvana in the heaven. Green dragon scales, gold bars is a peacefulness as a shade of the trees. Fins and tail of the dragon is the compulsion,  poised to go the right direction and is a weapon for protect dangerous. Legs, fingers and nails dragon is moving towards the direction of greatness and captured, the braced, firmly without falling.”

Despite the struggle with English language, there’s a poetic grandeur to this description. Wat Sampran is definitely on my “I want to go there someday” list.

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A young girl and her dragon friend embark on a fantastic quest in this Asian-styled adventure for middle readers. Author Lin draws upon her own Chinese heritage to create this sweet story with a mythic flair.

Fruitless Mountain gets its name from a harsh reality: the rocky land bears little fruit, so that the villagers must struggle for survival. Minli works hard along side her parents every day. Hungry nights are softened by her father’s thrilling tales from legend and myth. Meanwhile, her mother regards it all as a useless fancy, and scolds her husband for filling their daughter’s head with dreams.

On impulse, Minli brings home a pretty goldfish as a pet, but Mother sighs bitterly over one more mouth to feed. Realizing her mistake, Minli goes to release her pet in a nearby river. But this is no ordinary goldfish. With her pure faith and trust in the tales her father told her, Minli sets off to bring happiness to her family.

The text in some ways is deceptively simple, and many of the characters have little dimension beyond their roles. And yet, the threads of several stories are woven together so cleverly, it’s hard the grudge anything. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon won a number of awards, including a Newberry Honor. It’s easy to see why.

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Although kites are known all over the world, they are an important cultural art for the Chinese. Kites are believed to have been created in China’s Eastern Zhou kingdom (770-221 BCE). The first documented mention of kites comes from the writings of the philosopher Mo Zi (circa 470-391 BCE).

Initially, simple kites were shaped to mimic birds in flight. The frames were of bamboo covered with paper. Some accounts state that they were used as signalling devices, for instance as a distress signal during a siege. Others say kites were flown for religious reasons, to try to feel at one with the Heavens. Even today, there are temples and public parks in China where people fly kites as an act of devotion.

Over the centuries, the technology improved and new forms developed. People began to use silk rather than paper, and painted it with elaborate designs. So I’m sure there were bird-style kites with dragons painted on them, like my Flamefang, but that isn’t what people mean by a dragon kite.

True dragon kites are made in centipede-style, which consists of many small, square sails connected with string. Each sail has feathers or flags on two sides, for stability. There is an elaborate head piece, also of bamboo and silk, painted to look like a dragon’s head. Actually, the whole kite is painted with incredible, intricate designs. Though small, the many sails create enough lift to take to the air. The kite flies with an undulating motion similar to the way dragon dancers carry their dragon puppets in parades.

Along the way, kite-making became a fine art and cultural touchstone. This web site explains more of the history and process behind dragon kites. Like the elaborate Chinese lanterns I saw last fall, they can take months of patient effort to create. Today, kites are made in China using traditional methods. You’ll find them hanging in art galleries and public buildings, and who knows what those cost. This being the modern era, you can probably buy smaller models made of nylon and plastic in toy and hobby stores.

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In this Chinese legend, a magical boy named Bayberry sets off to rescue his sister, who is imprisoned by a wicked dragon.

Bayberry traveled for many miles, deep into the mountains. He came upon a place where a huge boulder has fallen across the roadway. Travelers had to wiggle by, risking a deadly fall down the mountain. Bayberry decided to move the  boulder so that everyone could use the road safely.

He wedged his stick under the boulder, but it broke. Then he pushed with all his might. Finally the boulder rolled free. To his surprise, there was a golden flute in the hollow where the rock had been. He picked it up and played a tune.

Suddenly, little creatures jumped out of the ground and the bushes. Frogs, lizards and mice all danced to his tune. As soon as he stopped, they all ran away. “Now I know how to take care of this dragon,” he said to himself.

Bayberry climbed on until he came to the summit of the highest mountain. There he saw a terrifying dragon lounging in front of a cave. Bones lay all around him. At the back of the cave, a human girl was digging  with her bare hands. When she stopped to wipe her tears away, the dragon whipped her back with its tail.

“Since you refuse to marry me, you’ll dig out this cave for the rest of your life!”

At once, Bayberry realized this must be Little Red. He rushed forward, yelling, “You fiend, how can you do this to my sister?”

Before the dragon could react, Bayberry began to play on his flute. The dragon couldn’t help himself. Side to side, twisting and looping, he started to dance. Bayberry played faster and faster, and though the dragon roared and threatened, he couldn’t break the golden flute’s spell.

Little Red ran to greet her brother, but he just shook his head. He kept playing the flute, and the dragon kept dancing. Soon it  gasped for breath.

“You are stronger! Take your sister and go, just as long as you let me alone.”

Bayberry didn’t believe him. He made the dragon dance down the mountainside, where there was a deep lake. In went the dragon, kersplash! While waves lapped at the shore, the dragon begged for mercy.

“Let me alone and I’ll stay in this pond forever. I’ll never bother anyone again!” So finally Bayberry let his golden flute rest. The dragon sank down into the pond.

Brother and sister embraced, weeping for joy. They turned to walk home, but the lake began to bubble and churn. Out came the dragon, ready to tear with its awful claws!

Little Red told her brother, “He’s been so wicked all this time. Nothing will make him change.”

So Bayberry started to play again. He danced the dragon back to the middle of the lake. No matter how the monster raged or pleaded, Bayberry kept playing. He played all day and all night, for seven days, until the waters went still at last. The evil dragon was dead.

The siblings set off again, dragging the dragon’s body behind them. Their mother was overjoyed to see them both safe. Then the family made a new house with dragon bones for the pillars and roof, and the scaly skin for walls. The dragon’s horns made an excellent plow, so they all had good crops for the rest of their lives.


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As we were packing up for the end of the school year, I happened upon this retelling of a Chinese folk tale. So if you were wanting to hear about Mozart’s opera, The Golden Flute, you’ll have to forgive me. The translation here is by Robert Morgan, with illustration by Anik McGrory. I tried to find other versions of this story, to confirm that it actually is of Chinese origin, but I didn’t have any luck. Bear that in mind.

There once was a woman who lived in the mountains along with her daughter, Little Red. But one day a horrible dragon swooped down and snatched Little Red. The mother ran after it, wailing and crying, but she couldn’t keep up. As the dragon vanished into the west, Little Red’s voice floated back to her. “One day my brother will rescue me!”

The grieving mother wept as she went home. Little Red was her only child, so how could a brother save her? She passed close to a bayberry tree growing at the side of the road. Her hair got tangled, and she stopped to free herself. It was then she noticed a bright red berry hanging on the branch. She ate the berry and went on her way.

When the woman got home, she suddenly doubled over in pain. Soon she gave birth to a little boy with red cheeks like the berry she had eaten. She decided to call him Bayberry. Indeed this was a remarkable child, for he grew so quickly that within a few days he looked like a teenager. The mother longed to tell Bayberry about his sister’s plight, but she also feared losing her second child to the dragon, so she said nothing.

But this was a secret too powerful to keep. Bayberry was working in the yard when a crow started scolding him. “Your sister suffers while you live in comfort!” Bayberry went to find his mother. He asked, “Do I have a sister?”

When the woman heard what the crow had said, her eyes filled with tears. “Yes, my son. Your sister is called Little Red, and an evil dragon snatched her away.”

Bayberry picked up a big stick and said, “I’m going to find her and kill that dragon so nobody else has to suffer.” Off he went, while his mother smiled through her tears.

Next time, Bayberry’s adventures begin in earnest!

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