2024 is the Year of the Dragon!
In Asia and Chinatown cities worldwide, dragons are everywhere you look – mosaics and statues on temples, painted murals, curling around tall pillars, on tiled rooftops and royal thrones, decorating plates, mugs, vases, kites, toys, clothing, lucky red envelopes.
During Asian Lunar New Year festivals, dragon dancers parade through city streets, stopping in front of stores to bring prosperity in the coming year, colorful parades celebrate end of the Lunar New Year festival.
Asian dragons are mythological creatures of air and water. They magically fly though sky and clouds, dragon kings live under the ocean in fabulous fortified palaces filled with treasures. Dragons also have the ability to control the rains and flooding of rivers.
Dragon Kings of the four oceans are brothers, the Dragon King of the East Sea is the most famous. He can transform into human form, is protected by crab generals and shrimp soldiers, and rides on a giant sea turtle. His magnificent palace, made of precious coral or crystal, is surrounded by lush gardens, and filled with pearls, rubies, diamonds, gold, silver, jade, and treasures.
A popular story is how Sun Wukong, Monkey King, acquired his magical staff,
Swimming down to the Dragon King’s underwater palace, Sun Wukong immediately demanded a magical weapon. Dragon King, thinking a piece of black iron wasn’t valuable, gave it to Monkey King, who promptly demonstrated amazing power of the staff, as it responded to his every wish.
But that wasn’t enough, Sun Wukong requested suitable clothing. Terrified, the Dragon King, summoned his three brothers, who each brought golden armor, a cap with phoenix feathers, and cloud boots. Happy with his loot, Sun Wukong departed the palace, rising out of the waves in a golden shower of water.
Emperors and Dragons
For thousands of years, dragons were associated with the emperor of China. The first emperor to unify China, the Yellow Emperor, ascended to heaven as the Yellow Dragon, and future emperors were called “Son of the dragons.”
Above is painting of Emperor Kangxi. He sits on a golden dragon throne, dragons curling up back. In the center of his golden court robe is a large embroidered dragon, and every inch of the robe is covered with many more dragons!
In the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, not only are walkways and tile rooftops sculpted with dragons, but the royal court used fans, umbrellas, jewelry, golden cups, plates and napkins, armor, clothing, writing implements, all decorated with dragons.
Dragons and Pearls
Dragons love pearls! Power and magic lives in pearls, pearls glimmer, shine, dazzle with inner light, sometimes are surrounded by flames.
Temple roofs are often ornamented with two dragon statues reaching toward a shining pearl in middle. On Chinese royal robes, an embroidered dragon curls around a single pearl in the center. Today, this motif is so popular, plates, mugs, and tea sets are ornamented with a single dragon and pearl.
In dragon dances, look for the dragon chasing after a pearl (photo above from Bangkok).
Singapore Children’s Favorite Stories has a tale called “The Luminous Pearl.”
A Dragon King, searching for a husband for his daughter Mai Li, hears about a promising young man, Wei Jing, known for his honesty and bravery.
Unfortunately, Wei Jing also has an evil twin brother, Wei Ling. The Dragon King devises a test for both brothers to see who is worthy for Mai Li – to bring back “a luminous pearl that shines in the night.”
Evil Wei Ling, only cares about riches, so he chooses the biggest pearl in the king’s treasure house. But Wei Jing choses something else, a golden dipper to rescue a flooded village – the villagers reward him with a black pearl.
Both brothers present their pearls to the Dragon King, Wei Ling’s pearl is dull, but Wei Jing’s pearl “glows like a million stars.”
- The Water Dragon: A Chinese Legend by Li Jian
- Li Bao, a boy living in a mountain village, finds a magical red stone. When the rivers dry up and the crops fail, Li Bao goes in search of the Water Dragon.
- On his journey, he helps a large snake who gives him a piece of snake skin, a carp gives him fish scales, a deer his antlers, pair of claws are a gift from two eagles.
- When a monster attacks Li Bao, he swallows the red stone, and drinks all the water in a pond. Suddenly Li Bao is transformed into a dragon, who flies through the sky, dropping water on fields for the village below.
- Everything turns green – kind Water Dragon!
- Kite Flying by Grace Lin
- It’s good day to fly kites. A family assembles a dragon kite – joining sticks together, gluing the paper, adding a long tail, smiling mouth and dragon eyes. “Dragon, are you ready to fly!”
- Tip: Kite flying is a popular and ancient activity in China, as well as Japan, Malaysia and Thailand.
- Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan
- A story about why there is a dragon dance on the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year.
- In spring, Nian, a fierce dragon, comes out of the sea to eat up the villagers. Little Mai, born in the Year of the Dragon, is chosen by a magical warrior to fight the Nian. When Nian attacks, Mai bangs a cooking pot with a magical cane, making a lot of noise, the villagers also bang pots and throw firecrackers at the dragon.
- Nian doesn’t like the noise, and goes back to ocean for five days. But Nian returns, hungrier than ever, Mai and the villagers wear bright red, light glowing lanterns and burn fires, Nian disappears.
- But on the fifteenth day, when Nian comes back, ready to take revenge on the entire village, Mai captures Nian for good. The villagers celebrate with offerings, lanterns, firecrackers, do a dragon dance, but without fear of Nian.
- Dragon Boat Festival Wishes by Jillian Lin
- A family prepares for the Dragon Boat Festival with special food – sticky rice dumplings cooked in bamboo leaves. The dad has been training all year, he’s the drummer to encourage the paddlers to go faster. Dad’s boat wins! Plus legend and facts about the festival.
- Tip: Boats are decorated with dragon colors (red, yellow, green, blue), dragon figurehead and scales on sides. Dragon boat races are popular in Hong Kong, Vancouver, Singapore, Taiwan, and throughout China.
- Lunar Tale by Stella Hong
- Go on a Lunar New Year adventure with twelve magical zodiac friends through tea gardens and bamboo groves to a sparkling city. A temple honors the ancestors, enjoy a big family reunion, ending with a colorful dragon dance in Chinatown. Delightfully illustrated, fun for little ones!
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
- Fabulous adventure, inspired by Chinese folktales, little Minli leaves her impoverished village and sets off on a journey to the Never-Ending Mountain.
- On her way, Minli finds a new companion, Dragon, who was created in a painting. Dragon cannot fly, but he carries Minli to the City of Bright Moonlight, and beyond, to a magical bridge to the Old Man of the Moon.
- Along with Minli’s and Dragon’s quest are tales, including “Story the Dragon Gate” and “Story of the Dragon Pearl.”
- The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
- Demons have invaded San Francisco Chinatown as the Lunar New Year begins, twelve year old Faryn Liu fights and defeats a fierce nian lion-dragon. She is chosen as the warrior take up a legendary spear that controls dragons.
- Aided by three deities and her dragon friend Ren, Faryn and her brother Alex go on a quest to find their long lost father. They explore Chinatowns in Phoenix, Chicago and Washington DC, culminating in a Lantern Festival banquet with immortal gods, an evil goddess, sneaky demons and many dragons.
- Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang
- After a great battle, four dragons are trapped in Dragon Mountain, a mountain that separates the human and dragon realms. Four kids pass through through the mountain’s magical barrier, and team up with the dragons.
- The dragons Billy, Charlotte, Dylan and Ling-Fei each a unique pearl which protects and enhances their power, and special clothing like dragon skin. The kids open the mountain to free their dragons, but the Dragon Realm is devastated and overrun by evil demons, under control of the Dragon of Death.
- Lia Park and the Missing Jewel by Jenna Yoon
- A Korean adventure, Lia Park’s parents are kidnapped by an evil demon, to rescue them she has to find a powerful jewel.
- Along with Halmoni (grandmother) and friend Joon, aided by a coin inscribed with an ancient dragon symbol, Lia follows clues to a temple on Korean coast. Trapped by the demon, Lia leaps into the ocean, and wakes up in palace of the Dragon King, a yellow dragon who transforms into a man sitting in a dragon throne.
- Tip: Story is filled with fun Korean mythology and history.
On our blog, read Celebrate the Lunar New Year, with more children’s books, legends, recipes for fun food.