Monday, July 25, 2011

The origin of the Dragon (Chinese) - Hongshan Jades.

Plaque with confrontational Dragon, Jade (length10cm),
Ming Dynasty - the Glorious Age of Chinese jade.
A confrontational dragon, also to be seen on ceramics
and other media. (Keverne 1991:142)

The origin of the Chinese Dragon can be traced back to the earliest of royal families during the Ban Gu and Nuwa periods; the slave-owning and feudal landowning eras in Chinese history. The research is based on legends defining the origins of the dragon as depicted on archaeological artefacts.
Ritual Bi, Jade (21.7 cm diameter)
Central hole - carved with an open-work dragon,
rearing around a smaller bi disc. Two massive and
elegant dragons prowl around the perimeter
These mainly date back to the Shang and Zhou periods. Artefacts from these cultures indicate that the forms and shapes of the dragon were already well established. Early pottery shards from the Erlitou and Xiajiadian Lower Level Cultures, reveal that dragon patterns were already well developed. It can therefore be assumed that the dragon, in various forms and shapes, could possibly be traced back to the Neolithic period.

Jade as Jewellery.
'As a broad principal it is possible to postulate that in Neolithic times, before the emergence of the working of gold and silver as commodities and treasures of extreme value, the great obduracy of jade and the commensurate difficulty of working it meant that it was used as jewellery to bestow citizens with wealth or high status or to symbolize meaningful ceremonial purposes. It was an extreme luxury and not available to the common man. The inordinate length of time it took for jade to evolve to this status gave it an aura and esteem that even gold and silver were not able to dislodge until very recent times' (Keverne, 1991:55). 
Dragon head Bi, Spring and Autumn period.
Jade (5 cm). The inner and outer bevelled borders
enclose a field of dissolving dragon heads.
It was however the discovery of Hongshan Culture Jades, depicting dragon shaped and related beasts, that the origins of dragons can be traced back to the earliest forms of cultures, labeled as ‘primitive times”.

Pig Dragons, Hongshan Culture,
are in the form of "C" shapes.
Determining the dragon’s earliest forms and shapes, configurations of the dragon (animal mythology), is an ongoing complex academic study.  Whether its body is associated with the snake, the crocodile and or lizard and its head with that of a horse and or ox has strong literary claims. The jades mentioned above, clearly indicate that the body is representational of a snake (serpent) and that the head is mainly associated with early farming animals such as pigs (the animals early man knew best – primitive Chinese agriculture). 
The evolution of the dragon.
patterns on pottery shards.
It would seem that the characteristics of the beast shaped jades therefore feature a large head, protruding lips, thick ears, facial wrinkles and teeth protruding out of the mouth, and best fits the description of a pig.
Four Bi-shaped Pendants, Liangshu Culture.
Jade (diameter 4.8 cm)
Dragon head patterns.

Slender Dragon Plagues.
During the Neolithic period the dragon transformed and developed substantially even though a number of artefacts continued to resemble the characteristics of the pig. A creature associated with there livelihood.

'The worship of dragons has been connected with sun worship, itself directly related to the worship of heaven (which influences agricultural fertility); the so-called “cloud following the dragon”, “flying dragon in the sun” (Zhou Yi) and “dragon Makes rain” (Zhou Li – Kao Gong Ji), all which reflect the relation between the dragon, agricultural, and consequently climatic, matters'. 
Claims were made that pigs were sacrificed and that they became spirits associated with thunder and rain. Text and images as cited in the book titled Jade, edited by Roger Keverne and published by Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York in 1991.
Bi with Taotie Design, Jade. Han Dynasty (19.4 cm)
as cited in the book titled Jade ( Keverne, 1991:110)

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