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Vietnamese dragon

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Title: Vietnamese dragon  
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Subject: Emblem of Vietnam, National symbols of Vietnam, Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural, Dragons, Dragon
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Vietnamese dragon

Stone sculptures of dragons at the Kính Thiên Palace in Hanoi Citadel, Lê dynasty

Vietnamese dragons (Vietnamese: rồng ) are symbolic creatures in the folklore and mythology of Vietnam. According to an ancient origin myth, the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon and a fairy.

To Vietnamese people, the dragon brings rain, essential for agriculture. It represents the emperor, the prosperity and power of the nation. Like the Chinese dragon, the Vietnamese dragon is the symbol of yang, representing the universe, life, existence, and growth.

Extant references to the Vietnamese Dragon are rare now, due to the fierce changes in history that accompanied the sinicization of the Nguyễn Dynasty.

Contents

  • The legend 1
  • Historical development of Vietnamese dragon image 2
    • Prehistory 2.1
    • Ngô Dynasty (938–965) 2.2
    • Lý Dynasty (1010–1225) 2.3
    • Trần Dynasty (1225–1400) 2.4
    • Lê Dynasty 2.5
    • Nguyễn Dynasty 2.6
  • Dragon in literature 3
  • Vietnamese place-names, and other things, named after dragons 4

The legend

The 5th-generation grandson of Shennong, Lạc Long Quân- king of the dragonkind living near the Đông sea, married a goddess, Âu Cơ who was the daughter of the birdkind king Đế Lai. Âu Cơ bore 100 eggs, which hatched into 100 sons. The first-born son became the king of Lạc Việt, the first dynasty of Vietnam, and proclaimed himself Emperor Hùng Vương. The First was followed by Hùng Vương The Second, Hùng Vương The Third and so on, through 18 reigns. This is the origin of the Vietnamese proverb: "Con Rồng, cháu Tiên" ("Children of Dragon, Grandchildren of Gods") but the most popular proverb used daily is "Con Hung, Chau Lac" ( "Children of Hung, Grandchildren of Lac").

Historical development of Vietnamese dragon image

Prehistory

Giao Long(the images of crocodiles) on Đào Thịnh jar about 2000 BC

The Vietnamese dragon is the combined image of crocodile, snake, cat, rat and bird. Historically, the Vietnamese people lived near rivers, so they venerated crocodiles as "Giao Long", the first kind of Vietnamese dragon.

There are some kinds of dragons found on archaeological objects. One group is that of the crocodile-dragons, with the head of a crocodile and the body of a snake. The cat-dragon excavated on a glazed terracotta piece in Bắc Ninh has some features of Đại Việt period dragon: it does not have a crocodile head, its head is shorter and it has a long neck, its wing and backfin are long lines, and its whiskers and fur are found in the Đại Việt dragon image.

Ngô Dynasty (938–965)

On the brick from this period found in Cổ Loa, the dragon is short, with a cat-like body and a fish's backfin.

Lý Dynasty (1010–1225)

Head of the dragon in Lý Dynasty pottery
Modern dragon staircase built in the Ly Dynasty style, Hanoi

The Lý Dynasty is the dynasty which laid the foundation of Vietnamese feudal culture. Buddhism was widespread and Văn Miếu, the nation's first university, was created. The slender, flowing dragon of this period represents the royal power and classical refinement.

These dragons' perfectly rounded bodies curve lithely, in a long sinuous shape, tapering gradually to the tail. The body has 12 sections, symbolising 12 months in the year. On the dragon's back are small, uninterrupted, regular fins. The head, held high, is in proportion with the body, and has a long mane, beard, prominent eyes, crest on nose (pointing forwards), but no horns. The legs are small and thin, and usually 3-toed. The jaw is opened wide, with a long, thin tongue; the dragons always keep a châu (gem/jewel) in their mouths (a symbol of humanity, nobility and knowledge). These dragons are able to change the weather, and are responsible for crops.

Trần Dynasty (1225–1400)

The Trần Dynasty dragon was similar to that of the Lý Dynasty but looked more rugged. The Tran dragon has new details: arms and horns. Its fiery crest is shorter. Its slightly curved body is fat and smaller toward the tail. There are many kinds of tail (straight and pointed tail, spiral tail) as well as many kinds of scale (a regular half-flower scale, slightly curved scale).

The Tran dragon symbolised the martial arts, because the Tran kings were descended from a mandarin commander. The Tran era was also marked by a series of devastating invasions by the Mongol followed by repeated incursions by Champa.

Mạc dynasty dragon head, stone

Lê Dynasty

In this period, the Vietnamese dragon's image was influenced by the Chinese dragon, because of Confucianism's expansion policy. Differing from those of the previous dynasty, dragons in this age are not only represented in a curved posture among clouds but also in others. These dragons were majestic, with lion-heads. Instead of a fiery crest, they have a large nose. Their bodies only curve in two sections. Their feet have five sharp claws.

Dragon roof detail, imperial enclosure, Huế

Nguyễn Dynasty

(1802–1883) During the early part of the Nguyễn Dynasty, the dragon is represented with a spiral tail and a long fiery sword-fin. Dragons were personified by a mother with her children or a pair of dragons. Its head and eyes are large. It has stag horns, a lion's nose, exposed canine teeth, regular flash scale, curved whiskers. Images of the Dragon King have 5 claws, while images of lesser dragons have only 4 claws.

(1883–1945) In this later period, the dragon image degenerated and became unrefined, losing its natural and majestic shape, and was seen as a signal of the decline in art of the last Vietnamese dynasty.

Dragon in literature

One of four dragons in front of Ngu Long Mon

Some proverbs and sayings mention dragons but imply something else:

"Rồng gặp mây": "Dragon meets clouds" – In favourable condition.

"Đầu rồng đuôi tôm": "Dragon's head, shrimp's tail" – Good at first and bad at last; something which starts well but ends badly.

"Rồng bay, phượng múa": "Dragon flight, phoenix dance" – Used to praise the calligraphy of someone who writes Chinese ideograms well.

"Rồng đến nhà tôm": "Dragon visits shrimp's house" – A saying used by a host to (or of) his guest: the host portrays himself as a humble shrimp and his guest as a noble dragon.

"Ăn như rồng cuốn, nói như rồng leo, làm như mèo mửa": "Eating as dragon scrolls, talking as dragon climbs, working as cat vomits" – A criticism of someone who eats too much and talks a lot, but is lazy.

Vietnamese dragon ceramic picture at Chuong Duong bridge

Vietnamese place-names, and other things, named after dragons

Ha Noi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam, was known in ancient times as Thăng Long (from Thăng, meaning "to grow, to develop, to rise, to fly, or to ascend" and Long, meaning "dragon"); the capital is still referred to by this name in literature.

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