“The dragon was not just another mythical animal. It was regarded as the most sacred of all creatures and symbolized China and the power of the emperor. The Yellow Emperor, who, according to legend, ruled the land along the Yellow River, the cradle of China around 2700 BCE, and is considered to be the father of all China, was said to have been the incarnation of the dragon.” (Lindqvist, 2008, p.115).
In the Chapter Women, Nymphs and Dragons, from The Divine Woman, Dragon Ladies and Rains Maidens, a book written by Edward H. Schafer in the early 70s, we learn about the magical legend surrounding China’s first emperors:
“This lucky-unlucky woman had been embraced by the same kind of being that had embraced many Chinese queens to make them mother of kings. Such dragon lovers were themselves kings, by virtue of their power over rain and fertility, like the ancient rulers of the Middle Kingdom” (Schafer, 1973, p.23).
The Classic of Mountains and Seas is considered to be one of the most important classic Chinese literary works and it is referred to as “the locus classicus for many myths” (Birrell, 1999, p.xix). In Book One, The Classic of the Southern Mountains, Chapter 1, “[t]he deities of these mountains all have the appearance of a bird’s body and a dragon’s head” (Birrell, 1999, p.5). The dragon permeates the spiritual cosmology in ancient China and is deeply rooted in the social fabric of China today.
In Tang poetry, “some ‘dragon kings’ daughters visualized in this genre resemble the court belles of Europe imagined in polished literature as Greek nymphs and naiads” (Schafer, 1973, p.90). The dragon is associated with the female shaman, called shamanka, or the Wu Shan goddess (Schafer, 1973). Although she was mostly ignored by Tang poets, Nü Kua was the most important dragon in ancient China, and refereed to as the “old rain dragon goddess” (Schafer, 1973, p.61, p.92).
“Nü Kua’s gauzy skirt, a hundred feet long,
Suspended over the Hsiang and Kiang, gives its color to the hills.”