the dragon

Dragon arising in the field.
All under heaven is illuminated
— I Ching
peacock and dragon motif on a wedding chest

peacock and dragon motif on a wedding chest

The highest ranking beast, and the most revered, is the dragon.

Dragons are meant to inspire awe. In his book, 'A Background to Chinese Painting', Soame Jenyns says the dragon has "bloody eyes, impetuously moving red beard, mist-hoarding scales, bristling mane, hair on the knees, claws, and teeth. Make him spit and hide in the rain and dew, make him skip and gambol as he soars through space."

The dragon is also a symbol of protection and good fortune. Residing in the clouds, the dragon was worshipped as a harbinger of rain and a good harvest. In the Han dynasty, the dragon became a potent imperial symbol used exclusively by the emperor and his high officials. The number of toes on the dragon indicates the position of the represented official. A five toed dragon can be used only by the emperor himself. Three or two toes may represent his officials.

We have two wedding trunks at our shop with depictions of a dragon with a phoenix. The dragon represents ying energy, and phoenix yin;  thus the combination is at one.

notes on chinese red

chinese red chair
Red was believed to have magical powers against evil, being the color that most represented the principle of yang and the element of fire.
— Patricia Bjaaland Welch

Chinese Red (Vermilion)

Chinese red, or vermilion, has been regarded as the color of life in Asia since ancient times. It is used to paint temples, furniture, the carriages of the Emperor, and lacquerware. Red is one of the five basic colors in the Chinese worldview; the others being white, blue/green, yellow and black. 

Red symbolizes joy, and is often associated with festive celebrations and special occasions. Brides still wear red as a talisman for good luck. Red was the official color of the Ming Dynasty - the royal princes wore red robes with embroidered dragons. 

Red is a homophone for 'vast'. Since the word for bat is a homophone for the word for luck, a red bat means 'vast good luck'. Chinese furniture is often adorned with red bats.

Red is associated with the southerly compass point, and the Red Bird constellation in the southern hemisphere is predominant in the skies from spring until autumn 

The red lacquer used for painting furniture initially came from the Chinese lacquer tree, Toxicodendron vernicifluum. The resin of the tree, called urushiol, was caustic, and caused a reaction similar to poison ivy. Painted on wood, it hardened into a natural, very hard surface. The pure sap was dark brown. About the 3rd century BC, artisans began coloring the sap with powdered cinnabar or with red ochre (ferric oxide), giving the sap a red-orange tint.  A synthetic vermilion, made from mercury and sulfur, was much cheaper, and allowed large scale production of Chinese lacquerware starting in the 8th century BC. 


peach symbolism in chinese furniture

The peach has been a symbol of longevity for over 2000 years in China. Peach pits were carved into amulets and given to children to protect them and ensure long life. 

In the novel, 'Journey to the West,' the Monkey King achieved eternal life by stealing the peaches of immortality from the garden of the Queen Mother of the West just before she hosted a banquet for all the immortals. Offended he had not been invited, the Monkey King cast a spell on the servants, and then ate the exotic food and wine before anyone arrived. Drunk, the Monkey King lost his way back to his home, and wandered into the palace of the Supreme Lord Tao, where the pills of immortality were kept. The Monkey King swallowed all the pills at once, attaining double immortality, since the peaches had already given him immortality earlier.