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', Soama 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 wood carvings of a dragon with a phoenix. The dragon represents ying energy, and phoenix yin; thus the combination is at one.