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Dragons on Antique Chinese Rugs

Each culture has developed its own symbolism which very often differs completely from the one of different culture. The figure of dragon is an example of such a contrast. While in the Western world dragons are commonly regarded as villains, horrific animals belching fire, in China these are creatures that portend entirely positive things.

Chinese dragons are deeply ingrained in the minds of Chinese people due to their mythology and folklore. A long history is associated with dragons, and during various periods of time they gained more and more meanings. For instance, once it was the symbol of the Emperor of China – the Son of Heaven, who was portrayed as magnificent and forceful. Generally, the ancient Chinese emperors were referred to as the sons of dragons, and contrary to the present day situation, the ordinary members of the society couldn’t have had any objects with dragons on them. Today, the pattern of a dragon appears everywhere and – needless to say – is available for everybody. Nevertheless, the association from the past is still alive in the Chinese language. People are compared to dragons if they have plenty of achievements and successes in their lives, whereas those who are doomed to failure are compared to worms or other ‘weak’ animals.

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Carpets are no exception to the rule as far as containing various representations of dragons is concerned. Since these creatures don’t exist for real, they are depicted in manifold forms, once being a four-legged snake-like design, the other time looking more like a turtle or a fish. One can often notice these forms on antique Chinese rugs. When being presented on carpets, dragons are usually depicted as serpent-like animals consolidating features of diverse animals. Apart from embodying power and authority, they are the symbols of wealth, luck, health, strength and many more favorable things. Chinese people believe that dragons have a real impact on different spheres of lives. That’s because of their limitless power the seasons change. Each season is accordingly announced by dragons that signal the aura of freshness when spring is coming, and shelter on the sea bed when autumn is drawing on. They are believed to have power over natural disasters like floods or typhoons.

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On carpets, dragons are not normally depicted naturalistically, but in a more graphic form, which results in somewhat abstract shapes. Sometimes they are bat-like creatures, with or without wings. Flaming pearls often appear together with dragons, symbolizing wisdom, power, immortality and prosperity. On these representations, the snake-like animals often try to catch a flaming pearl. In China, dragons were always considered merely positive creatures, being wise, generous and fair. However, Buddhists introduced their own division of dragons, ascribing malicious elements to some of them. The vast majority is of the yang (positive) essence, whereas the rest is of yin nature (negative one). Consequently, the serpent-like creatures can protect against floods but they can also cause them.

Dragons are highly symbolic and attractive patterns adorning antique Chinese rugs which evoke various meanings. Such carpets will undoubtedly capture one’s imagination, simultaneously being a decorative element of any interior.

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