Celebrating Chinese New Year: The Dragon Re-Interpreted

003 The dragon has a long and esteemed history in Chinese lore.  In honor of Chinese New Year, AntiquityNOW’s Artist-in-Residence Dan Fenelon has recast this legendary figure into phantasmagorical creations that fuse the ancient and the modern with a whimsical turn—a Fenelon trademark.

Let’s look at the influence of the dragon on Chinese history and psyche.  Unlike western imaginations that rendered the dragon as an evil killing machine, the dragon to the Chinese has remarkable powers and represents dignity and good in the world.[1]

They breathe clouds, move the seasons, and control the waters of rivers, lakes, and seas. They are linked with yang, the masculine principle of heat, light, and action, and opposed to yin, the feminine principle of coolness, darkness, and repose. Dragons have been part of East Asian culture for more than 4,000 years. In the religious traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, they have been honored as sources of power and bringers of rain.[2]

Indeed, the Chinese consider themselves descendants of the dragon.  From ancient times the Chinese looked to the dragon as a paragon of courage and community wellbeing.  Historically an agricultural culture, China through the centuries suffered the vagaries of weather, warfare and political dissonance.  The dragon was sought as a source of a larger national identity and was deified as the centuries passed.  In fact, as the feudal society evolved, the emperors chose the dragon as their alter ego and anyone using the dragon in any way, for good or ill, could be condemned to death for disrespecting imperial powers.[3]

During Chinese New Year the dragon dance is performed in Asian communities around the world.  People create elaborate and often very long dragon costumes of bamboo, paper and cloth and to accompanying fireworks dance their way through city streets and country towns.  It is a custom that dates back at least to the rain ceremonies of the Han dynasty (206 BC to AD 220).[4]

So in honor of this ancient dragon imagery and to celebrate the Year of the Horse, AntiquityNOW is proud to showcase Dan Fenelon’s emblematic art. Enjoy the slideshow below and scroll down for a fun and educational coloring activity for children.

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Kids’ Activity

Download and print the image below to color and decorate your very own dragons for Chinese New Year!

Coloring Activity


1. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/social_customs/dragon_lion.htm
2. http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/mythic-creatures/dragons-creatures-of-power/asian-dragons
3. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/social_customs/dragon_lion.htm
4. http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/mythic-creatures/dragons-creatures-of-power/asian-dragons

2 responses to “Celebrating Chinese New Year: The Dragon Re-Interpreted

  1. Pingback: Students Celebrate Chinese New Year with Dragons and Dance | AntiquityNOW

  2. Pingback: Happy Year of the Ram From AntiquityNOW! | AntiquityNOW

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