Among many other animals, dragons
have a very important meaning as a symbol of longevity, noblesse and
immortality. To the Chinese, the Imperial Dragon or Lung, is considered to
be the primary of four benevolent spiritual animals. Having unrivaled
wisdom and power the dragon symbolized the Emperors of China themselves,
who were actually called dragons. China's first emperor, was said to
have a dragon's tail. The dragon is visualized as a long, scaled,
snake-like, wingless, serpentine creature with clawed feet.
The first Chinese emperor Qín Shihuángdì (214 BC)
decreed that the dragon with five claws would be his emblem, while the
four-clawed dragon was typically for certain high ranking officials and
imperial nobility. The three clawed dragon was used by lower ranks and the
common people. Improper use of claw numbers was considered treason, often
punished by execution of the offender's entire clan.
Qin Shuangdi, first Chinese Emperor
The eastern dragon is composed of different animals: the body of a
snake, scales of a carp, head of a camel with antlers of a deer, eyes
of the rabbit, ears like an ox, neck from a iguana, paw from a tiger
with claws from an eagle. Often, lion's mane in the neck, chin and
elbow finish the dreadful appearance. Eastern dragons have 117 scales,
81 are field with yang (positive elements) where 36 scales are Yin and
represent the evil spirits.
There are also some regional differences between Chinese, Korean and
Japanese Dragons. According to a Chinese legend all Imperial dragons
originated in China. The further away from China a dragon went the
fewer claws it had. Therefore, Chinese imperial dragons have five
claws on each foot, while Korean dragons have four, and Japanese
dragons have three.