Dragon vs. Dragon: Same Name, Different Genus?

In a discussion of dragonfruit (common in China), a Chinese friend pointed out that Chinese dragons and Western dragons are quite different. I was surprised, I hadn’t noticed this. My friend was right:

There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies, and the Chinese dragon, with counterparts in Japan, Korea and other East Asian countries.

says Wikipedia. Why two different imaginary animals would be quite similar isn’t obvious.


12 Replies to “Dragon vs. Dragon: Same Name, Different Genus?”

  1. This is just an artifact of language, and how somebody a long time ago decided that the proper translation of “Qilin” is “Dragon”. They could have easily decided to simply call it a “Qilin”.

    This is similar to how the word “Typhoon” just means “Hurricane in the Pacific”. (or more precisely, “tropical cyclone”.

    I bet that whatever similarity there is between the two imaginary animals is a recent development: before East-West contact, they could have been totally different long ago.

  2. They’re not all that similar. Chinese dragons are essentially flying snakes, whereas western dragons have four legs, large wings, and torsos. All they have in common are flying, being reptilian and breathing fire. (Actually, do Chinese dragons do that?)

    Note also that Chinese “lions” are not all that similar to real lions, and in Japanese the real giraffe is named after a very different mythological creature, the kirin.

  3. Lions in medieval heraldry were actually leopards.

    And the giraffe is camelopardalis.

    Dragon is from dracus, which means ia. water snake, which gives us Dracula. Mwahahahaa.

  4. How would an animal look if you would found its bones. Do you think our civilizations is the only one digging or finding dinosaur bones. Maybe they project the shadow of their civilization on this reconstructed unidentified animal.

  5. @kxmoore Just now I saw your comment I thought about this but didn’t found this speculation in literature, can you give me a reference where you found this mentioned.

  6. I’m told by a Chinese friend that, for the Chinese, the dragon is always serious. This came as a surprise since I always saw dragons as at times, light and sources of amusement…

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