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Dragon Dance in the Hometown of the Dragon
by courtesy of Qiu Huanxing and Lu Zhongmin,
the authors of Folk Customs Of China


Tongliang County can be called the hometown of the dragon. Dinosaur fossils were unearthed from here. The dragon lanterns made in Tongliang County are known far and wide. There is a custom of doing dragon lantern dances during the Lantern Festival (15th of the first lunar month). When it gets dark various dragon dances are done on the streets with coulourful lights hanging from above. They look like dragons roaming in river of light. The dragon with red candle lights in each section is called a fire dragon and the one made of multi-coloured cloth is called a colourful dragon. There is another one called a bench dragon. A one-metre-long bench is divided into three parts, which are connected with iron rings and the dragon head and tail are put on each end. The giant vermes dragon is more than 20 metres long, and is made of 24 sections.
I also saw some children holding up toy straw dragons and Chinese cabbage dragons. The straw dragon is made of rice straw and a bamboo pole. The cabbage dragon is made of a Chinese cabbage with a bamboo pole stuck in it. There is a rope tied to the cabbage and the pole. If it is played at night, a red candle will be stuck on it. The children imitate the movements of the adults, which makes everyone laugh.

Opinions on th eorigin of the dragon vary. Some people say that the dragon originates from the alligator, pig, or silkworm. Others say that the dragon originates from the worship of lightning and thunder. Still others believe that the dragon is a kind of snake which is respected as a totem of the Huaxia tribe (an ancient name for the Chinese). When the Huaxias annexed other clans, the other clan symbols, such as deer, camels, fish, tigers and eagles were combined to create the dragon of today.

There are many legends about dragons. In the Han Dynasty, people thought dragons could summoun clouds and rain. So when there was arid weather, they would do the dragon dance to seek help from the dragon. This custom has passed from generation to generation and exists even today.

The legends about the dragon dance in Tongliang goes that one day when the Dragon King of the East Sea got a serious backache, he disguised himself as an old man so he could see a doctor on the land. After feeling his pulse, the doctour asked in surprise, "Are you a huamn being?" The Dragon King had to tell the truth. So the doctor asked him to turn back to his original form and took out a centipede from a scale in his waist and drew out pus by applying a paster to the affected part. He was cured. In order to show his gratitude the Dragon King revealed his secret. He told the doctor, "You'll have good weather for the crops this year if you make dragons like me and play with them."

I was surprised to see that when the dragon dance was at its peak, they threw firecrackers and fireworks at the dragon lanterns. So the activity ended in an atmosphere of excitement.

Why did they burn the dragon lantern? One belief is that when the dragons are burned they go to heaven which makes the weather good for the crops. Another belief is that when the dragons are burned they repel all bad luck and disasters.

Sometimes the young men who play the dragon lanterns will catch the fancy of girls. Those young men are considered lucky young men.

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