Chinese New Year 2024: The Year of the Dragon

Chinese New Year 2024: The Year of the Dragon

February 10th 2024 will usher in the Year of the Dragon, and the team here at Shimu wish you health and happiness as we celebrate this most auspicious occasion in the Chinese calender. The dragon, a symbol of strength, good fortune, and transformation in Chinese culture, perfectly encapsulates our hopes for 2024 and is considered the luckiest sign of the Chinese zodiac to be born under. As the start of a new lunar year is considered a time for renewal and rejuvenation, it also represents an opportunity to bring new energy into your home, whether this is through a thorough de-clutter, reorganisation or a carefully chosen piece of furniture.

Dragons hold an esteemed place in Chinese culture as benevolent yet powerful beasts that bring good fortune and protection. As the Year of the Dragon is nearly with us, we thought we’d take a look at the images and motifs of dragons which have appeared across Chinese art and design for centuries, including in furniture craftsmanship.
Shaanxi cabinet with dragon carvings

The History of Dragon Imagery in Chinese Furniture Making

The use of dragon imagery in Chinese furniture has a long history spanning over 2,000 years. Dragons were intricately carved into throne chairs of past emperors as a symbol of their divine power and legitimacy to rule. Over time, as furniture craftsmanship evolved into a refined art form during the Ming and Qing dynasties, artisans incorporated swirling dragon designs into wooden furnishings to wish prosperity and blessings upon households. The mystical creature was also believed to ward off evil influences. The heavily carved cabinet shown here is a nice example. It was produced in Shaanxi province in central China around the mid nineteenth century, and shows beautiful relief carvings on each of the spandrels depicting intertwining dragons.

Unlike the fire-breathing dragons of Western myths, Chinese dragons are depicted as benevolent forces closely associated with life-giving rains and water sources. As such, sinuous wooden dragon reliefs carved around furniture frames evoked their protective and nurturing power. Whether subtly integrated into the feet of a table or boldly engraved as the centrepiece panel of a wedding trunk, dragon motifs added a majestic touch while underscoring traditional Chinese values of strength, wisdom and good fortune - qualities still sought after in the Year of the Dragon today.

Chinese blue and white ginger jar with dragon

Auspicious Emblems: The Symbolic Power and Craftsmanship of Dragons in Chinese Ceramics

Dragon imagery has adorned Chinese porcelain since at least the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE), but its popularity surged during the Ming (1368-1644 CE) and Qing dynasties (1644-1912 CE). Though initially painted with more muted earth tones, cobalt blue under-glaze soon became the quintessential colour for delineating the sinuous bodies of dragons on porcelains.

Varying numbers of claws, depicted in golden hues, differentiate a dragon’s royalty. The most superior have five claws and were only allowed to be used for the emperor and his close family. Imperial dragons were also painted midst swirling clouds or emerging from waves showing their divine ability to manipulate the weather and waters to benefit mankind. As a result, porcelain dishes and vases bearing imperial five-clawed dragons were seen as fitting tributes conveying esteem and allegiance to emperors.

On more commonplace porcelain wares for use in the home, less ornate three-clawed golden dragons, snakes, and fish often encircle the exterior, conveying wishes for prosperity. The vibrant, eye-catching dragon motifs not only showcase the talents of the artisans who made them, but are also believed to imbue the porcelain with protection and blessing. For over two millennia, dragon symbolism has enhanced Chinese artistic heritage. When beautifully painted on porcelains, dragons still have the power to transform everyday objects into something majestic.

Silk embroidery, Chinese dragon

Soaring Guardians: Imperial Dragons in Chinese Paintings and Murals

Depictions of muscular dragons charging across scroll paintings or towering over palace walls have inspired Chinese artists for centuries. Dragon imagery holds elite status in Chinese art for being a powerful imperial symbol linked to cosmological beliefs. According to Daoist and Buddhist traditions, dragons were one of four benevolent celestial creatures guarding the cardinal directions, with the dragon ruling the Eastern sky.

As controllers of rain and water, dragons were regarded as auspicious yet feared beings capable of protecting or destroying lands. Emperors closely associated themselves with dragons to harness their protective capacity and project supremacy. During the Ming Dynasty, the dragon became formally designated as the exclusive emblem for the emperor, worn on robes and featured prominently on architectural surfaces. Murals of the five-clawed imperial dragon in pursuit of the sacred flaming pearl adorned imperial Chinese palaces, boldly announcing the mandate of the Son of Heaven to all who entered.

Smaller dragon paintings on scrolls were also gifted to communicate imperial appreciation of one’s talents or deeds. To the honoured recipients, these ornate paintings conveying the emperor’s majestic power were more precious than gold. Through stylised dragon iconography in paintings the mandate and might of imperial rule was pronounced and displayed in China across the ages.

Enter the Dragon: Make Space in Your Home for These Magnificent Creatures

As already mentioned, beautiful mythical dragons have long held a significant place in Chinese culture and craftsmanship. Ensuring your house is home to a Chinese dragon is a wonderful way to usher in the Chinese New Year and Shimu is the perfect place to find one!

Our ever-changing range of antique furniture often includes original pieces decorated with images of dragons, from carved chests and storage trunks, through to lacquered cabinets and antique chairs. Or why not take a look at our collection of ceramics which includes dragon jar lamps, tea caddies, storage jars and decorated ceramic stools? From wall art and ornaments, to necklaces and carved panels, you’ll find that Shimu is not only the home of beautiful Chinese antiques and furniture, but of Chinese dragons too.

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