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Tiger vs. Dragon Chinese Mythology

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Call it a fable, folktale or fantasy - a myth is a compilation of stories, handed down through the ages to explain the past. Steeped in nature and rooted in history, mythology impacts all cultures and plays an integral part in religious doctrine. They give us a glimpse into the beliefs, heroes, and deities of ancient societies.  These stories seemingly have no boundaries - spanning the globe and impacting all cultures.  They have the power to influence our actions, demystify the forces of nature and teach life lessons. Often thought of as, keys to understanding our culture, myths edify ideals and do have some basis in fact. Myths are an attempt to  explain natural phenomenon,

 Two of the most recognized characters in all mythology are the tiger and the dragon. These creatures surface with all ethnicities.   The dragon is an equalizer and a protector. The tiger is all-powerful. She is symbolic of courage and patience. These historical enemies represent good and evil,  light and dark, matter and spirit, east and west,. Neither is able to defeat the other, they symbolically keep each other in check - two mortal enemies destined to preserve and protect the balance of nature.

Tigers are, globally,  among the most beautiful and treasured animals. The elusive beast is both feared and revered for its majestic beauty and strength. We find references to tigers in prose, poetry, and proverbs throughout all cultures.  In Chinese folk stories, we read about tigers protecting good men and destroying the evil ones. Children's clothing is adorned with colorful images of tigers to protect against evil and sickness.

"Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"  William Blake


Rudyard Kipling gives us Shere Khan, a Bengal tiger and the main antagonist of the Jungle Book, and AA Milnes gives us  Tigger, the wise friend of Winnie the Pooh.

Dragons are part of the folklore throughout the 'Far East.' China, Korea, and Japan all have mythological dragons. Although the bodies of all the dragons are somewhat similar, it is the toes that tell them apart. Legend has it that all dragons came from China and originally had five toes on each foot. As they migrated, some of the toes fell off. The longer they flew, the more toes they lost. We now see that Korean dragons have four toes and Japanese dragons only have three.

There are both male and female dragons. Female dragons are often depicted in pictures holding fans, and the male dragons hold a club in their tail. Chinese mythology boasts many varieties of dragons, including:

  •  Horned Dragons 
  • Celestial Dragons 
  • Spiritual Dragons
  • Winged Dragons
  • Dragons of Hidden Treasures
  • The coiling Dragons
  • The Yellow Dragons
  • The Dragon King

 Dragons, in all their fire-breathing glory, are woven into all forms of literature. They play an integral part in Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe, The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, and The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser. The Brothers Grimm also wrote a fairy tale about a seven-headed dragon. We see dragons mentioned in poetry and film as well.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son! 

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird,

and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!"   Lewis Carroll

The Chinese idiom,"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" morphed into an Oscar-winning, foreign-language,  martial-arts movie about hiding inner strength from the world. 

According to ancient Chinese philosophy, the yin and the yang are the two forces that form the world. The Taijitu, or the Yin Yang symbol, represents perfect balance. The dark side of the symbol is Yin,  and the light side is Yang. Yang is light, fire, and rain while the yin stands for darkness, water wind, and earth. Male traits are yang, and female traits are yin.  

Symbolically, the dragon is the yang and the tiger is the yin. The embodiment of patience combined with physical power, a tiger can quietly stalk its prey, then transforms, at will, into a deadly creature. This is the tiger's hidden strength. The tiger fears no one. 

The dragon, on the other hand, is full of active energy, a powerful force that is fierce and fiery. He is able to summon rain and wake up the waves. However, the tiger and dragon are complementary equals and strong opponents. The yin-yang of these two mortal enemies gives us nature's perfect synergy; a balance of power.

In mythology, the tiger and the dragon are polar opposites,  like a positive and negative force, they cancel each other out. The dragon lives on the left and leans toward the sun. The tiger is at home on the right and is grounded on earth. 

The symbolism and influence of tigers and dragons are widespread. Men and women of all cultures have long valued the image of these fantasy icons as the subject of tattoos.Frequently paired with natural elements like clouds, water, or the sun, the colorful artistry is both stunning and horrifying at the same time. Prominently recognized in the interpretation of dreams,  a tiger can be representative of power, force, leadership or seduction. A dragon in a dream sequence is reflective of spirit, luck, and fiery passion. 

Are you a yin or a yang? Some folks theorize that the yin and yang represent specific psychological traits that will describe character and behavior. If you have a yin personality, you display wisdom and imagination. You travel peacefully through life and do not worry too much about the future. You are content with your life. You could be said to have a yang personality if you are a mover and a shaker. You exude ambition, are a thrill-seeker and crave adventure.

Presently, the tiger is an endangered species. Up until the beginning of the 20th Century, there were well over 100,000 of these magnificent cats. Today, sadly, that number is less than 4,000. Poaching is the main reason our tigers are rapidly disappearing in the wild. Their body parts, especially bones and skin, are harvested for their supposed mystical and medicinal powers. Unless we all sit up and take notice, It is probable that within the next decade we will lose all the tigers. 


Save Tigers Now is a global initiative of the World Wildlife Fund focusing on doubling this number by 2022, the next year of the tiger. For every purchase you make, we donate 10% of the proceeds to Save Tigers Now.Together we can make a difference and we need YOUR help to do it!

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