To most Westerners, the dragon is a fearsome and mythical creature that breaths fire, lays waste to the countryside, destroys the populace and kidnaps young women. But to the Chinese dragons represent an auspicious creature that controls rainfall and the land that yields their crops. The Chinese dragon is indeed devine, blessed with heaven's will, and, by extension, the symbol of the Emperor. To the ancient Chinese dragons were not creatures of fire, as so many would think, but rather creatures of water. The dragon of the Chinese resided in rivers, lakes, pools and rose in great clouds of mist to promote rainfall.
The people of China would carve jade into the shapes of dragons and used them as a sort of Chinese water dragon to worship heaven and beg for rain. The ancient Chinese also linked the dragon image to the east, the direction associated with spring, sunrise and the promise of new birth. A recent archaeological expedition of a Neolithic tomb revealed the image of a dragon made of shells and precious stones on the east side of the tomb. On the west side of the tomb, the ancient dragon's opposite direction, was the image of a tiger. The east-dragon, west-tiger relation remains a valid part of Chinese culture and religion to this day.
Like many other mythical figures, the Chinese dragon is a composite of other animals, with the scales of a fish, the body of a snake, etc. It does not matter if it is a red dragon, a green dragon or a water dragon, to the Chinese this mythical beast is still the icon of their culture. Many old Chinese tales tell of other animals transforming themselves into dragons and accounts of people who practiced esoteric arts riding into heaven on the back of a dragon ultimately to gain immortality. This is an indication that one of the chief qualities of the Chinese dragon has been its miraculous power and ability to transform.
The dragons of China began taking on an association with political power during the reign of the First Emperor (circa 206-220 B.C.) Dragon art began to evolve into a benevolent symbol of the government. The Emperor himself came to be viewed as a reincarnation of the dragon god. Thus the mighty Chinese dragon became the exclusive symbol of the imperial household. It was posited that only the Emperor could wear dragon robes, sleep in the dragon bed and sit on the dragon throne. In fact, almost everything bore by the Emperor was associated with a dragon image. The Emperor's association with the mythical and mighty dragon helped to keep the imperial structure intact for two thousands years.