The largest dragon in China#
Dongyang and its light-dragon#
All photos were taken by the author February 1999. They are part of his archive "Picture-flood Jontes".
Dongyang, an independent town in the southern province of Zhejiang, is situated 200 kilometres south of the provincial capital Hangzhou. With its one million inhabitants it is one of the smaller large cities of China. The name means „Eastern Sun“ which reveals something about its historical importance. It stepped into the light of history during the Eastern Han Dynasty in 125 AD. Dongyang has a special relationship to the Chinese fabulous creature, the dragon.
In Chinese architecture, the city occupies a special position because of the building complex of the Lu family. The construction of the huge complex started in the Late Middle Ages. It stylistically highlights the transition from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty. In 1644, the Chinese dynasty of the Ming was overthrown by the foreign Qing or Manchu Dynasty which ruled China until the early 20th century. The Lu Palace is also called Southern Imperial Palace because of its size. Much of it has been preserved and is the destination of many strangers.
For ages Dongyang has also been a centre of refined woodcarving. Masterful works can be admired on the historical buildings.
The carvings of Dongyang are something special because of the unusual painting.
The art of calligraphy is highly respected in China and equally important alongside architecture, painting and sculpture. It expresses not only the style of the period and the personal style, but has its own character in the case of inscriptions on gates and in general in the cityscape. It is admired in its abstract interpretation by Western aesthetes.
However, the largest part of the city consists of a sad series of faceless facades and houses, However, they give an impression of the old roads and alleys before the anti-cultural Mao communism vigorously implemented its ideology.
In Dongyang, there is a spring festival which has not yet been sacrificed to mass tourism and brings a delirium of joy to the entire city like the start of as New Year. It is the festival of the light-dragon. In China, the dragons are good to people, contrary to the West. Dragons support fields of nature, mountains and other areas important for humans. One of the most peaceful and helpful of all is the light-dragon. It is worshipped in a nightly spectacle that brings together the entire population of the city. Single parts of the dragon are designed by a family or a clan and assembled for the procession in such a way that a creature of hundreds of metres is formed.
The lanterns in the lucky colour red are illuminated from inside with a candle. This produces a gorgeous effect in the dark.
Different parts of the dragon are decorated with lanterns, flowers and other objects such as windmills. They are flexibly connected with their neighbours. One can see the pleasure with which the people are at work. Especially young men keep this splendid tradition alive.
If longer parts are finished, they are lifted and their owners are running a test with them prior to assembling the whole dragon in order to check whether the connections are solid enough.
The procession forms when it is dark.
The curious people begin to gather in masses. Young and old follow the spectacle with joy. All participate with much enthusiasm and dedication.
On a large square, the nocturnal dance of the light-dragon is starting to form. The long and heavy head, the tail, and the segments rise and sink in waves. The carriers of the dragon are dancing increasingly narrower circles, forming different figures which then entangle and untangle. It is an enchanting nightly spectacle.
The head of the dragon's dance is of course in the front.
And this is what the tail of the dragon looks like.
In the afternoon of the next day the procession moves once again around the city. The head and the tail of the light-dragon are carried around with musical accompaniment of gongs, drums and trilling oboes. At this point donations are also collected