China seems destined to do a slower but vastly greater work even than Japan. Mother of all civilization east of the Ganges, the world's debt to her, already incalculable, is to be manifold greater. China will conquer every conqueror that attempts her conquest.
The Chinese love liberty, equality, and fraternity. If treated honorably and with righteousness, they will enrich the world with their gifts, graces, and inheritances. The Middle Kingdom has for ages been the source of blessings to surrounding nations. A reformed China will be a blessing to the whole race. There are great, deep currents of sympathy and unity between the Orient and the Occident, beneath the apparent and even sometimes stormy differences on the surface. Chinese human nature in its depths is exactly like human nature everywhere,—including our own variety.
Mythology, poetry, literature, and all the old and pre-ancient products of mind show this, as well as do the responses of the Chinese mind to new visions and messages containing truth, which knows no climate, time, or space, and outgrows all names and labels.
All this argues favorably for a reformed China. Apart from the various religions which the Chinese have accepted, let us take an illustration from Popular art. China is the Land of the Dragon and bears this symbol of power on her yellow flag. Yet all over the earth, among primitive peoples, the dragon has been the supreme symbol of living, concrete force. The Chinese dragon in all its varieties is well worthy of study. On sculpture, painting, dress, flag, it is almost omnipresent, being chief of the four supernatural animals.
It is so much like the geological creatures of a world that has passed away, that we are forced to believe that it is but the development, in fancy, of an actual organism once upon the earth. There are nine or ten varieties of this imaginary creature that carries in his structure a cyclopedia of all the forces of life, with their powers of motion and of destruction. Of one, for example, it is written: "When earth is piled up in mountains, wind and rain arise, but when water comes together into streams, the Kiao dragon comes into being.
Chief of all scaly reptiles, the dragon wields the power of transformation. It can render itself visible and invisible at pleasure.
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It lives partly in the waters of the earth and partly in the waters above the earth, in the spring ascending to the clouds, in the autumn burying itself in the watery depths. At will it reduces itself to the size of a silkworm, or it is swollen until it fills the space of heaven and earth.
It can rise into the clouds or sink into the ocean deeps. The watery principle of the atmosphere, mist, cloud, dew, rain, etc. In art it is not usual to represent the dragon as completely visible, but to hide parts of his body or limbs in cloud or mist, to suggest rather than fully to portray.
The dragon can climb, fly, crawl, and run. It has tooth, claw, wing, tail, and every equipment belonging to beast, bird, fish, or reptile.
Of the four sorts of principal dragons, the celestial variety guards the mansions of the gods and sup-ports them so that they do not fall. The spiritual dragon causes winds to blow and produces rain for the benefit of mankind. The dragon of earth marks out the courses of rivers and streams. There is a bob-tailed dragon that sports in the whirlwind and is credited with special power in destroying houses and cities. The dragon is associated with the East, with springtime, and with the eastern quarter of the heavens. In the popular belief, there are four dragon kings, each having dominion over one of the four seas which form the border of the habitable earth.
The palaces in which these kings live have striking names. There is also a dragon which does not mount up to heaven, and another without horns. Most honorable of all is the yellow dragon.
That which has five claws can be used only by the emperor or on imperial property. It is not wonderful that such a divinely endowed creature, which holds within himself all the powers known to life of any sort, should occupy a great place in Chinese art and story. The dragon is the symbol not only of power, but of guardianship. It is often seen in carving, sculpture, and painting, on gateways, posts, and temple ornaments.
At wells, fountains, eaves, conduits, in gardens and other places where water spouts, flows, or is stored up, we may expect to meet with the stone, bronze, or iron dragon represented in various forms, while from paper, porcelain, and in pictorial art he greets us continually. In philosophy the dragon is the emblem of power manifesting itself.
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In popular notion the dragon is held responsible for a great deal that we should express by other symbols or in different forms of speech. In the earlier world of thought, in the infancy of the race, before there were scales, measures, laboratories, written figures, or mathematics, all great manifestations of power and strange events, as well as human heroes, were described in fairy tales and mythology. Only in this way was explanation possible. Thus a rude sort of science, outside of the books, grows up.
Little children who cannot know anything about the invisible laws of the universe, or understand machinery or its motive power, have things wonderful explained to them by means of things living, that is, of animals who talk, and of men and women who can change themselves, or their friends or enemies, into something else, and one thing into another.
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In the myths the heroes and heroines can over-come all obstacles by magic. Now to people who have never seen and cannot know anything about such wonders as locomotives, telegraphs, steam engines, photographs, and a thousand other strange inventions of an age of science, explanations must be made in the language and forms of thought with which they are acquainted. With these illustrations we can appreciate the fact that the uneducated masses of China—not ten per cent of whom can read books—believe easily the most absurd stories circulated about foreigners. Indeed, they quite equal or excel the worst of our own people who are ignorant of the Chinese.
The amazing things actually done, or alleged to be done, do not seem any more wonderful than what they have been accustomed to believe. Let us consider a Chinese traveler in America, but not yet understanding how the forces of steam and electricity are harnessed and made to obey the will of man. On going back home and telling of the Pennsylvania Railroad, for example, with engines going at lightning speed, drawing crowds of people in long trains of cars thousands of miles a day, but also killing men by accident daily, he might describe this as a steel dragon stretching from Pittsburg to New York.
The monster is able to carry on its back every day thousands of people, but it requires for its food a man or two every day, devouring human beings very much like the dragons of mythology. So also in the great disasters from storm and flood, tidal waves or volcanoes, which overwhelm human lives, and in the dangers and deaths from mining, or by fire, gas, explosion, or poisonous fumes, the uneducated Chinese sees the work of the great offended "god," dragon, or some other irritated creature, where we should look only for the phenomena of nature.
The power of the dragon is beneficent also. Its nobler side is shown especially in relation to water. Life, fertility, food, comfort, and beauty come from the cloud and rain. From the complexity of the symbolism, we derive simple principles that we stand for — potency, wisdom and creative rebellion. This creativity, we must disclose, often vanishes when determining where we should go for lunch each day.
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