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In Chinese mythology, Jiaolong (simplified Chinese: 蛟龙; traditional Chinese: 蛟龍; pinyin: jiāolóng; Wade-Giles: chiao-lung) or jiao is a mythical creature that is among other shapes similar to an aquatic dragon



Edward H. Schafer describes the jiao.

Spiritually akin to the crocodile, and perhaps originally the same reptile, was a mysterious creature capable of many forms called the chiao (kau). Most often it was regarded as a kind of lung – a "dragon" as we say. But sometimes it was manlike, and sometimes it was merely a fish. All of its realizations were interchangeable. (1967:217-8)


"Jiao < *kǒg 蛟 is defined with more meanings than any other Chinese draconym", writes Carr (1990:126), " 'aquatic dragon', 'crocodile; alligator', 'hornless dragon', 'dragoness', 'scaled dragon', 'shark' [= 鮫], and 'mermaid'."


Wen Yiduo that jiaolong were emblems of the mythological creators Fuxi and Nüwa, who are represented as having a human's upper body and a dragon's tail.

Tomb painting of Nüwa and Fuxi excavated in Xinjiang.

Aquatic dragon

Jiao and jiaolong were names for a legendary river dragon.

The mythological Shanhaijing "Classic of Mountains and Seas" mentions jiao and hujiao 虎蛟 "tiger jiao", but notably not jiaolong. The "Classic of Southern Mountains" (1, Visser 1913:76) records hujiao in the Yin River 泿水.

The River Bank rises here and flows south to empty into the sea. There are tiger-crocodiles in it. Their bodies look like a fish's, but they have a snake's tail and they make a noise like mandarin ducks. If you eat some, you won't suffer from a swollen abscess, and it can be used to treat piles. (tr. Birrell 2000:8)

The commentary of Guo Pu glosses hujiao as "a type of [long 龍] dragon that resembles a four-legged snake." The "Classic of Central Mountains" (5, tr. Birrell 2000:93, 97) records jiao in the Kuang River 貺水 and Lun River 淪水: "There are numerous alligators in the River Grant" and "The River Ripple contains numbers of alligators". Guo adds that the jiao "has a small head, narrow neck, white scales, is oviparous, can grow up to ten meters long, and eats people."

Wolfram Eberhard (1968:378) quotes the (11th century CE) Moke huixi 墨客揮犀 for the "best definition" of a jiao, "looks like a snake with a tiger head, is several fathoms long, lives in brooks and rivers, and bellows like a bull; when it sees a human being it traps him with its stinking saliva, then pulls him into the water and sucks his blood from his armpits." He concludes (1968:378-9) that the jiao, which "occur in the whole of Central and South China", "is a special form of the snake as river god. The snake as river god or god of the ocean is typical for the coastal culture, particularly the sub-group of the Tan peoples."

Jiao 蛟 is sometimes translated as "flood dragon". The (c. 1105 CE) Yuhu qinghua 玉壺清話 (Carr 1990:128) says people in the southern state of Wu called it fahong 發洪 "swell into a flood" because they believed flooding resulted when jiao hatched. The Chuci (13, tr. Hawkes 1985:255) uses the term shuijiao 水蛟 "water jiao": "Henceforth the water-serpents must be my companions, And dragon-spirits lie with me when I would rest."

Crocodile or Alligator

Besides a legendary dragon, jiao and jiaolong anciently named a four-legged water creature, identified as both "alligator" and "crocodile". The "Dragons and Snakes" section of the (1578 CE) Bencao Gangmu, which is a comprehensive Chinese materia medica, differentiates (tr. Read 1934:314-318) between jiaolong 蛟龍 (or e) "Saltwater Crocodile, Crocodylus porosus" and tolong 鼉龍 "Chinese Alligator, Alligator sinensis". Most early references describe the jiaolong as living in rivers, which fits not only this freshwater "Chinese alligator" but also the "Saltwater crocodile" that spends the tropical wet season in freshwater rivers and swamps. Comparing maximum lengths of 6 and 1.5 meters for this crocodile and alligator respectively, "Saltwater crocodile" seems more consistent with descriptions of jiao reaching lengths of several zhang( approximately 3.3 meters).

Three classical texts (Liji 6, tr. Legge 1885:1:277, Huainanzi 5, and Lüshi Chunqiu 6) repeat a sentence about capturing water creatures at the end of summer; 伐蛟取鼉登龜取黿 "attack the jiao 蛟, take the to 鼉 "alligator", present the gui 龜 "tortoise", and take the yuan 黿 "soft-shell turtle"."

Early texts frequently mention capturing jiao. The (ca. 111 CE) Hanshu (6, Carr 1990:128) records catching a jiao 蛟in 106 BCE. The (4th century CE) Shiyiji 拾遺記 has a jiao story about Emperor Zhao of Han (r. 87-74 BCE). While fishing in the Wei River, he

caught a white kiao, three chang [ten meters] long, which resembled a big snake, but had no scaly armour The Emperor said: 'This is not a lucky omen', and ordered the Ta kwan to make a condiment of it. Its flesh was purple, its bones were blue, and its taste was very savoury and pleasant. (tr. Visser 1913:79)

The historicity of such accounts can be dubious. The (ca. 109-91 BCE) Shiji biography of Emperor Gaozu of Han (r. 202-195 BCE) recounts a legend that his mother dreamed of a jiaolong before his birth.

Hornless dragon

The (121 CE) Shuowen Jiezi dictionary defines jiao 蛟 as "A kind of dragon, a hornless dragon is called jiao. It explains that "if the number of fish in a pond reaches 3600, a jiao will come as their leader, and enable them to follow him and fly away." However, "if you place a fish trap in the water, the jiao will leave." According to the Chuci commentary of Wang Yi 王逸 (d. 158 CE), the jiao is a "hornless dragon" or a "small dragon", perhaps implying a young or immature dragon.

Note the pronunciation similarity between jiao 蛟 and jiao (horn). Jiaolong 角龍 "horned dragon", which is the Chinese name for the Ceratops dinosaur, occurs in Ge Hong's Baopuzi (10, tr. Ware 1966:170) "the horned dragon can no longer find a place to swim."

Female dragon

Jiao meaning "female dragon; dragon mother" is first recorded in the (c. 810 CE) Buddhist dictionary Yiqie jingyinyi 一切經音義 (19). It defines jiaolong as "a fish with a snake's tail," notes the Sanskrit name guanpiluo 官毘羅 "kumbhīra; crocodile; alligator", and quotes Ge Hong's Baopuzi 抱朴子 that jiao 蛟 means "dragon mother, dragoness" and Qiulong|qiu (horned dragon) means "dragon child, dragonet". However, the received edition of the Baopuzi does not include this statement. The (11th century CE) Piya dictionary repeats this "female dragon" definition.

Scaly dragon

The (3rd century CE) Guangya defines jiaolong as "scaly dragon; scaled dragon", using the word lin(scales of a fish, etc.). Many later dictionaries copied this meaning, but it lacks textual corroboration.


Jiao 蛟 was an interchangeable graphic loan character for jiao 鮫 "shark", usually called the jiaoyu 鮫魚 or shayu 鯊魚. Jiaoge 鮫革 (with ge "hide; leather") means "sharkskin". Several texts (Hanshi waizhuan韓詩外傳, [Shangzi, Xunzi, Shiji, and Huainanzi) record that soldiers from the southern state of Chu made strong armor with skin from jiao sharks and hides from rhinoceros.


Jiao fish named both sharks and stingrays (see Elasmobranchii). Schafer (1967:221) quotes a Song Dynasty description, "The kău fish has the aspect of a round fan. Its mouth is square and is in its belly. There is a sting in its tail which is very poisonous and hurtful to men. Its skin can be made into sword grips."


Jiaoren 蛟人 "dragon person" or 鮫人 "shark person" (cf. Japanese samebito 鮫人) "mermaid" is a later meaning of jiao. This mythical southern mermaid or merman is first recorded in the (early 6th century CE) Shuyiji 遹異記 "Records of Strange Things".

In the midst of the South Sea are the houses of the kău people who dwell in the water like fish, but have not given up weaving at the loom. Their eyes have the power to weep, but what they bring forth is pearls. (tr. Schafer 1967:220, cf. Eberhard 1968:378)

These aquatic people supposedly spun a type of raw silk called jiaoxiao 蛟綃 "mermaid silk" or jiaonujuan 蛟女絹 "mermaid woman's silk". Schafer (1967:221) equates "jiao silk" with sea silk, the rare fabric woven from byssus filaments produced by Pinna "pen shell" mollusks. Chinese myths also recorded this "silk" coming from shuiyang 水羊 "water sheep" or shuican 蠶水 "water silkworm".


  • Birrell, Anne, tr. 2000. The Classic of Mountains and Seas. Penguin.
  • Carr, Michael. 1990. "Chinese Dragon Names", Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 13.2:87-189.
  • Eberhard, Wolfram. 1968. The Local Cultures of South and East China. E. J. Brill.
  • Hawkes, David, tr. 1985. The Songs of the South: An Anthology of Ancient Chinese Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets. Penguin.
  • Legge, James, tr. 1885. The Li Ki, 2 vols. Oxford University Press.
  • Read, Bernard E. 1934. "Chinese Materia Medica VII; Dragons and Snakes," Peking Natural History Bulletin 8.4:279-362.
  • Schafer, Edward H. 1967. The Vermillion Bird: T'ang Images of the South. University of California Press.
  • Schuessler, Axel. 2007. ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. University of Hawaii Press.
  • Visser, Marinus Willern de. 1913.The Dragon in China and Japan. J. Müller.
  • Watson, Burton, tr. 1968. The Complete works of Chuang Tzu. Columbia University Press.