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Enter the dragons

By Zhang Kun in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-02 10:54

Gold dragon and the silver chain with gilded bronze dragon heads, both being among the Tang Dynasty (618-907) collection of the Xi'an Museum. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

The Shanghai Museum is celebrating the upcoming Lunar New Year with new exhibition, Longing for Spring: A Celebration of the Year of the Dragon.

Opened on Jan 26, the exhibition is designed around eight objects, five from the museum's collection and three borrowed from the Liaoning Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Xi'an Museum in Shaanxi province.

The dragon, or long in Chinese, is the only mythical creature among the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. It has been present in legends for thousands of years, and is recognized as a national totem and has a long-held spiritual importance in Chinese culture, according to Chu Xiaobo, director of the Shanghai Museum.

According to the legends, the dragon is capable of changing its size and visibility at will. It can be found flying through the clouds on the spring equinox (chunfen), or hiding in water on the autumn equinox (qiufen). Its potent and mysterious powers — particularly its control over rain — were central to agricultural society. The auspicious creature was historically associated with the East, and used as a symbol to represent imperial power, Chu says, explaining the significance of the dragon in Chinese culture.

Dragons can be found throughout ancient Chinese art and there are many objects bearing the image of the dragon in the Shanghai Museum's collection. So many that Chu Xin, deputy director of the exhibition department of Shanghai Museum, says they picked over 400 artifacts as part of the preliminary selection for the exhibition.

Eventually, the museum chose five objects from its collection and borrowed two Tang Dynasty (618-907) artifacts from the Xi'an Museum and a jade Jue dragon from the Liaoning Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. The eight artifacts are on display in the museum's ground floor lobby.

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