He had a red and scaly body 1000 li long, he was in the form of a serpent but with a human head, and had slanting eyes which became vertical slits when he closed them. The 烛龙 zhu long or 烛阴 zhu yin, literally ‘Candle Dragon’ or ‘illuminating the darkness’ lived in the magical mountain beyond the Chishui 赤水 River, a little while from the North West Sea.
The Candle Dragon is one of the most ancient and traditional Chinese legends. He is mentioned in a few ancient texts, most notably the 山海经 shan hai jing, the ‘Classic of Mountain and Sea’. This was compiled around 500 BC – 200 BC and chronicled many of China’s most fantastic myths and legends. The two characters of his name, 烛 and 阴 contrast with each other in meaning, and the latter is the same Yin as in ‘Yin and Yang’, meaning the ‘darkness’ principle.
The changing of night to day and the cycle of the four seasons was all due to Zhu Yin. When his eyes were open, it was daytime, and when his eyes closed it became night. He created seasons through breathing; inhaling to bring summer and exhaling to cast a cold winter. One of his eyes represented the sun, the other the moon, and in his mouth he often held a candle to illuminate the dark gate of heaven. He didn’t eat, drink, or sleep, but lay beneath the mountain, occasionally causing powerful gusts of wind or torrential rain with his fiery breath.
It is clear that his tales originated from ancient worship around meteorology, as is particularly noticeable from his features often being a balance of contrasts. Despite some discussion, it has now been agreed that he is indeed male, and today he is also often referred to as one of the twelve Chinese creation gods.
Perhaps the heatwaves that China looks set to experience in the next few days are due to him giving one great sniff. No wonder the weather forecast often can’t make up its mind.
Also try Chinese Vs Western Dragons for a comparison of the two.