Study Vietnamese Dragon in History and Life with Notes to Use It

In oriental cultures, the dragon is a symbol of nobility, eternal vitality, and cosmic strength.

Especially in Vietnam, the dragon is an extremely important and sacred symbol in spiritual life.

The image of the dragon is used a lot in architecture and construction, such as the palaces, the ancient temples in Vietnam, and the old costumes of the king.

vietnamese dragon
A dragon at the forbidden tourist place in Hue City ©HueFlavor

Despite that, the dragon image went through periods and dynasties with changes in accordance with the thinking and lifestyle of that era.

Let’s learn together Vietnamese dragons in the development of history and the meaning of dragons in life and feng shui.

Traditional dragon through the ages in Vietnam

The image of Vietnamese dragons each time has its own appearance. During the Ly dynasty, the dragon was innocent; in the Tran dynasty, it was blown into a healthy look; in the Le dynasty, bureaucracy was bossy; and in the Nguyen dynasty, it became rigid.

Dragons of the Ly dynasty (1009 – 1225) were flexible, even innocent, keeping their original form as a snake. Many people see its miniature on the stamp, which looks very much like a worm, called a worm dragon, but this dragon form has the shape of a snake.

dragon in ly dynasty
Dragon in Ly dynasty. Photo: internet

The image of a dragon in the Ly dynasty was suitable for the policy of the Ly dynasty at that time, soft, flexible, and gentle kings appeared. Also from the Ly dynasty, the image of the king dragon and the people’s dragon also has a distinctive feature: the king dragon has 5 claws, and the public dragon has only 4 claws.

The Tran Dynasty (1226 – 1400) used the original image of the dragon of the Ly Dynasty and added more the spirit of national pride. The aura of the Tran Dynasty permeated the dragon and made it fat. If the Ly dragon is mistaken for a worm, the Tran dragon cannot be mistaken because it is healthy and athletic.

dragon in tran dynasty
A dragon in Tran dynasty. Photo: vannghequandoi

Dragon Le (1428 – 1527) was influenced back from China. The image of the dragon of this period is still preserved in Kinh Thien Palace, which is the dragon made by King Le Thanh Tong on the fifth day of the eighth lunar month, 1467. The shape of this animal was suitable for the flourishing feudal period. It majestically slithered down from Kinh Thien Palace, its fins and scales show a proud and smug expression.

dragon in le dynasty
Dragon in Le Dynasty. Photo:

If the dragon in the Ly dynasty had a falcon’s leg spread out very innocently because it was associated with nature, the dragon in Kinh Thien Palace of Le dynasty reached out and grabbed his beard and stroked it. Thus, dragons of the Le dynasty became bureaucratic and self-righteous. It was no longer as innocent as the Ly dynasty, as healthy as the Tran, but became a force of freedom, swaggering, and bossy.

dragon in Nguyen dynasty
Dragon in Nguyen dynasty on a royal tomb. ©HueFlavor

The dragons of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802 – 1945) were completely hard, clearly showing the decline of feudalism. It is under the influence of Chinese dragons, becoming stiff, full of threatening like dragons of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Dragons in palaces and temples were like a threatening force, not toying with everyone. It passed through the innocent styles of the Ly Dynasty, the healthy Tran Dynasty, the bureaucracy of the Le Dynasty, and became rigid during the Nguyen Dynasty.

Nowadays, when you visit Hue Royal Palace, you can see a lot of dragons are still on the palace walls.

Today, in the tastes of the new era, the dragon image is more complex and gaudy, but not as deep and meaningful as in the past.

Types of dragon

Dragons have 4 types carrying 4 basic forces of nature and also the 4 elements that make up the universe: Wind, Fire, Earth, and Water.

From these 4 main types, people imagine many different types of dragons such as:

  • Earth Dragons live in caves deep in mountains or valleys.
  • Water Dragons live on the coast, in the sea, in the swamps.
  • Fire Dragons live in the caves of the volcano.
  • Wind Dragons live in cliffs and high mountain peaks.
fire dragon in Danang City
Fire dragon in Danang City. @samsam_dang17

Vietnamese dragon vs Chinese dragon

To distinguish the Vietnamese traditional dragon from the Chinese dragon, you can look at their heads where contain clear different features.

The dragon of the Ly dynasty (1009 – 1225) can be considered the traditional dragon in Vietnam.

So, we mention this dragon to compare it with the Chinese one.

The Ly dragon has a proboscis in front of its nose, like a bodhi leaf (Buddhist leaf). There are fangs in the middle, created by ivory inspiration. The traditional dragon of Vietnam elongated, gradually smaller towards the tail.

Chinese dragons have horns like deer antlers with beards like catfish. There are thick eyebrows, thick scales like fish scales. The dragon of the Tong dynasty has a tail spreading like a fish’s tail.

Chinese dragons are widely used in Vietnam, sometimes encroaching on Vietnamese traditional dragons. So, many people are confused and do not know exactly the shape of dragons originated from Vietnam.

vietnamese dragon vs chinese dragon
Vietnamese dragon vs Chinese dragon. Photos collected from Google.

History professor Le Van Lan further analyzed that the dragon of Chinese origin in the Hoang Ha area, from the Tang – Luc – Han dynasties, is the lion. Later, along with the expansion to the south, coming to the Yangtze River, the dragon met the change and received more Vietnamese dragon elements. From the body of a lion animal to the shape of a river, or a snake. Thus at least half of Chinese dragons are Vietnamese.

Meaning of dragon in spiritual life

The dragon presents a figurative origin of the river. If you capture the bends of the river from above, it is completely the image of a dragon on Vietnamese paintings.

The thousand-year-old dragon symbol is also the image of the river. Since ancient times, when people need water, people pray to dragons. Dragons will spray water to provide a source of life for crops, and it can be a blessed god.

Many people believe that the meaning of dragons is only associated with kings. Most of the things that the king used included the word “dragon”, such as dragon bed, dragon hat, dragon clothes… That’s a limited thought because dragons are not only a royal animal but also a spiritual image of the public, it is identified as fun animal and can play with people.

vietnamese dragon in danang
A dragon on the bridge in Danang City with the wish of development. Photo:tphananh/pixabay

If you look for the sculptures of the communal houses, which contain the quintessence of sculpture art in the 17-19 century, you will encounter a series of dragon images attached to the people. There is a dragon group in which the mother dragon is entwined with the baby dragon. Especially, there are scenes of village girls playing with dragons, stroking dragon beards, even riding dragons.

Meaning of dragons in feng shui

In feng shui, dragons are often chosen to display for the purpose of reassurance.

The dragon is the first animal in four holy animals in Vietnam, symbolizing power and supreme leadership.

Dragons are believed to have the ability to harmonize the principles of heaven and earth, bestowing goodness in life.

The dragon symbolizes boundless power, helping entrepreneurs to prosper, so it has the ultimate meaning in feng shui.

It is believed that where there is a dragon, fortune and prosperity come.

dragon in feng shui
Dragon is used on the building for good luck. Photo:falco/pixabay

Do’s and don’ts when displaying the feng shui dragon statue at home:

Must-do things when decorating feng-shui dragon statue:

It is advisable to display the Dragon statue in the Southwest or Northeast direction in the living room or office in a business or trade store.

According to the ancient concept, the dragon relief or dragon statue should be on the left and right sides of the hall, living room, or home office.

When decorating the dragon statue like that, it is a way to show the authority of the head and a good omen in diplomatic relationships, favorable for the mutual assistance or cooperation of the nobles.

Another tip to know is the dragon statue should be placed in a well-ventilated and clean location because the dragon is a free animal. Places with good energy sources will promote the full effect of the feng-shui dragon.

Place the dragon statue in a position where it can observe the whole house. The dragon’s eyes are always directed towards the spacious area, so the fortune has conditions to spread for the house.

dragon bridge in danang city
Using dragons at important areas as it in the Dragon Dridge in Danang. Photo:Quangpraha/pixabay

Things not to do when displaying feng-shui dragon statue

Leaving the statue in the window or the corner of the house is not suitable for feng-shui dragon statues.

Do not place the dragon’s head towards the window. And, avoiding the dragon wooden statue behind the seat or facing the person sitting will make the power be blocked, against the fortune, fame, and career of the owner.

If there is a dirty sewer in front of the store, don’t put the dragon statue, because it will make the dragon dirty.

The dragon is an auspicious animal, but it is a powerful beast with strong countermeasures, so it is not suitable for people born in the year of the Dog, so it is not advisable to arrange a dragon image for dog-year people.

Except for the phoenix, you should not place other feng shui animals near the dragon statue. If you place a dragon statue with a phoenix, you will have a lot of luck in the love life and improve the relationship between husband and wife. It is because dragon and phoenix are the couples that bring happiness and luck in marriage and family.

Dragon in construction and decoration applications

The dragon becomes an image with a special position in the culture and beliefs of the Vietnamese nation. The dragon is a sacred symbol related to the legend of the Vietnamese dragon and fairy descendants. Most people think the Vietnamese are the children of the dragon.

The image of the dragon is very close to the people of Vietnam, is a symbol of favorable rain and wind. Also, it is the animism that ranks first among the four spirits “Long, Lan, Quy, Phung” (Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle, Phoenix). Therefore, the image of the Vietnamese dragon contrasts with the evil dragon, symbolizing the evil of Western countries.

Today, besides using dragons on the Vietnamese traditional dresses (typically on the old Ao dai), the image of the dragon is still included in the decoration of architectural works, paintings, carvings, art engravings, etc. At any time, the dragon is still a part of people’s cultural life in Vietnam.

dragon on the royal tomb
Use dragons to decorate on the royal tomb. ©HueFlavor

FAQ about traditional Vietnamese dragon

1. What is a dragon called in Vietnamese?

Dragon is callled Rồng or Con Rồng in Vietnamese.

2. Why do the Vietnamese dragon and phoenix often go together?

Dragon and phoenix are two out of four holy animals of the people in Vietnam. Dragon presents power and male strength; phoenix symbolizes beauty and female elegance.

Dragon and phoenix going together will present for happiness, and harmony in Yin and Yang, which creates a good relationship in life and progress.

3. Why do many people believe that Vietnam is the land of the blue dragon?

There are two main reasons that create that thought:

  • A legend tells that the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam are children of Au Co and Lac Long Quan who originated from the dragon.
  • The shape of the Vietnam map looks like a dragon, and the land has been covered the green trees all year round. So, Vietnam is the land of the blue dragon.

4. What is the difference between oriental dragons vs European dragons?

In Asian countries, there are many differences compared to dragons in European countries.

In Asian countries, dragons are often depicted with snake bodies, fish scales, lion’s mane, deer horns, and flying. Dragons are sacred and revered animals.

Meanwhile, Western countries consider dragons to be fierce and cruel animals that need to be disarmed.

5. What is the main difference in the character of Vietnamese and Chinese dragons?

Different from the image of the fierce Chinese dragon and a shape of a lion, the Vietnamese dragon is much softer and gentler. The Vietnamese dragons are often used in architectural decoration, sculpture, and painting. The Vietnamese dragon image has its own identity, and it is the image of rivers.

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Dragon and phoenix going together will present for happiness, and harmony in Yin and Yang, which creates a good relationship in life and progress.[endfaqjson]

About the author


Editor at HueFlavor is a15-year local guide, Mr. Ho Thom, who loves local food in Hue as well as in Vietnam. Trusted by hundreds of guests around the world.