Originally published 1 June 2008. To be updated once the last pages from the old website have been transferred.
Introduction: “Con Rong”
The Vietnamese Dragon is commonly called Con Rong, or Con Long which is more literary. It makes part of the four animals with supernatural power [Tu Linh] and occupies the top place. It is frequently used in Vietnamese art.
The union of the Dragon king Lac Long Quan coming from the Waters and of the fairy Au Co of terrestrial origins brought forth one hundred robust sons. Later, when the couple separated, fifty of them followed their father Dragon toward the lower coastal regions and founded the first Vietnamese nation named Van Lang. The other fifty followed their terrestrial mother toward the high plains to give birth later to a complex ethnic microcosm.
According to a Vietnamese legend, it was thanks to the return of a benefactor dragon that barbaric hordes coming from the North retreated. Upon contact with the sea, its fire-spitting tongues turned into a multitude of small islands and reefs with extravagant forms. That is why this bay is known in Vietnamese as “Ha Long” [Descending Dragon]. It is a marvellous natural site most visited by foreign tourists when they land in Vietnam.
The Mekong delta is related to the dragon as well. This river born in the foothills of the Himalayas [Tibet] divides into nine branches or nine dragons to throw itself in the golf of Cochinchina. That is why this region is called Cuu Long [Nine Dragons].
Vietnamese water puppetry has a long history. Vietnamese water puppetry is an age-old typical and traditional art, closely bound to rural culture and agricultural civilization of Vietnamese peasants.
Vietnamese dragon boat water puppet. Racing Dragon Boat is a popular activity for the new year celebration in Vietnam.
Copyright © Vietnamese Water Puppets
In water-puppet shows there is an effective combination of the visual effects provided by fire, water, and the movements of the puppets. Under the surface of the water is concealed the whole control system of the show. Calm and serene when fairy figures appear on it to sing and dance, it is agitated by stormy waves in scenes of battle with the arrival of fire-spitting dragons.
At a Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) Festival, children who perform in the dragon dance are traditionally called the “heavenly dogs,” and the envelopes of “lucky money” they collect are symbolic offerings. The dragon dance, a vital part of Vietnamese culture, is performed in several festivals, particularly the Tet celebration. The dragon symbolizes blessing and prosperity, and the dance is performed to expel devils and to bring good luck.
Vietnamese Dragon dance – a folk art.
Copyright © Vietnam Pictorial
Mua Rong (Dragon Dance)
Dong Ho Folk Painting
Some proverbs and sayings mention dragons but imply something else:
- “Rong gap may”: “Dragon meets clouds” – In favourable condition.
- “Dau rong duoi tom”: “Dragon’s head, shrimp’s tail” – Good at first and bad at last; something which starts well but ends badly.
- “Phuong mua rong bay”: “Phoenix dances, dragon flies” – Used to praise the calligraphy of someone who writes Chinese ideograms well.
- “Rong den nha tom”: “Dragon visits shrimp’s house” – A saying used by a host to (or of) his guest: the host portrays himself as a humble shrimp and his guest as a noble dragon.
- “An nhu rong cuon, noi nhu rong leo, lam nhu meo mua”: “Eating as dragon scrolls, talking as dragon climbs, working as cat vomits” – A criticism of someone who eats too much and talks a lot, but is lazy.
Learn more about Asian Dragons in our series:
Jess Chua has been webmistress of Dragonsinn since 1999.
She works in the online writing/editing field. She enjoys yoga, reading, and sketching.
Her debut poetry chapbook was published in 2023. Her writing website is jesschua.com