Dear HCMC, 

Blessed Chinese New Year, and welcome to the Year of the Dragon! Recently, a fellow pastor and friend of mine was discussing with me about the notion of “dragon” in Chinese culture and its appropriateness for us as Christians. To what extent can Chinese Christians celebrate the dragon as part of our cultural heritage when the Bible also speaks of “dragon” as a symbol of the devil in texts like Revelation 12:3 and 20:2?

 The late bicultural scholar and theologian Rev Dr Choong Chee Pang tried to address this issue before. He once shared some of his research and personal thoughts with me as well. Let me convey his insights, which I have found helpful. 

First and foremost, we should dissociate the Chinese dragon from Western and Biblical portrayals of dragon. The Chinese dragon is not the kind of dragon we encounter in Western books and movies, such as the evil, wrathful, fire-breathing creatures that appear in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Instead, the dragon is an auspicious symbol in Chinese culture representing wisdom, power, and health. The dragon is even a symbol of the Chinese emperor, and Chinese are thus also known as descendants of the dragon. These portrayals are far removed from the Biblical portrayals of the dragon as the embodiment of evil. 

In addition, the word “dragon” in the Bible is itself the result of a translation decision made by Robert Morrison, the nineteenth century Protest missionary to China who was a forerunner in translating Scripture into Chinese. He chose to translate the original Greek word “drakon” as 龙(lóng) in Chinese, which, as pointed out above, may lead to certain misconceptions. A more recent Chinese translation has sought to address this. The Revised Chinese Union Version (和合本修订版) has included a footnote for the verse Revelation 12:3 to clarify that the “dragon” here is in fact an evil beast called 杜拉根 (dù lā gēn) in the original text. Hopefully, over time, such clarifications of the Biblical text would allay concerns over connections between the Chinese dragon and the devil. 

However, even if we distinguish clearly between the Chinese and the Biblical notions of “dragon”, it is important that we do not put our trust in the Chinese zodiac. We should avoid superstitious practices like reading horoscopes and seeking to draw on the good fortune of the dragon (Note: if you need advice on what Chinese practices might constitute superstition or might cause us to compromise our faith, please approach the pastors). Auspicious as the dragon may be in Chinese culture, let us be clear that it is not the source of our fortune and prosperity. 

Instead, as Christians, let us look to God, our Creator and Redeemer, as the true source of our abundance. As we are surrounded by a sea of red (another auspicious Chinese symbol) in this season, let us remember that it is by the blood of Christ that we have truly received an abundant life (John 10:10). And as we partake in positive cultural practices like distributing red packets, opening up our homes, and reuniting with family and friends, let us also share this abundance with one another. 

In this manner, may we embrace and extend the love, joy, and peace of our Lord in this special season. 

Rev Timothy