In Chinese mythology, Long Wang (龍王) lords over the seas and is known as the “Dragon King.” He’s a fearsome guardian deity who controls all dragons, sea creatures, the oceans and the weather. Though he has a temper, Long Wang is seen as a symbol of good fortune and the mythological embodiment of the concept of yang. He’s most popular among Chinese coastal communities.

A Qing Dynasty print of a fearsome-looking Long Wang. “Dragon King of the Seas” is written at the bottom. Public Domain

Etymology

Long Wang’s name is made up of the characters for “dragon,” lóng (龍) and “king,” wáng (王). He’s also sometimes referred to as Sìhǎi Lóngwáng (四海龍王), meaning the “Dragon King of the Four Seas” or simply as Lóngshén (龍神), or “Dragon God.”

Attributes

Long Wang has two forms: his zoomorphic dragon form and his fierce warrior lord, human persona. As the latter, Long Wang dresses in elaborate royal robes and has blazing red skin, signifying his ferocity.

In his animal form, Long Wang’s scale color varies based on the artist, but he is typically drawn in the Chinese-dragon style with a serpentine body, sharp horns, a hair-like beard and large claws. In ancient texts, Long Wang is described as having the “head of a horse and the tail of a snake, with wings on its sides.”

Family

Long Wang has four brothers who rule over the Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western seas. Áo Guǎng (敖廣) rules the Eastern Sea, Áo Qīn (敖欽), rules the South Sea, Áo Rùn (敖閏) rules the West Sea and Ao Shun (敖順) rules the North Sea. Long Wang is also said to have thousands of children, one of them being the young girl, Sagara, who achieved buddhahood in The Lotus Sutra. He’s also considered to be the symbolic emperor of all the early Chinese emperors.

The Dragon King also plays a significant role in Japanese myth. In this woodblock print, he recovers a stolen jewel that he used to control the tides. Public Domain

Mythology

Long Wang is known for his fierce and aggressive personality and serves as a foil to the more benevolent-minded sea goddess, Mazu. Long Wang answers to no one except the Jade Emperor himself. He lives in a beautiful sea palace with his brothers and regularly feasts on a diet of precious gems and pearls. The brothers communicate telepathically and can understand one another perfectly without speaking a single word.

The Lotus Sutra

After unknowingly gifting the Buddha a gem while he was disguised as a beggar, Long Wang’s daughter, Sagara, was taken under the Buddha’s wing and taught the dharma. After spreading the word of Buddha as his disciple for a few years, Sagara made it her goal to bring the teaching of the Buddha to her father.

Despite her many efforts, Long Wang initially refused to adopt the new teachings, and ultimately Buddha himself made a trip down to Long Wang’s ocean palace and taught him the dharmas personally. After he finally accepted the Buddha’s teachings, Long Wang was granted godhood and adopted the concepts of the dharma into all of his undersea affairs.

The Ministry of Waters

The Four Dragons and their brother, Long Wang are a part of a brotherhood of gods that rule over the oceans and rivers of the earth. The Four Dragon Kings partner with a group of four freshwater dragons who control the rivers, springs and lakes. Together, they rule over all weather and water on the planet—with Long Wang at the helm.

Statues of the four dragon kings in the Grand Temple of Mazu in Tainan, Taiwan. Creative Commons

Pop Culture

Long Wang is most popular among Chinese coastal communities and is prayed to in times of drought. It’s not uncommon to see temples dedicated to him along beach-side roads.

His birthday is on the thirteenth day of the sixth moon of the Lunar Year and is celebrated with sacrifices and parades. The popular dragon boats are modeled after his likeness and are meant to invoke his fiery nature.

He plays an important role in ancient Chinese literature like the Fēngshén Yǎnyì (封神演義) or The Investiture of the Gods, The Lotus Sutra and Journey to the West.

References