Mention “Dragon Lady” in Western culture and an image of a conniving, powerful, yet unpleasant woman comes to mind. Being in Beijing, you can’t go more than a block or two without seeing a dragon as an icon somewhere. They are everywhere: on top of buildings, protecting from evil like the gargoyles of other cultures, woven into silk, stamped onto restaurant menus, surviving from long-ago dynasties as they were depicted in ceramics, on top of walls, carved into porticos, painted onto ceilings, even gilded next to Buddha. They protect walls, temples, and are a clue to the past dynasties that ruled China. The interesting thing about the Chinese dragon is that there is nothing evil or conniving or unpleasant in the symbol. The dragon is an icon of the Imperial reign of China, warding off evil spirits, bringing good luck and fortune, and symbolizing the heroic nature of its people. As much as the communist regime tried to repress the use of the dragon as an icon, it has lived on. It would be sacrilegious for anyone to ever think that a mere mortal would attempt to slay a dragon, in fact such an act would be blasphemous and as far away from heroism as one could get.
I always wished that I could say that I was born under the sign of the dragon according to the Chinese astrology beliefs. I could say that I was a free spirit, powerful, innovative, brave and revered. I would be bold and grand and take people’s breath away whenever I entered a room. Instead, I was born under the sign of the rat. Dragon vs. Rat. If you are a Stephan Pastis fan (comic strip “Pearls Before Swine”) then perhaps the rat has escalated in stature, but in Western culture the rat is reviled, feared, and despised. Michael Jackson couldn’t even make us love the rat with his heartfelt soundtrack to the movie “Ben.” But again, the Chinese have a much different take on the sign of the rat. The rat is seen as smart with a keen intellect, ambitious, having the ability to take care of itself and others, a stimulating partner and a born leader. Even with all that, I haven’t seen an embroidered, gilded, enameled or enshrined rat all the time I have been in China. There aren’t teas named after the rodent nor are there dynasties associated with its so-called leadership abilities. Face it, the rat just isn’t the dragon.
I suppose that’s a good reminder that many times we all wish to be something we are not. We would like to be held in the esteem of the dragon even though our true calling is to be the rat. I know I am guilty of letting the stereotypes of culture influence my estimation of self-worth as well as not wanting to embrace all of who I am, rat-like or not. So today, I will leave the dragon to others that are more charismatic and lovable and try to embrace my inner rat. Stephan Pastis would be proud of me and something tells me that he would be pleased to know his name and comic strip are blocked from the internet in China. Yes, I think Rat as rebel has a certain appeal, especially to people like me.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012