Water Pavilion

Part of the Mythic Creatures exhibition.

Dragon of the Water: The Dragon King

Dragon shadow puppet: East Asian dragons are the underwater equivalent of kings and emperors, reigning over watery realms. 19th-century Chinese shadow puppet.
© D. Finnin / AMNH

Small as a silkworm or broad as the sky, magnificent dragons are said to dwell in the rivers, lakes, and seas of China. Every spring, they rise from the waters and curl and twist through the sky, breathing clouds and sending rain to make farmers' fields green. In Chinese tradition, the master of the waters is sometimes known as the dragon king. Lobsters and shrimp are his courtiers, and he lives in a palace at the bottom of the sea.

Playing With Light

In a shadow puppet play, performers stand behind a screen of cloth or paper and use bamboo rods to move puppets, props and scenery. A lamp shining from behind the painted puppets casts a colored shadow on the screen, which is all the audience sees.


In Chinese mythology, the dragon king reigns over underwater palaces with sea creatures for courtiers. Shadow puppets, donkey hide, Beijing.
© D. Finnin / AMNH

So They Say

"When rain is to be expected, the dragons sing and their voices are like the sound made by striking copper basins. Their saliva can produce all kinds of perfume."

--Chinese scholar Wang Fu (Han dynasty, 206 BC to AD 220)

Shadow Puppets

The dragon king and his court play a magical role in shadow puppet shows, once popular on the streets of Beijing, China. In one classic shadow play, the legendary woman warrior Liu Jinding falls in love with a handsome general and demands that he marry her. When he resists, the dragon king comes to her aid, causing a flood that threatens to drown the reluctant bridegroom.