The Great Primal Beginning (Tales from Tianjin Book 1)
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Almost all primitive peoples held certain beliefs in the mysterious power of sexual intercourse. Such beliefs figure apparently in the ancient Chinese theory of yin and yang. Guo Moruo identifies the sexual intercourse of the female and the male as the most primitive signification of yin and yang. According to Guo, the earliest diagrams for yin and yang in the Book of Changes take after primitive images of female and male sexual organs. In what follows, I will present only certain typical prohibitions related directly to primitive incest taboos.
The most remarkable prohibition involves the custom of exogamy: men and women with the same family name should never marry each other. The Zuozhuan warns that the marriage of men and women with the same family name would result in infertility. Admittedly, the incest implications have turn out to be unbecoming for many contemporary scholars, who are apt to rationalize such regulations of exogamy as a form of eugenic concerns.
However, dysgenesis from marriages between proximate blood lineages is no doubt a recent scientific discovery. This knowledge is unlikely to have played any significant role in early Chinese beliefs. Moreover, the prevalent ancient and indigenous fear of infertility may well have stemmed from the primitive anxiety about disastrous heavenly punishments for violation of exogamy.
This fear of punishment should be the underlying motive for a wide range of ancient and indigenous prohibitions against social interactions between men and women as well.
For example, it was forbidden for family members to speak to or serve their peers of the opposite sex, including brothers and sisters, and brothers- or sisters-in-laws. Men and women who were not related were supposed to avoid each other also. They should neither sit at the same table or on the same mat, nor look at or speak to or touch each other. All these prohibitions are meant to avoid suspicious sexual involvement or temptation between men and women.
Now the performance of such festivities, which is evidenced by a range of ancient Chinese records and narratives, 69 bears out the ambivalent attitudes toward sexual and incest activities. Such incest wishes were not even completely repressed in the unconscious. Early Chinese people seemed to be well aware of the presence of such primitive impulses.
As a fact, early Chinese governors often took sexual taboos as means of regulating and containing such incest wishes that were deliberately displaced and discharged through more opportune channels of fulfillments. More often than not, the dragons appear in pairs in ancient Chinese references. Wen Yiduo alludes to more than a dozen textual sources that discourse about two dragons or a couple of dragons. Remarkably, the intercourse of dragon couples have been a recurring theme for the carvings on sacrificial instruments, jade pendants, and many other ancient artworks.
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The body of this container is covered with the veins of interconnected dragon bodies. It is decorated with three dragons on the outside and covered with knotted veins representing the body of the dragons.
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In my view, these images of interplaying dragon couples are not simply an art for beautiful ornamentation. Rather, they represent a common primitive belief in the spiritual power associated with sexual intercourse. The artworks of dragon couples are symbolic expressions of incest wishes and repressed desires for sacrosanct sexual energies. Artworks of this kind are too many to enumerate. Here, it suffices to mention only the most spectacular example—a bronze drum seat of the early Warring States period.
Upon this drum seat are the sculptures of eight pairs of dragons tangled with each other along with dozens of smaller dragons. Their sexual copulation personifies the intercourse of yin and yang. I have mentioned above certain early legends that relate the conception of the divine king Fu Xi to the Lake of Thunder, which carries symbolic implications of the dragon.
As a fact, the serpent has long been a prototype of the dragon in early Chinese folklore. Curiously, compared with the Greek Oedipal myth that highlights the sexual relationship between mother and son, Chinese mythology tends to emphasize the incest relationship between brother and sister. As a fact, this motive of brother-sister incest relationship is present again in the mythological traditions of a range of contemporary Chinese ethnic societies. In almost all these ethnic groups, there have been certain old legends that identify the ancestors of human beings as a brother and a sister who were compelled to marry each other after a disastrous flood.
Wen Yiduo identifies twenty-five distinctive records of these legends. I have demonstrated that the two aspects of the Oedipus complex—the father complex and the incest wish—can both find their counterparts in early Chinese dragon worship. As the conclusion of this study, I will now lay bare how these two psychological syndromes can be resolved or at least contained with the institution of the super-ego or ego-ideal.
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In so doing, I hope to provide a coherent interpretation of the psychological complexes underlying early Chinese dragon worship. At the same time, I will also note some basic differences between the Chinese and Greek mythological traditions, as well as certain limitations of the psychoanalytic interpretation. The formation of the super-ego is a collective coping mechanism to manage such common traumatic situation. In sum, there have been two typical mechanisms to deal with the primal anxiety about the traumatic situation of helplessness: 1 the recourse to the pleasure of sexual intercourse, which is imbued with mysterious power in various animistic beliefs.
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According to the early Chinese tradition, this mysterious power of sexuality is symbolized by the forces of yin and yang vital for the life of all beings; 2 the establishment of an ego ideal or super-ego as the protector and guarantor, which is most vividly embodied in the supreme godly figure in primitive ancestor worships. Apparently, these two ways of coping with the primal anxiety correspond to the two aspects of the Oedipus complex. We can have a more penetrative understanding of these two aspects of the Oedipus complex by laying bare the significance of the mysterious power essential for both the authority of the father and the charm of sexuality.
As I have clarified above, early Chinese images and legends of intertwined dragons provide an important channel for the symbolic satisfaction of sexual and incest wishes. Here, it is relevant to note further the animistic belief in the spiritual power of sexuality, which is symbolized by the totem of the dragon. The belief in the mysterious power of dragon couples was key to early Chinese rain magic and ceremonies. As Wang Chong interprets, the basic motive of rain ceremony is to harmonize yin and yang so that rain will come of itself.
Early Chinese people, like many other ancient peoples, adopt the magic of imitation. They expect to elicit rain by regulating and harmonizing their own sexual relations, and by producing the harmonious interplay of dragon couples in various artistic and ritual representations. In my view, the clarification on the significance of this mysterious spiritual power—the so-called mana potency associated with sexual intercourse can bring a coherent interpretation on the two aspects of the Oedipus complex in early Chinese dragon worship. According to these early myths and legends, the conceptions of the great father figures were only possible when the spiritual power symbolized by the dragons enters the wombs of their mothers.
According to psychoanalysis, the formation of the ego ideal or super-ego depends also or even more on the sanctified identity of social and political authority than on the real father. In sum, the ambivalent attitudes toward both the father and sexual wishes originate in the ambivalence toward the mysterious spiritual power essential for the vitality of all beings. This prerogative ensures the sexual privilege of the real father over the mother. As I have clarified above, this ambivalent feelings toward the father stems from the paradoxical human situation characterized by the infantile helplessness.
This helpless human situation is epitomized by the double attitude toward the vital spiritual power: which one desires to control but dare not take full possession. At a result, one has to repress and give up the instinctive desire for fear of the destructive power of the mana potency. Psychologically, the repression takes place when the need for a protecting father prevails over the desires for the power and pleasure of sexuality.
The Great Primal Beginning
In the end, these instinctual drives, including the hostile feelings toward the father and sexual wishes for the mother and sisters, must be displaced and projected upon substitutive objects. We can regard the dragon totem as the substitute for the deceased father upon which the fear of its demonic figure finds its primary incarnation. Now the demonic nature of the dragon is common for the images and legends about the dragon in both the East and West.
Such primitive demonization of the father relates well to the tension and confrontation between the father and the son as highlighted in the Greek tragedy of Oedipus.
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But how and why does the dragon become a primarily benevolent figure in traditional Chinese culture? In my view, this intricate question implicates the distinctive style of particular cultural development that cannot be explained forthright by resorting to any universal theories of humanity. Though psychoanalysis is revealing about the fundamental psychological complexes common for all cultures and societies, it nonetheless has its limitation in providing satisfactory explanations on why a cultural tradition come up with its particular solutions for these common problems. As I see it, the transformation of the dragon from a demonic creature into an auspicious animal marked a metaphorical reconciliation of the ambivalent feelings toward the father.
This tension between hostility and love reaches a reconciliation when all members of the society are able to identify themselves with the dragon—a symbolic substitution of the father. This reconciliation is facilitated by the double symbolism of the dragon: which represents the authority of the father and the charm of sexuality at the same time. In contrast, the Chinese demonstrate an inclination for cunning circumvention of such tragic encounters. From the Chinese perspective, the root of all tension and confrontation lies in the instinctual insistence on the idea and identity of the ego.
Accordingly, the key to overcome such tragic and traumatic destiny of humanity boils down to an art of self-cultivation: an art to temper and release the self from the instinctual insistence on its own narcissistic sanctity.