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Xian riding dragons, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922, E.T.C. Werner.

Tianlong (simplified Chinese: 天龙; traditional Chinese: 天龍; pinyin: tiānlóng; Wade-Giles: t'ien lung; lit. "heavenly dragon") is a flying dragon in Chinese mythology


The term tianlong combines tian 天 "heaven" and long 龍 "dragon". Since tian literally means "heaven; the heavens; sky" or figuratively "Heaven; God; gods", tianlong can denote "heavenly dragon; celestial dragon" or "holy dragon; divine dragon".


The earliest usage of tianlong 天龍 "heavenly dragon", according to the Hanyu Da Cidian, is in the Xinxu 新序 "New Prefaces" by Liu Xiang (79-8 BCE). It records a story (Yuan 2006:213) about a man named Ye Zigao 葉子高 who professed to love dragons. After he carved and painted dragon images throughout his house, a [天龍] heavenly dragon [or fulong 夫龍 in some editions] came to visit, but Ye was scared and ran away.

Buddhist usages

In Chinese Buddhist terminology, tianlong means either "heavenly Nagas (dragon gods)" or "Devas and Nāgas".

First, tianlong 天龍 means "heavenly dragon/nāga" as the first of four nāga classes in Mahayana tradition (tr. Visser 1913:21-2).

  1. Heavenly Nāgas (天龍), who guard the Heavenly Palace and carry it so that it does not fall.
  2. Divine Nāgas (神龍), who benefit mankind by causing the clouds to rise and the rain to fall.
  3. Earthly Nāgas (地龍) who drain off rivers (remove the obstructions) and open sluices (outlets).
  4. Nāgas who are lying hidden (伏藏龍) guarding the treasuries of the "Kings of the Wheel" (輪王, Cakravarti-rājas) and blessing mankind.


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