Chinese Church Voices

From Auspicious Dragon to Christian Devil

The Metamorphosis of Myth into Faith

From the series Reflections on the Year of the Dragon

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

The dragon in our country is an auspicious animal that combines greatness and honor; in the Bible, the dragon is the devil’s head, the head of all evil.
Chow Lien-hwa, The Outline of Theology, Volume 4

In 1978, the song “Descendants of the Dragon” was released, captivating listeners with Hou Dejian‘s composition and lyrics, and Lee Chienfu’s compelling vocal performance. The song goes: “Dragon, dragon, light up your eyes. Forever and ever, keep them wide open, eternally bright.” It seems that the resonance and vigor of the singing still echo today, prolonging its remarkable power. During my childhood in Taiwan, the hearts of the unpretentious people were often stirred and subtly influenced by such patriotic anthems. The dragon, frequently depicted in art, was ingrained in our psyche, not just as an animal, but as a symbol of our heritage. Yet, amid this admiration, rarely did anyone pause to ask, “Is this creature real?” Instead, the dragon’s mythical essence was seamlessly woven into our understanding of nationhood and identity.

In the fourth volume of The Outline of Theology, Rev. Chow contemplates the dragon’s essence: “What kind of creature is it? Is it merely fictional, or does it have a basis in reality? Who has actually seen one?” In the twentieth century, a time of scientific enlightenment, it was understood that, despite some attributing its creation to artists, the dragon is fundamentally a creature of myth. This is the definition that Rev. Chow settled upon for the dragon.

In his reflection on cultural heritage, Rev. Chow acknowledges that while no one has physically seen a dragon, it stands as a potent spiritual symbol for the Chinese, embodying a complex and profound mix of emotions—a reverence filled with honor and dignity. Rather than dismissing the dragon for its mythical nature, Rev. Chow proposes that we “value it doubly, as an integral part of our treasured traditions” (p. 20). This reveals that Rev. Chow did not abandon the spiritual legacy of Chinese culture upon converting to Christianity; instead, he approached the beliefs of non-Christians with respect, providing a significant lesson in cultural humility and respect.

Delving into the book of Revelation, numerous Chinese Christians, who see themselves as “heirs of the dragon,” encounter a radical reinterpretation of the dragon: “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:9).

This depiction sparks significant turmoil within the minds of many new believers, challenging long-held cultural perceptions. Rev. Chow underscores the importance of properly understanding the word “dragon” within this context, emphasizing the need for cultural and linguistic sensitivity when interpreting Scripture.

Rev. Chow notes that the word “dragon” is problematic because it represents a mythical creature unseen by either Eastern or Western civilizations. Equating these two mythologies is like attempting to align the North and South poles—an act that creates an infinite clash and leads to many unnecessary disputes. He reflects with a hint of regret that the Bible’s translators, uncertain of how to interpret the Greek, chose to transliterate it directly. “If we had treated ‘Satan’ with the same transliteration approach, we might have ended up with a term like ‘Dragan,'” he muses, suggesting that this could have avoided the entire problem.

Rev. Chow brings attention to the nuanced challenges of translating ancient Scripture, highlighting the term Aza’zel from Leviticus 16:8. He praises the choice of the phonetic translation as “excellent” and asserts, “I would say once more that a transliteration akin to Aza’zel would have resolved all the issues.” Further inquiry into the Concise Bible Dictionary1 reveals that Aza’zel denotes the goat sent into the wilderness by the Israelite priests to absolve the community’s sins. In Today’s Chinese Version, influenced by Rev. Chow, Aza’zel is interpreted as “a Hebrew word of uncertain origin, possibly referring to a demon in the desert.”

The influences of traditional Chinese folk religions were a significant part of Rev. Chow’s upbringing. He did not abandon these cultural elements upon embracing Christianity.

Instead, he leveraged his deep familiarity with these traditions to enrich his ministry, echoing the patience of the Apostle Paul. From his teachings, we learn a crucial principle: in presenting our cultural heritage or exploring various philosophies, such as those proposed by Darwin, we should do so with fairness and respect. Holding fast to one’s beliefs does not require diminishing those of others. Embracing this ethos, according to Rev. Chow, is among the most valuable lessons we can learn.

After becoming Christians, have we also begun to distance ourselves from our original culture?

Volume 4 of The Outline of Theology contemplates the essence of humanity. Rev. Chow allocates a significant portion of the volume to the exploration of Chinese culture. He delves into topics such as the origins of humans, Chinese myths, traditional aphorisms on human nature, and the philosophical stances of Mencius (孟子), Xunzi (荀子), and neo- Confucianism (宋明新儒家), encapsulated in the maxim, “Know thyself, as well as thine adversary, and thou shalt triumph in numerous encounters.”

With our conversion to Christianity, our lives become deeply intertwined with the church—participating in Sunday services, choirs, and Sunday schools and engaging in weekly devotions. Our routine is enriched by Bible studies, forming bonds with fellow believers, offering prayers before meals, and connecting with the Christian community on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. By sharing Scripture and embracing the Great Commission, we affirm our dedication to our faith.

In our workplace, in the secular sphere, we perceive ourselves to be distinct, assuming the roles of light and salt, aiming to be a blessing to those around us. During periods of unrest, especially in the seventh lunar month, or Ghost Month, our response is to offer prayers for tranquility, striving to embody the grace and exemplariness of a Christian life.

However, as we delve deeper into Christian life, might we inadvertently become “weird Christians” in the eyes of our friends? This calls for a moment of reflection, an opportunity to consider Rev. Chow’s approach to engaging with traditional culture with respect. Christians are called to soar spiritually, yet it is essential to also be grounded, to navigate the world with the shrewdness of serpents and the gentleness of doves—not as “weird Christians,” but as individuals who can actively participate in society while firmly maintaining our convictions without being swayed by others.

It is undoubtedly a daunting task. Yet Rev. Chow stands as an exemplar; his writings offering us a chance to build upon a rich spiritual heritage. In following his lead, we too can endeavor to harmonize our distinctive faith with the dynamic world we inhabit.

This article was originally written in Chinese by EM Carrie and was translated by the ChinaSource Team.


  1. A Concise Dictionary of the Bible, Simplified Edition, Religious Culture Press, p. 138.
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Image credit: Xinyi W. via UnSplash.

Rev. Dr. Lien-Hwa Chow Memorial Foundation

The Rev. Dr. Lien-Hwa Chow Memorial Foundation was founded in 2018 to preserve the work and legacy of Rev. Dr. Chow (1920-2016). He was a pastor and theological teacher in Taiwan for over six decades, as well as a prolific writer and Bible translator. In recognition of Rev. Dr. Chow's …View Full Bio

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