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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 12:17 GMT
Fiery debate over China's dragon
File photo of dragon dance in east China's Zhejiang province
Dragon dances are important festive rituals in China
Chinese internet users have stirred a heated debate over the status of dragons, seen as a national symbol.

The problem, some academics allege, is that Chinese people and Westerners have very different concepts of dragons.

Chinese dragons are supernatural symbols without the Western traits of aggression or maiden-eating.

The debate began when a Shanghai professor claimed Western views of dragons could give people a negative impression of China.

But some 90% of respondents to a Chinese website survey disagreed, insisting that the dragon should remain the traditional Chinese icon.

Pang Jin, the director of China Research Centre on Dragon and Phoenix Culture, said dragons in the two countries should not be mixed up.

"The dragon in western culture enjoys a low cultural rank, but in China, it is a spiritual and cultural symbol representing prosperity and good luck," he told the Xinhua news agency.

'Friendly' mascots

Such an idea is not new.

Other academics have suggested English speakers use the Chinese word for dragons - "long" - when speaking of the Chinese dragon, to differentiate it from its Western counterpart.

The Chinese government is reported to have decided against the dragon as its official Olympic mascot because of its connotations abroad.

Instead it created five "friendly" cartoon mascots - the panda, Tibetan antelope, fish, swallow and Olympic flame.

The Chinese dragon is not the fire-breathing monster of Western lore.

Instead, its main task is to foster harmony by bringing life-giving rains.

The dragon is celebrated in Chinese art and architecture, and dragon dances are popular festive rituals. Millions of Chinese have the character "long" as part of their names.

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