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Why do these animals have 'loong' in their Chinese names?

Xu Chenlu

Animal names can be confusing in Chinese. Some animals' names might mislead people to believe that they are a type of Chinese dragon, or "loong," but do you know why they are named after this mythical creature? As the Year of the Dragon is approaching, let's take a look at these animals that are also known as some kind of loong and find out the reasons.

Snake – The 'little loong'


In Chinese culture, the snake is known as "little loong," as snakes bear many similarities to loongs. In ancient Chinese paintings and sculptures, snakes are often depicted as a type of crawling creature with scales and a tail, closely resembling the imagery of loongs (though without the claws and horns). Therefore, snakes have been symbolically associated with loongs in myths and legends. Besides, snakes are animals that are capable of moving fast both on land and in water. In traditional Chinese culture, loongs are also portrayed as creatures with the ability to control the waves and weather. Ancient Chinese people thus made connections between these two creatures, and therefore snakes got the name "little loong."

Arowana – The 'loong fish'

Why do these animals have 'loong' in their Chinese names?

Arowana is a type of fish belonging to the osteoglossidae family. The family can be traced back over 300 million years to the ancient Carboniferous period. These fish are large and elongated, with scales that often exhibit a metallic sheen. They have two whiskers at the corners of their mouths, and when swimming, they display a magnificent demeanor. They are also known for their ability to leap out of the water, resembling the mythical loongs in Chinese folklore, hence the common name "loong fish."

In Southeast Asia and southern China, influenced by Chinese "loong culture," people regard the fish as a symbol of good luck, auspiciousness, and a bearer of wealth and prosperity. Many Chinese restaurants and affluent households would keep the fish for good fortune.

Hazel grouse – The 'flying loong'


The hazel grouse is a resident bird species found in the Greater Hinggan Mountains region of China. Its Manchu name phonetically resembles the Chinese term "feilong," meaning "flying loong," which translates to "chicken in the trees." This name is derived from its habits, as the bird prefers to stay in trees, often foraging on tender branches and seeds. The curvature of its neck and the peculiar scales on its claws resemble the loong in Chinese culture, contributing to the association. Due to its historical significance as a tribute to the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong, who referred to it as the "flying loong in the sky," the bird gradually acquired the name "flying loong." Check the video for more.

(Cover image designed by CGTN's Zhu Shangfan; video by CGTN Nature film crew)

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