The universal symbols for Awesome Eastern Stuff.
In a visual work that features East Asian mysticism
or cinematic martial arts
, the odds are very good that there will be a gratuitous appearance of either the taijitu
(known in the west as the "yin-yang" symbol) or an Eastern dragon
(either a Chinese lóng
or a Japanese tatsu
) somewhere. Whether it's a rare artifact, a wall-sized scroll hanging in the temple, or a design on the sensei's
robes, the presence of either or both of these elements serve to remind the audience that Awesome Eastern Stuff™
Typically, the dragon is used to indicate badassery
while the taijitu
indicates mysticism, but many works will wantonly use either or both just for atmosphere. Particularly inane is the depiction of these dragons breathing fire, as most Eastern dragons were water spirits
.note Bonus points
if there is an image of a dragon curling around
For the most part, this has little resemblance to Real Life
: Asian temples are more likely to feature icons of the various Buddhas
, most Asians will go for days without seeing either symbol, and the only dragon one might find in most martial arts schools will be a Bruce Lee
poster in a corner.
On the other hand, there's also a bit of Truth in Television
involved: the taijitu is
a symbol rooted in Asian philosophy and religion, and Eastern dragons are
traditional symbols of power and strength. But these two symbols quickly become overused due to Small Reference Pools
, hence the trope.
Note that this trope does not
apply if the symbols are used in contexts that don't involve martial arts or Asian mysticism. A Chinese restaurant with a dragon motif is not tropeworthy; a Chinese restaurant with a dragon motif run by a secret sect of Shaolin monks
, on the other hand...
Also see Eastern Zodiac
, National Stereotypes
, Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting
, and Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons
. Add in a tiger, and you get fun times.
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Anime & Manga
- Displayed throughout Outlaw Star by the pirates. Justified, in that their magic is activated by chanting "Eight Trigrams Three Dharma Seals" in Mandarin and have Taoist themes.
- The MacGuffin in Dragon Ball are the eponymous Dragon Balls, which summon a wish-granting dragon when brought together.
- They have nothing to do with the yin-yang symbol though. Eastern dragons are sometimes depicted carrying giant pearls, which is likely the inspiration for the dragon balls.
- BB Senshi Sangokuden features four factions that draw upon The Four Gods for faction motifs - Shou, represented by Seiryu (the Dragon) have been particularly consistent in sticking dragons on everything. Kyou-I F91 even switches to a dragon motif after leaving Giga, represented by Suzaku (the Phoenix).
- The production notes for the animated Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie point out that, in the original storyboards, Ken and Ryu's dual Hadoken used to defeat M.Bison would have briefly shaped a taijitu upon fusing together.
- The Cyber Dragons and Cyberdarks from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX represent the two halves of the symbol.
- The Double Dragon comic book series used a taijitu with two stylized dragon heads as its logo. The heroes wore costumes with the logo over their chests and shoulderpads.
- One of the members of the DC Comics' super-villain team Helix is Tao Jones, a Dragon Lady with probability-altering powers; she wears a black evening dress with a red dragon on the front, along with a yin-yang choker.
- Marvel hero Iron Fist has a dragon tattoo on his chest. It has the wings of an Western dragon but the snakey body of the Eastern type.
- Actually it's a dragon brand, acquired when he used his chest to block the dragon's scar and prevent it drawing strength from its mystical heart.
- Astro City had The Twin Dragons, a brother-sister martial arts team. Each sibling had a dragon tattooed along one arm; when put together, the two summoned a spiritual dragon to attack their foes.
- The heroine in Shaolin Soccer traces a taijitu in bread dough when she uses her kung fu skills to make dumplings.
- In another Stephen Chow film, Kung Fu Hustle, the Landlord traces out a taijitu in the courtyard of Pig Sty Alley when fighting the Musical Assassins.
- The Double Dragon live-action movie has a magical Dragon Medallion that grants great power when the two pieces are put together.
- Appears in The Karate Kid (2010). As part of Dre's kung-fu teaching, Mr. Han takes him up a tall mountain to the Dragon Well, where drinking from it purportedly make one invincible. The well is a shallow fountain with a yin-yang symbol in the center.
- The MacGuffin in Kung Fu Panda is the Dragon Scroll, held in the jaws of a ceiling-mounted dragon statue. The taijitu also appears as the Pool of Sacred Tears, a mountaintop lake which was said to be the birthplace of kung fu.
- In Kung Fu Panda 2, the taijitu frequently appears in various background elements.
- In The Wheel of Time, Rand becomes known as the Dragon Reborn, uses a dragon banner, and gets magical dragon tattoos on his forearms. He also makes use of the yin-yang symbol of the ancient Aes Sedai, since he is a male channeler himself and is allied with channelers of both sexes. The modern Aes Sedai are all-female and only use the female half of the symbol (white, point up).
- Which they call the "Flame of Tar Valon". The black piece, called the "Dragon's Fang", is mostly a cross-cultural hate symbol. Various descriptions of these and the (much less known) taijitu suggest that almost nobody sees any connection between any of the three symbols. This is probably allegorical for the characters' universal tendency to see their personal goals and agenda in isolation from everybody else's (see Poor Communication Kills).
- An important note though, the ancient Aes Sedai symbol lacks the opposite color dots within each half representing harmony of the two parts, another allegory for the conflict between the two sides within the story.
- The taijitu symbol features in the Judge Dee story, The Haunted Monastery, providing the crucial clue to solving the mystery. The symbol is turned on its side, leading the judge to the door to a secret passage.
- The title and logo of Cirque du Soleil's Dralion — because the show focuses on Asian acrobatic disciplines. Specifically, as per the East-meets-West concept, the title and the creature derived from it that appears in the show is a portmentau of "dragon" (East) and "lion" (West). (This doesn't make sense once you remember that lions have also been invoked in eastern culture. For example, many Chinese restaurants will have two stone lion guardians at the front door.)
- Appears in the Act II divertissements for The Nutcracker.
- Both the dragon and the taijitu show up in Mortal Kombat at various points; the dragon is even in the logo.
- Also, Liu Kang can transform into a dragon as a fatality.
- Touhou's primary use of the taijitu is with Reimu, who uses the Hakurei Yin-Yang Orbs as her Ancestral Weapon.
- In addition, dragons are said to be among the highest class of youkai, and it's said that one appeared in the sky the day the Great Hakurei Border was erected.
- A popular crack theory is that lazy gatekeeper Meiling (notably one of the very few characters whose exact species is not identified; she's simply called a youkai, which in Gensokyo amounts to a catch-all for anybody who's not a human or a god) is a Chinese rainbow dragon or hong, due to her surname being Hong and her use of rainbow-themed spellcards. ZUN has declined to comment.
- Stranglehold has a giant jade dragon statue in Wong's chamber where the final showdown takes place.
- The Double Dragon video games have nothing to do with dragons, but included gratuitous dragons in their logos and promotional images.
- The Nintendo DS video game Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword has various dragon-themed MacGuffins, including Dragonstones, the Eye of the Dragon, and the eponymous Dragon Sword. Further, the Eye of the Dragon is a jewel shaped like half of the taijitu
- The main character's name, Ryu, means "dragon" in Japanese. If you play the modern games with the Japanese language track you'll hear the word "ryu" constantly, what with his name, and the Dragon Sword, and the Dragon Clan, and...
- In Sonic Unleashed, the levels in Chun-Nan (the No Communities Were Harmed counterpart of China) are named "Dragon Road", and the daytime version features long statues of dragons for Sonic to run along the backs of. Some of the nighttime stages have them too, but not in as large a quantity.
- Breath of Fire IV (which, of note, is an Asian-themed game, complete with a Qing Empire Expy as the Evil Empire) has this in spades, to the point one wonders if the entire game was written to be this trope Turned Up to Eleven.
- The two playable dragons Ryu and Fou-lu who are actually part of the same dragon god but were split due to a summoning accident are explicitly "yin" and "yang" themed (despite most of their forms resembling Western dragons); most other dragons in the game are Mix-and-Match Critters of lung/mireu/tatsu and other creatures...or, often, mashups of Eastern dragons and plants.
- The NPC dragons themselves are merged with classical elements of the Eight Trigrams (to an extent, anyways)
- Speaking of taijitu and the Eight Trigrams, the end stage of the game involves your character fighting his Yin-half on a stage in which is drawn the "Static Heaven" bagua pattern from feng-shui practice that is heavily implied to be an imperial summoning circle of some sort.
- Not only does IV have the recurring trope of The Hero being named Ryunote , Fou-lu in part of the game uses the name Ryongnote or Ronnote depending on if you're playing in Japanese or not.
- If the supplemental material in the artbook is to be noted, there's even more references. The empire that summoned Fou-lu is the Muuru Empirenote , among others.
- Probably the ULTIMATE example of this trope is also included in the artbook; it involves a combination of a taijitu, a design consisting of apparent Eastern dragons, and the bonji (Japanese Buddhist variation of Sanskrit) rendering of "Om" combined in a design on the back of Fou-lu's clothes. Oh yes, but Capcom has Shown Their Work here.
- Explicit mention is made that the dragons in this world are Physical Gods and that they tend to "catch others in their path", similar to the concept of Dragon Lines. (There is a lot of gratuitous Taoist, Buddhist, and even some pre-Taoist shamanist imagery in ))this game, all of it Deeply Mystical.]
- The Dragon Clan of Battle Realms feature these heavily. The Serpent Clan, being an offshoot of the Dragon Clan, have their more insidious variation.
- Surprisingly Averted in Jade Empire, for all of its Chinese influences. There are no taijitu symbols anywhere, and the only dragon you see is at the end of the game, and it's not exactly a symbol of badassness. Quite the opposite in fact. The Water Dragon has been trapped in stone and cut open, to endlessly bleed water. It asks you to kill it so that it can be reborn.
- The Tao Dragon legendary Pokémon of Unova follow the taijitu theme: The white one (Reshiram) is exclusive to Black Version, the black one (Zekrom) is exclusive to White Version, and the grey one, Kyurem, represents wuji (void, or absence of Tao). The three form a Fire, Ice, Lightning theme, with Reshiram as fire, Zekrom as thunder, and Kyurem as ice.
- Additionally, in the Japanese versions, Reshiram is known as the White Yang Pokémon while Zekrom is classified as the Black Yin Pokémon (the same way Pidgey's species is classified as Tiny Bird Pokémon).
- Flip flopped in the sequels-Reshiram is in White 2, Zekrom in Black 2.
- In No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Ryuji, the sole Asian challenger to Travis, is able to create an eastern dragon from his sword made of electricity and lasers. It is possible that Dark Star from the original No More Heroes follows this too, as he used the same weapon, but his continent of origin is left unaddressed.
- BlazBlue's Litchi Faye-Ling has a lot of Yin-Yang motifs, her emblem has a Yin-Yang, one of her hairpin is based on a Yin-Yang and in some of her win poses, she's making out a dragon-like motif out of her hand.
- Dragons and dragon symbolism abound in the latest World of Warcraft expansion, the Eastern-themed Mists of Pandaria.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Moon and Ocean spirits. They're shown as a black and white catfish that constantly follow each other in a pond near the north pole. This is used to represent the gravitational gyrations of the moon and the tide, which Waterbending is based on. Plot-critical because one of the Fire Nation generals wants to kill the Moon Spirit to permanently weaken anyone who uses Waterbending.
- This is possibly a case of Shown Their Work - Waterbending is based off the real martial of art Tai Chi Chuan, in which Yin and Yang (hardness and softness) are key concepts. Even the name derives from the taijitu - Tai Chi and taiji are different ways of transliterating the same symbols from Chinese.
- Also the original Firebenders, who are a red and blue dragon. They're supposedly extinct, but Aang and Zuko are fortunate enough to discover that this is a falsehood deliberately spread for the sake of the majestic reptiles. Again, meaningful because proper Firebending requires a careful balance of passion and control, which Zuko uses to regain his Firebending after he loses his drive to kill Aang. (The Fire Nation teaches a corrupted version of Firebending based on rage and aggression, which is far displaced from the original art.) Aang also learns that Firebending isn't just about destruction, which is critical because he swore he would never use Firebending after he accidentally hurt Katara with it.
- The Disney animated series Yin Yang Yo! features twin kung fu rabbits, so (naturally) it uses the taijitu in the logo.
- The brothers in the Double Dragon animated TV series adaptation could put on dragon masks to turn into the Double Dragons of the title. They also sported dragon tattoos across their chests and trained in the Dragon Dojo.
- American Dragon Jake Long. The protagonist is a Shapeshifting dragon and part of a worldwide league of dragons. The logo, of course, includes a dragon silhouette.
- Yin and Yang became an issue in the episode where Jake learned about his duplication powers.
- The protagonists in Xiaolin Showdown are the Xiaolin Dragons, and the show has a dragon as a main protagonist and primary means of transport.
- Legend Of The Dragon: Ang's power-band has a dragon symbol, which also appears behind him in the Transformation Sequence. The Big Bad is the Master of Darkest Yin, who wears an outfit with the dark half of the Yin-Yang symbol.
- Jackie Chan Adventures features a dragon as the main antagonist (Shendu), features the dragon on one of the twelve talismans and said talisman appears on the main logo for the series. Did we mention that the main characters are Chinese in ancestry?
- Also, the last talisman to make a debut had Yin and Yang based powers.