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Here Be Dragons co-curated by Cressida Cowell and Toothless - opens 13 July. Admission included with ticket to the Galleries

1001 Stories Collection

The Dragon and the Pearl

1001 dragon and pearl juan manuel nunez mendez unsplash
Added on 22nd September 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from China

Asia Animals Magic

In Chinese mythology dragons are often kind, helpful and protective as shown in this legend.


The story starts in a rural province in central China, ruled by a greedy emperor. The crops are failing and the people are dying of hunger and thirst. A boy finds a field of grass, which grows back each time he ploughs it. He digs up a turf to take home and under it finds a pearl. When he takes the pearl home and hides it in a sack of rice the field dies but the rice sack overflows. He and his mother share their good fortune with their neighbours and in time the emperor hears about it. The boys hides the pearl by swallowing it – and becomes a dragon who from then on protects the land and its people.

Why we chose it

A dragon holding a pearl is a common image found in Chinese art and the tale is one of the oldest and best-known legends in Chinese folklore.

Where it came from

The pearl is a symbol of wisdom, spiritual energy and power and the dragon represents prosperity and good luck as well as being a rain deity.

Where it went next

The dragon and the pearl is such a common symbol in Chinese culture, it can be found in architecture, paintings, fabrics, decorative objects and even on flags.

Associated stories

Stories about dragons from China are very different from the fire breathing, princess eating dragons from other storytelling traditions. Chinese dragons are associated with water not with fire and are generally protectors. The story of the Four Dragons tells how the dragons bring water to a land blighted by draught and become the four mighty rivers of China.

Added on 22nd September 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from China

Asia Animals Magic