“CNY is Year of Dragon… Dragon on Ang Pow. How?”

By Ps Ng Zhiwen

This question was posed to me via WhatsApp by a well-meaning and concerned Zion Bishan member. Some weeks earlier, someone pointed out that Chinese New Year (CNY) Day Two fell on a Sunday, and it happened that we’d be preaching on the Woman, the Child, and the Dragon (Revelation 12). I assure you that the preaching team did not plan for this coincidence!

But what is the big fuss over dragons, and how should we think and act Christianly about this?

Actually, CNY every year is an occasion for engaging with the culture of our time.

I reckon we can readily embrace the tradition of family reunion and renewal of kinship ties. However, many attach to CNY traditions various beliefs about prosperity and good fortune: think of the phrases you are ‘expected’ to say during the lo hei or the exchange of red packets (ang pows). Each year is also tied to a particular creature of the Chinese Zodiac with its unique attributes, “lucky” (and “unlucky”) numbers, and supposed influence on your personality, family, and so on.

Underlying these beliefs is the Chinese philosophy of living in harmony with nature. In practice, what most Chinese people in the street are encouraged to seek is prosperity and good fortune.

Every time CNY comes around, we should ask ourselves: Why do we perform these traditions? What is true abundance and prosperity, and where do they come from? Who oversees our lives, and can we really influence this One with these traditions?
You may also ask your loved ones to consider why they believe what they believe, or follow the traditions – they can be avenues for initiating spiritual conversations (not debates).

But things get especially tricky when it is the Year of the Dragon. The dragon is the only mythical creature in the Chinese Zodiac, and it’s the most auspicious. It symbolizes the power and majesty of the Emperor, abundance and longevity. Such beliefs are not trivial and can exert a strong influence on people. For instance, the Year of the Dragon is correlated with more births in Chinese-majority nations.

The real trouble for us comes with this zodiac creature’s connection to the “great red dragon” described in Revelation 12 and elsewhere. You’ll learn about this dragon at the sermon on 11 February, but for now it suffices to say that this dragon is no friend. He is the arch-enemy of God and of His people.

Should Christians dabble with anything that carries signs of the dragon, especially during this CNY?

First, we should be careful about identifying any dragon that we encounter today with that great red dragon. The great red dragon is not the ‘Chinese’ dragon. The Chinese dragon is often seen as benevolent and not as the embodiment of evil. Chinese Christian scholars have even questioned whether the word for long2 (龙 / 龍) should have been translated as ‘dragon’.

For that matter, the great red dragon in scripture is also not a western dragon. It is true that western dragons are typically fearsome, aggressive, and evil, but even that depiction is bound to specific times and contexts. The dragons in How to Train your Dragon are very different from the ones in The Hobbit or in the Harry Potter series!

The great red dragon is sui generis and best understood within the world of scripture. What we are left with are associations that are concerning, because when many Christians see a Chinese dragon, they cannot help but think of the great red dragon. 

  1. Like it or not, both are called dragons.
  2. Both have a serpentine appearance.
  3. Both offer the prospect of prosperity and abundance.
  4. They are both tied to imperial power.

What then?

Even if there are apparent similarities between the Chinese dragon and the great red dragon, we need not fear them. Giving and receiving ang pows with dragon signs in and of themselves do not signify evil on anyone’s part (Those who do must take issue with all other depictions of dragons, including dragon boats!). We should not let any sign of the dragon exert a controlling influence on us.

Instead of fear, we may act in faith. The next time you see an ang pow with a dragon, think more of the red color of the packet and how it symbolizes the blood of the Lamb, our Saviour Jesus Christ. This is precisely how the great red dragon is defeated: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb…” (Revelation 12:11). In the light of what Christ has done for us, there is nothing to fear about the dragon. The red packet may even present an opportunity to tell a loved one about Jesus.

We should also act with love. There may be others who are troubled by these associations, and for the sake of their conscience I may (out of love) choose not to give ‘dragon’ ang pows. This follows the apostle Paul’s example. He chose not to eat food offered to idols if doing so would cause a weaker brother to be stumbled, even though Paul knew full well that the idols had ‘no real existence’ (1 Corinthians 8). You may consider using ang pows that have pictures and wishes that you can heartily assent to. There are even ang pows with Christian greetings!

Finally, live in hope. We believe that the dragon is defeated, and Christ is victorious. It is so much better and fitting to fix our eyes on Jesus and on the great hope that He has secured for us. It is worth your while to read again and again all the blessings that Jesus promises to give to all who remain faithful to Him (read Revelation 2 and 3). We look forward to a glorious future of eternity with Him – Heaven on earth.
This, my friends, is true prosperity and abundance.

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1 Response

  1. Louise Lee says:

    Beautiful message with an encouragement to live a life in the victory of Jesus Christ.
    Thank you, Dr. Alex.
    Amen n Amen

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