The Dragon is synonymous with China, it permeates every part of Chinese culture from popular folklore, art, religion to the emperor of China himself. Dragons have been depicted since earliest times. The Dragon, although strong, is in China a benevolent, even positive beast, potent with auspicious powers said to control the Earth and the Heavens. It is associated with life giving rain that nourish crops. This connection with rain and indeed all forms of water could be due to some folklores that says the Dragon is based on the now extinct salt-water crocodile that used to inhabit the rivers of China. The earliest depictions of Dragons in China are so far recorded as being from the Yangshao culture in Henan in the fifth millennium BC from. The five-claw Dragon is reserved as a symbol of the Emperor.
Dragon, Imperial :
The Dragon is associated with the emperor of China and is specifically depicted as having five claws when used in this context. The date when the use of a five-clawed Dragon first symbolized the emperor is still debated. It might be as early as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) but others put it as much later, during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Chinese porcelain depicting a five-clawed Dragon, normally in combination with an imperial reign mark denotes porcelain made by imperial command, in other words, imperial porcelain made for the imperial household. While control over reign marks was not strictly observed during all periods, it seams as if the combination of an imperial reign mark with a five-clawed Dragon was exclusively imperial. Indeed there are records that during Kangxi`s later years he visited the imperial workshops and complained that the standard was not high enough. These pieces were not destroyed, but were demoted by having one of the five claws over-painted to make them non-imperial four claw Dragons. Many years ago we had such a piece, a dish decorated in blue and white with green enamel, each dragon had a claw painted out in a deeper green.