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The symbol of reputation and Power: Dragon; A semiotic approach to intercultural transition

“Never tickle a dragon asleep!”

Napoléon said: “there is a giant there” for China. He warned the entire world about China, he means: “let it sleep, because this giant will upset all the world”. [Çomak 1996], p.95)

The symbols achieve from local to universal dimensions in the context of their mythological and cultural supports as in the example of “dragon” which became the power and reputation’s symbol of China. This symbol protects its meaning even though it assures intercultural transition. Therefore, the dragon has had the same meaning for many years. A “dragon” is waiting for thousand years its egg cracking. Finally, the egg is cracking, but the dragon should wait for more thousand years these eggs becomes an ordinary dragon. Regarding to this example, China is a dragon: this dragon asleep for thousand years have reanimated and have had more power and reputation around the world. So, the “dragon” was the same symbol of “power” and “reputation” for its own culture, Chinese culture, and for the world’s culture. The dragons, the mythological animals, exist in each country’s mythology.The purpose of this study is to determine the importance of the dragon, the symbol of power and reputation, which has an important role on intercultural transition. To that end, the dragon symbol will be analyzed in Turkish mythology and in the section two, we will present the analyze of the dragon symbol in Chinese mythology.

1. The Theoretical Framework of Semiotics and Reputation

1.1. The Theoretical Framework of Semiotics

The symbolic metaphor of communications suggests that communications function as a creation, maintenance and transformation of meanings [Bantz (1993); Carey (1989); Putnam, Philips, & Chapman (1996)]. The meaning of a symbol is typically rooted in cultural significance [Thompson, Pollio & Locander (1994)] and communication is interpretation through the production of symbols that make the world meaningful [Putnam, Philips & Chapman (1996)].The roots of semiology or semiotics items from two distinct theories of literature – the linguistic work of Saussure (1966) and the philosophical work of Pierce (1958). Each source leads to a slightly different mode of analysis. Saussure identified a sign as a dyadic, having two sides: the signifier and the signified, which were considered inseparable. The signifier being the material object and the signified being its associated mental concept. Thus Saussure’s understanding of the process of communication is based upon an assumption of the transfer of mental concepts through the signs produced. Pierce, on the other hand developed a triadic theory of the signs based upon the triple relationship of the representated, the object and the interpretant. In his theory the representated is the sign itself, the object is that which the representated stands for and the interpretant is the significate effect of the sign.Saussurian semiology must necessarily be undertaken in the context of a wider system of meaning external to the sign itself. In this mode of analysis the sign itself is part of a flow of meaning and is interpreted contextually and individually by each individual participating in the communication event. Semiotics, or semiology – the two terms are interchangeable – has been defined simply as ‘the study of signs’ [Guiraud (1975)]. This description however must be viewed as being overly simplistic. A more comprehensive interpretation suggests that semiotics is the study of the creation of the symbolic and its subsequent signification. Thus semiology has been further defined as ‘a science which studies the life of signs within society’ [Saussure (1966)]. Semiotics can therefore be considered to be a study of communication and more particularly the study of communication acts or events – a study of the message itself and its relationship with the recipient of that message.From a semiotic perspective, communication is determined by the interrelationship between the message itself and the recipient of that message. In this respect therefore, as Derrida (1978) argues, the writer of the message ceases to have any significance once the message has been written, as interpretation is entirely determined by this interplay between the message and its recipient. In other words meaning is in the interpretation of the message by the recipient and the intentions of the writer are therefore irrelevant. This inevitably places a heavy burden upon the recipient of the message in extracting meaning from that message but it also places a heavy burden upon the writer of the message. Thus, rather than being irrelevant to the message, the writer of the message is in fact central to the message itself as (s)he must endeavour to ensure that the meaning wished to be imparted is actually the one which is extracted by the recipient rather than any alternative meaning. To that end, in this study, we will analyze the “dragon” symbol, which was born in Chinese mythology and was diffused on the world. Because, the dragon offers nowadays the traditionalism of the past with all its magnificence. It becomes an important communication symbol addressing to individuals of the world, in universality. On account of this, the symbol of dragon aims to explain the Chinese culture, mythology and people. We can say that it is on the way to form a common symbol of power and reputation surrounding all individuals on the world. Addressing everyone on the world, the dragon is an important universal symbol in the context of communication.

1.2. The Theoretical Framework of Reputation
“Just as people develop social capital that helps them build relationships and careers, corporations and other organizations develop reputational capital that helps them build relationships and grow their organizations” [Doorly&Garcia(2007)].
 Reputation, as distinct from image, is the process and the effect of transmission of a target image. To be more precise, reputation is called as the transmission of a communication of an evaluation without the specification of the evaluator. More precisely, reputation is a believed, social, meta-evaluation; it is built upon three distinct but interrelated objects:

(1) a cognitive representation, or more precisely a believed evaluation - this could be somebody's image, but is enough that this consist of a communicated evaluation;
2) a population object, a propagating believed evaluation; and
(3) an objective emergent property at the agent level, what the agent is believed to be [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reputation].

Reputation = Sum of images = (Performance and Behavior) + Communication

This definition helps make it clear that performance and behavior, as well as communication, are critical components of reputation [Doorly&Garcia(2007)].

1.2.1. Building reputation through stakeholder management
The stakeholder theory says that corporations should be run for the benefit of all “stakeholders,” not just the shareholders. Stakeholders of a company include any individual or group that can influence or is influenced from a companies practices. The stakeholders of a company can be suppliers, consumers, employees, shareholders, financial community, government and media. Companies must properly manage the relationships between stakeholder groups and they must consider interest of each stakeholder group carefully. Therefore, it becomes essential to integrate public relations into corporate governance to manage the relationships between these stakeholders which will enhance the organization’s reputation. Corporations or institutions which behave ethically and governed in a good manner builds a reputational capital which is a competitive advantage. According to Fombrun, a good reputation enhances profitability because it attracts customers to products, investors to securities and employees to its jobs [Özekmekçi&Abdullah&Mert (2004)]. Company’s reputation is an asset and wealth that gives that company a competitive advantage because this kind of a company will be regarded as a reliable, credible, trustwothhy and responsible for employees, customers, shareholders and financial markets.

Semiotics has been enormously influential in cultural studies. In holding out the prospect of a scientific analysis of the full range of codes used in “mass” culture, “popular” culture, “consumer” culture and “subcultures” (depending on the commentator’s emphasis) semiotics was bound to appeal to cultural critics and anthropologists. That’s why, semiotics differs from linguistics in that it generalizes the definition of a sign to encompass signs in any medium or sensory modality. To that end, we preferred to give the example of dragon which is a common symbol of reputation and power in many cultures.

2. The Symbol of Reputation and Power: Dragon

The dragon is a complex and universal symbol. This symbol, the “winged serpent” combines the serpent and bird as matter and spirit. Originally, it was wholly beneficient as the manifestation of the life-giving waters (the serpent) and the breath of life (the bird), and was identified with sky gods and their earthly delegates: emperors and kings. Later it became ambivalent as both the fertilizing rains, following thunder and the destructive forces of lightning and flood. Generally the dragon, in the Orient, is a beneficent, celestial power while, in the Occident, it becomes chthonic, destructive and evil. In the Far East it symbolizes supernatural power; wisdom, strength, hidden knowledge, the power of life-giving waters. It is the emblem of the Emperor as Son of Heaven and following him, the wise and noble man. The dragon and serpent are usually interchangeable in symbolism as representing the unmanifest, the undifferentiated, chaos, the latent, untamed nature; also life-giving element of water. It is associated with the sea, the great deeps, also with mountain tops and clouds and with the solar eastern regions.Dragons, as monsters, are autochthonous “master of the ground”, against which heroes, conquerors and creators must fight for mastery or occupation of the land; they are also guardians of treasures. The struggle with the dragon symbolizes the difficulties to be overcome in gaining the treasures of inner knowledge. Killing the dragon is the conflict between light and darkness, the slaying of the destructive forces and evil, or man overcoming his own dark nature and attaining self-mastery. The Chinese dragon is traditionally also the embodiment of the concept of yang (male) and associated with the weather as the bringer of rain and water in an agriculturally water-driven nation. Its female counterpart is the Fenghuang. The dragon is the symbol of reputation, power, force, luck, happiness and long life in Chinse culture. This symbol has an universal characteristic on the world that aims to tell the Chinese culture and humans. The dragon has addressed to its own culture and to others in the same way for thousands of years. Many Chinese people often use the term "Descendants of the Dragon” as a sign of reputation. Therefore, the dragon, which awakes, formulates a new common symbol walking around the world and surrounding the humans.

3. The “Dragon” Symbol  in Turkish MythologyIn
Turkish mythology, the symbol of dragon has known as a motif coming from China. The Hun people have called their capital “the city of dragon” (lung-chéng). This dragon symbol is transformed to “snake” in Turkish culture. Because the vocabulary of the language, used by people currently, takes shape in respect of the environment where they live. Dragon, snake, crocodile, an awful animal, ...etc. can be given as example. The motif of dragon with seven heads is very popular like the giants with seven heads in Anatolian stories. It is believed that the dragon, in snake form, has “three, four, five, six or seven” heads in Turkish mythology. The word “büke” that means “the dragon with seven heads” represents the title given to “important top people” by Yakut Turkish people. The dragons have their palaces in the bottom of wells. These cannibal dragons kidnap young girls in these wells. It is, sometimes, accepted that the dragon is an animal that brings the entire world in Turkish mythology. And the relationship of dragon with four directions is mentioned. In addition to this, the cult of dragon is important in Turkish mythology and it is in the “Calendar with 12 Animals” of old Turkish people with different types as: “dragons of sky, tree, red dragon, dragon of dark and dragon of earth.” It is believed that the source of these dragons’ types is the “crocodile”. In Dede Korkut Histories, Dede Korkut says:

“I’ve just arrived to the dragon with seven heads, my left eye filled with tears because of its majesty.
Oh! My eyes, my despicable eyes, why were you afraid of a snake?
But nevertheless, I didn’t take pride in my title!” [Ergin (1994)]

Dede Korkut describes the dragon like an “existence in the sky”. In the history entitled “Salur Kazan”, Kazan Bey said to Basat that:
 Kazan Bey black sky (dragon) broke out Tepegöz
 Black tiger broke out Tepegöz
 I turned on black mountains Bosat
[Ergin 1994)]

Göktürks consider “dragon with seven heads” as auspicious. Ottomans define the dragon as a big snake. Finally Altay Turkish people consider the dragon as “a legendary big snake”.The common subjects like “a horse mating with a dragon” and “dragon lakes”, mentioned in nearly all Turkish people stories, are seen also in Chinese legends. According to these legends, these “dragon lakes” are discovered around the “God Mountains” and the best horse stock was born own to dragons mating with horses in these lakes. Göktürk Inscriptions tell us: “Dragon is a watchman on Uygur Bile Kagan Monument which is built by Göktürk’s Khan Kültigin on A.J. 732.”The symbol of the İlhanlı’s flag is the “dragon”.In Anatolian culture, the dragon, which is described as a snake with double heads, is cure distributor.The cane of the Prophet Musa, taking the form of dragon, showed to the God’s miracles.The symbol of “dragon” is also used in every Anatolian Selçuklu’s materials such as:
– on door’s mallet with dragon head
– on money
– on flags
– on tables
– on carpets and rugs (as a motif)
– on vitreous decoration
– on cushion embroideriesIn Turkish stories and legends, the big animals like bull and lion are called “dragon” that refers to “monster” (Özkırımlı, p.428). For example, the dragon is the treasure watchman in our stories. Therefore, the hero of the story have to kill “dragon” (snake or dragon with seven heads) to obtain the treasure.

4. The “Dragon” Symbol in Chinese Mythology
The dragon and serpent are not separated in Chinese symbolism. The dragon represents the highest spiritual power, the supernatural, infinity, the divine power of change and transformation, the rythms of Nature, the law of becoming. Mostly, the dragons are known as a story or legend’s creature, which sprays fires from its mouth [Özkırımlı (1982)]. Found in the mythologies of many cultures, in East Asia dragons are usually described as beneficent. Thus, the dragon is accepted as the mix of different animals in Chinese mythology:
– the horns of deer
– the eyes of monster
– the scales of carp
– the ears of cow
– the neck of snake
– the skin of crocodile
– the navel of mussel
– the paws of eagle
– the head of camel and
– the feet of tiger.Because the dragon is the symbol of power, luck, happiness and long life in Chinese culture. According to Chinese mythology, the dragon has 117 pieces of scales on its body: 81 of them have good (yang) impact and 36 of them have bad (ying) impact. Thus, dragon is also the symbol of the contrast good and bad. In semiotics, good refers to the protectiveness and bad refers to destructive.The original belief in dragons may have been inspired by the sight of meteorites streaking through the night sky and appearing to come down somewhere far out to sea. This would explain why dragons, although fire-breathing, are often associated with water. In China, they were believed to control and live in water and to be rain-makers. Therefore, the dragon is; God of thunder, God of storm, God of rain and God of water in Chinese mythology.The scales on its body may be varied: black, yellow, red and white. These colors symbolize the power and the greatness of dragon. In addition to this, different-colored dragons are associated with each of the “directions” and “seasons”. Dragon put a pearl on their throat, which symbolizes the “sagaciousness”. Therefore, dragons are distinguished in four types in Chinese culture:
– tien lung (they protect Gods on the sky)
– shen lung (they make rain)
– ti lung (they protect rivers)
– fu-ts’ang (they are treasure watchman).In East Asia, the capacity for flight is said to derive from magic or through the powers of a special lump on their camel like heads. Dragons in China are often depicted flying through “clouds” when they are not playing with pearls that may variously represent good fortune, “thunder”. The dragon is the fifth sign of the Chinese zodiac: people born within its year are held to be honest and energetic, but short-tempered. In this context, there are 12 signs of zodiac in Moon Calendar in Chinese culture. A legend from Chinese mythology tell us that Buddha called in his presence all animals and he gave a year as a present to them regarding to their arrival time. Therefore;– first month is called “mouse”
– second month is called “bull”
– third  month is called “tiger”
– fourth  month is called “bunny”
– fifth  month is called “dragon”
– sixth  month is called “snake”
– seventh  month is called “horse”
– eighth month is called “aries”
– nineth month is called “monkey”
– 10.  month is called “cock”
– 11.  month is called “dog”
– 12.  month is called “pig” from that day. A legend from Chinese mythology tell us that dragons let their eggs around the water and wait for 1000 years the egg cracked. It takes 500 years that a young dragon is transformed to a dragon with scales. After more 1000 years, this dragon is transformed to an ordinary dragon (lung). If this ordinary dragon waits for more 500 years, it’ll be transformed to a dragon with horns (kioh-lung). Finally, if it waits for more 1000 years, it will be transformed to a dragon winged (ying-lung). The dragons’ eggs need to male and female dragons’ power and cry to be cracked. Because the cry of male dragon has an impact on wind. It causes to thunder and thunderbolt that make crack the eggs.
There are dragons with seven or nine heads in Chinese mythology. Thus, Chinese emperors have seven or nine dragons’ symbols on their clothes regarding to their rank. The emperor has nine dragons and the vice emperor has seven.

Concluding Remarks 
Semioticians classify signs or sign systems in relation to the way they are transmitted. This process of carrying meaning depends on the use of codes that may be the individual sounds or letters that humans use to form words, the body movements they make to show attitude or emotion, or even something as general as the clothes they wear. To coin a word to refer to a thing, the community must agree on a simple meaning (a denotative meaning) within their language. Codes also represent the values of the culture, and are able to add new shades of connotation to every aspect of life.
 To explain the relationship between semiotics and communication studies, communication is defined as the process of transferring data from a source to a receiver as efficiently and effectively as possible. Hence, semiotics includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood. Both disciplines also recognise that the technical process cannot be separated from the fact that the receiver must decode the data. Indeed, many of the concepts are shared, although in each field the emphasis is different.  To that end, the “dragon” symbol, which was born in Chinese mythology and was diffused on the world. Because, the dragon offers nowadays the traditionalism of the past with all its magnificence. It becomes an important communication symbol addressing to individuals of the world, in universality. On account of this, the symbol of dragon aims to explain the Chinese culture, mythology and people. We can say that it is on the way to form a common symbol of power and reputation surrounding all individuals on the world. Addressing everyone on the world, the dragon is an important universal symbol in the context of communication.

This research has been financially supported by Galatasaray University Research Fund.
Ateş, M. (2000) Mythology and Symbols II, Istanbul.
Campbell, J. (2003) Occident Mythology, translated by Kudret Emiroğlu, İmge Kitabevi, Istanbul.
Campbell, J. (2003) Orient Mythology, translated by Kudret Emiroğlu, İmge Kitabevi, Istanbul.
Campbell, J. (2003) Creative Mythology, translated by Kudret Emiroğlu, İmge Kitabevi, Istanbul.
Çomak, H. (1996) ‘The relationship Between Turkey and China which is on the way to become the super power about the years 2000’, Journal of Armed Forces, No: 348-April.
Danesi, M, Cool (1994) The Signs and Meanings of Adolescence, University of Toronto Press, Canada. 
Erhat, A. (1993) Dictionary of Mythology, Istanbul.
Ergin, M. (1983) Orhun Monuments, Boğaziçi ed. Istanbul.
Ergin, M. (1994) “Book of Dede Korkut”, Turkish Language Institution ed. 169, Ankara.
Ögel, B. (1989) Turkish Mythology, Turkish Language Institution ed. Ankara.
Özekmekçi&Abdullah&Mert (2004) The Correlation between Corporate Governance and Public
Relations, Istanbul Bilgi University ed. Istanbul. 
Özkırımlı, A. (1982) Turkish Literature Encyclopedia, Cem Kitabevi.
Peirce, C.S. (1931-58) Collected Writings (8 Vols.). (Ed. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss & Arthur W Burks). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Pres.
Saussure, F.de (1966) Course in General Linguistics, İngilizceye çev. Wade Baskin. New York/Toronto/Londra: McGraw-Hill Book.

Ass.Prof. Dr. Nebahat ÇOMAK, Rsc.Ass.Dr. Elgiz YILMAZ
Faculty of Communication Galatasaray University
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