Long gu
lónggǔ written in seal script
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese龍骨
Simplified Chinese龙骨
Literal meaningdragon bones
Japanese name
Latin name
Latinos draconis

Long gu are remains of ancient life (such as fossils) prescribed for a variety of ailments in Chinese medicine and herbalism. They were historically believed, and are traditionally considered, to be the remains of dragons.[1][2]


A chunk of long gu (fossil mammalian bone)

Long gu are generally mammal fossils, petrified wood, or even oracle bones.[3] Animals which can be identified as long gu include rhinoceros, bears, hipparion, stegodon, hyena, mastodon, orangutan, pocupine, and giant panda.[4][5][6]



A Chinese Neolithic (Hongshan culture) jade ornament in the form of a curled pig dragon

Depictions of Chinese dragons (龍, lóng) first appear in the archaeological record circa 3000 BC, before any literary descriptions appear.[7] Dragon worship may have its origin in constellations associated with the lengthening days and rainfall in spring, later being given more abstract meanings. However, "the dragon flourished in art without a set of specific associations."[8]

Ancient and traditional use

Dragon bones have been prescribed in Chinese medicine since at least the Shennong Bencaojing, composed circa 100 AD.[9] There is historical discussion regarding the origin of long mu recorded in the Bencao Gangmu, which compiles a wide variety of Chinese medical sources. The Mingyi bielu claims that dragon bones are found in Jin and around Mt. Tai, and that dead dragons can be located in riverbanks and caves throughout the year; while Tao Hongjing states they can be found in Liang, Yi, and Ba. Lei Xiao reports that bones from Tanzhou, Cangzhou, and Taiyuan are of the highest quality. There was debate as to whether long mu were from dead or living dragons, and whether they were bones or secretions.[10][11] Li Shizhen listed several subcategories of dragon material, including tooth, horn, brain, fetus, and saliva.[12]

Fr. d'Incarville, a French Jesuit, noted that "petrified bones" were among the pharmacopeia sold by druggists in Beijing in 1751. However, he did not refer to these as dragon's bones.[13] Robert Swinhoe described the use of dragon's teeth in 1870:

Shanghai is a great center for [fossil trade]; and the raw article can be procured here in quantity. In other large towns you can only get the prepared drug in a calcined state. These fossils are called Lungche, or 'Dragon's teeth;' and the idea about them is that in olden time the world consisted of monsters who were incessantly fighting and killing one another [...] The monsters were large and powerful brutes; and in their teeth and bones existed their strength; hence the remains of these ground to powder and taken internally must give strength to the weak invalid.[14]

In 1885, 20 tons of fossil bones came through Chinese ports.[5] Searching Chinese pharmacies for new fossil specimens was "an established stratagem of fossil-hunters in the Far East."[6] Western investigation of dragon bones led to the discovery of Peking Man and Gigantopithecus blacki.[15][16] Wang Yirong identified the ancient Chinese oracle script on long gu in 1899.[17]


An 18th century medical treaty prescribes long gu for heart, kidney, intestine, liver ailments, and to calm the spirit. It is also used for constipation, nightmares, epilepsy, excessive perspiration, night sweats and chronic diarrhea. It is considered to have neutral, sweet, or astringent properties. It is taken raw, fried, or simmered in rice wine.[4][18] The Bencao Gangmu describes white dragon bones (白龍骨, bái lónggǔ) as

control[ing] frequent passage of essence, and discharge of essence with urination [...] They dispel evil qi, pacify the spirit of the heart, and end sexual intercourse with demons during nightly dreams. [...] They end intestinal wind and discharge with blood. Nose flood and blood spitting. They end outflow and free-flux illness with thirst illness. They strengthen the spleen, and contract intestines and stomach [...] They boost the kidneys and press down fright. They end yin-type malaria. They absorb moist qi and [cure] anal prolapse. They let muscles grow and help wounds to close.[19]

Dragon bones are still used today in some parts of China, and it remains an economically important resource.[20] Rural people still collect long gu for traditional use and this practice has important effects on Chinese paleontology.[21]


Traditional Chinese medicine is considered pseudoscience and there is no evidence of the efficacy of dragon bones; however, they are a significant source of calcium.[18]

Similar traditions

A centuries-old controversy in the West concerned whether the medically-important cinnabar was a natural mineral or a mixture of elephant and dragon blood.[22]

In the Araripe Basin of South America, Testudine fossils, mainly that of marine turtles, are sympathetically used to treat hyperactivity and similar conditions. Fossil shells are scraped and taken orally as a sedative.[23] In Cyprus, the fossilized remains of pygmy hippos (Hippopotamus minor) are identified as relics of Saint Phanourios, and were taken medicinally as a panacea from the 16th century until the 1970s.[4] A junior synonym of H. minor is Phanourios minutus, named for the saint.[24]

See also


This article has an unclear citation style. The references used may be made clearer with a different or consistent style of citation and footnoting. (November 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
  1. ^ Boaz, Ciochon & Ciochon 2004, p. 4.
  2. ^ Sterckx 2008, pp. 357–394.
  3. ^ Shizhen 2021, p. 956.
  4. ^ a b c Geer & Michael 2008, p. 329.
  5. ^ a b MacFadden 1994, p. 52.
  6. ^ a b Simons & Ettel 1970, pp. 76–87.
  7. ^ Cartwright, Mark (2017-09-29). "The Dragon in Ancient China". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2023-10-20.
  8. ^ Wilson, J. Keith (1990). "Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia". The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art. 77 (8). Cleveland Museum of Art: 286–323. ISSN 0009-8841. JSTOR 25161297. Retrieved 2023-10-24.
  9. ^ Schmalzer 2008, p. 35-36.
  10. ^ Nappi 2009, pp. 57–59.
  11. ^ Shizhen 2021, pp. 522–523.
  12. ^ Nappi 2009, pp. 59.
  13. ^ McCormick & Parascandola 1981, pp. 61.
  14. ^ McCormick & Parascandola 1981, pp. 62.
  15. ^ Schmalzer 2008, p. 41-42.
  16. ^ Gretchen Vogel (13 November 2019). "'Dragon teeth' reveal ancient ape's place in primate family tree". science.org. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  17. ^ Xu 2002, p. 4.
  18. ^ a b MacFadden 1994, p. 5.
  19. ^ Shizhen 2021, p. 525.
  20. ^ Schmalzer 2008, p. 36.
  21. ^ Schmalzer 2008, p. 53.
  22. ^ McCormick & Parascandola 1981, pp. 60–61.
  23. ^ Moura, Geraldo Jorge Barbosa; Albuquerque, Ulysses Paulino (2012). "The First Report on the Medicinal Use of Fossils in Latin America". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012. Hindawi Limited: 1–5. doi:10.1155/2012/691717. ISSN 1741-427X. PMC 3182628. PMID 21969843.
  24. ^ Boekschoten G.J., Sondaar P.Y. 1972. On the fossil mammalia of Cyprus, I & II. Proceedings of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Series B), 75 (4): 306–38.

Works cited

Further reading