The dragon is one of the four Chinese spiritual animals. The others are the Phoenix, unicorn and the tortoise. As protectors of the four directions or, cardinal points of the compass, they are the red bird, white tiger, dragon, tortoise.
Much has been made of the distinguishing characteristics of the various Asian dragons. There is an iconographic convention in which the common dragon is four-clawed, the five-clawed one is the celestial one that is the Chinese Imperial emblem, and the colonial type such as the Japanese one is shown with only three.
The image of a dragon, its face of mask or an abstract design representing its serpentine form is generally used as a protective mark.
In the Tibetan tradition, the turquoise dragon is said to protect against discord of all types but especially slanderous gossip and the misuse of words. Dragons often appear on metal musical instruments such as bells, gongs and the small cymbals that can serve to represent the music offering on a Buddhist shrine. This may relate to the roar of righteous indignation of the protective dragon but also to its legendary love of music.
They are also often found in architecture where they protect against fire and earthquakes. Their image functions as a kind of amulet or talisman of security so they are found at the bases of monuments, on bridges and on the eaves of roofs.