Alexander Dugin: NOOMAKHIA – The Noology of the Ancient Chinese Tradition

Author: Alexander Dugin

Translator: Jafe Arnold

Chapter 4 of Noomakhia – The Yellow Dragon: The Civilizations of the Far East (Moscow: Academic Project, 2018)


The Ontology of Breaths: The Yellow Dionysus

The Yin-Yang formula, its dimension given in the Tao, and its dispensation in the calendar and map of the five elements, taken together, describes the structure of the specifically Chinese ontology which fundamentally differs from all other ontologies. Chinese ontology is based on elements and approaches which correspond to a special noological model. The essence of this model lies in that it is not merely dominated by the Logos of Dionysus, but the Logos of Dionysus is the only known and accepted element within it, while all the other noological zones “undergo” this Chinese “Dionysianism” without ever acquiring autonomous fixation. Here, in the Ancient Chinese tradition, the Logos of Dionysus is complete, and the balance which constitutes its essence is unmoved in any direction of the other Logoi – neither towards Apollo, as is the case in the majority of Indo-European forms of Dionysianism [1] , nor in the direction of Cybele, as in many cultures of a chthonic and titanic orientation.[2] Yin-Yang and Tao cannot be correlated with the Platonic model of the Apollonian Logos, in which the center is eternal heaven and the middle level is the realm of living temporal phenomena, nor with the materialist doctrines of the Great Mother and Titanism, which fasten phenomena and things to the harsh sect of space and time or the figure of the material demiurge, i.e., the Black Logos of Cybele.

The Chinese Logos unfolds exclusively and absolutely in the middle sphere, in the intermediary world which is conceived as the main and only one. Neither Heaven and Yang nor Water and Yin, that is to say neither the Apollonian heights nor the Cybelean depths acquire autonomous ontologies or a particular Logos. There are no extremes, there is only the center between, which constitutes them over the course of a subtle dialectical game. The gods, people, the elements, Empires, rites, animals, luminaries, cycles, and lands all represent the unfolding of the middle Logos and are but traces of the dynamic, rhythmic pulsation of the Center always situated equally in the middle between two poles which are void of autonomous being and which intersect one another by virtue of great harmony. This middle world unfolding around the absolute center can be imagined as a ship which has raised the anchors tying it to Heaven and the Underworld. The phenomenal world of Yin-Yang ontology has no archetypal ideas and paradigms, nor does it hold material presence as a necessary condition for manifestation. Chinese ontology is principally and fundamentally light, as indicated by Marcel Granet in his term “the magic of breath.” We can thus speak of an “ontology of breaths” moving in a rich rhythm away from Heaven and the earthly Base in a free soaring. Heaven and the Underworld are contained within the Center and represent its projections, never completely detached from its viviparous matrix.

In its essence, this structure is remarkably reminiscent of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology which, as has been noted by numerous scholars, is either indicative of a similarity of approaches or the possibility that Heidegger himself borrowed a number of central motifs from Chinese philosophy (perhaps by way of Japanese culture in its Zen Buddhist version).[3] The Chinese Center, being neither above the world nor below the world, corresponds as accurately as is possible to the Heideggerian Dasein and its specific phenomenology which we have previously identified unequivocally as the Logos of Dionysus. Moreover, the Chinese tradition presents this point in a pure and extremely structured form which propels us to search for that Other Beginning of philosophy of which Heidegger spoke, and to turn to the “ontology of breathing” of Chinese culture.[4] Something similar as to the fundamental importance of Chinese philosophy to the reconstruction of the Primordial Tradition was expressed by René Guénon.[5]

If we correlate the peculiarity of the ontological zone of Dionysus in the Chinese tradition with the three states of consciousness of Indian philosophy, we can note that the intermediary, middle world corresponds to the realm of dreams. Above this world Hinduism places the world of the pure spirit (Svarga, Heaven, and kāraṇa-śarira, the “causal body”) and below it the images of corporeal forms (Bhur, Earth, and shthūla-śarira, the “gross body”).[6] On the basis of this model, the proposition can be made with regards to the existential peculiarity acting as the dominant of Chinese culture that Chinese culture is the culture of dreams, the field of the middle world in which Dasein resides in a state of intense rhythmic uncertainty or “subtle suspension” whose structure is organized along the rhythm of Yin-Yang. The “Yellow Dasein” is not merely sleeping, but excludes the very possibility of awakening. Awakening is conceived not as an alternative to sleep, but as a transition to another dream, just as winter transitions into spring.

Chinese thought rejects any exclusivity: slumber is not abolished by reality, but reality is included in slumber on equal grounds. Zhuangzi’s butterfly metaphor dreamed by Zhou thus acquires further meaning. If earlier we used the metaphor of sleep to describe transformation, then now this metaphor of transformation can be employed to describe the ontology of the dream. Transformation is a synonym for dreaming, and the dream is the common denominator of both sleeping consciousness and waking consciousness. The structures of many other cultures, particularly those of the monotheistic religions and the civilization of European Modernity, are based on the conviction that waking consciousness is the common denominator, that which exists always and “objectively” and whose conditions are merely cognized differently depending on whether a person is asleep or awake; if he is awake, then he perceives this “objective reality” in terms of contrast; if he is asleep, then he merely ceases to feel such, but this does not change “objective reality” itself. In this view, we are convinced that the only right judgement is one made by an awake person over a sleeping one, and by no means by a sleeping person over a wakened one. Hence why wakefulness is taken to be the common denominator of “reality.” But this is merely a property of the philosophy of the Great Mother and a form of her cultural domination which imposes its perception of things from precisely this angle. The Apollonian Logos (as in Platonism, the Avesta, and the Upanishads) sees the common denominator as the inner contemplation of ideas by consciousness, which can be clear in sleep but vague in waking and vice versa. The latter is of secondary importance, insofar as the most important of all is transcending sleep and and wakefulness to where resides being and that which resembles “reality” most of all (corresponding to the world of ideas or the enneads in Neoplatonism). The Chinese tradition, as the culture of the Yellow Dionysus, takes as its fulcrum not wakefulness and the worlds of eternal paradigms, but dreaming, which is “change” or “alteration”, in Chinese “i” . This “alteration” is the essence of Chinese existence. Yet this “change” is not “becoming” insofar as there is no goal, no accumulation or loss which would be asymmetric. Hence the idea that in each dynasty only one of five virtues could dominate – associated, once again, as always, with the five elements. The remaining four were always sent into exile into the periphery of China, where they remained until the dynasty exhausted its virtues and began to degenerate. Afterwards, a new virtue would be asserted in the Center along with a new dynasty, with the former sent into exile. Virtues, peoples, and elements – none of these and nothing whatsoever disappears; rather, everything is transformed, put to sleep, and awakened all in the structure of the multileveled, non-integrable equation of slumber and dreaming.

Hence the lightness of Chinese style in music, painting, language, and architecture. This is the lightness of transformations and dreams bearing their own precise order yet remaining fundamentally open to the infinite sets of saturated and unexpected variations. This is not the eternal return of the same (a la Nietzsche [7]), but the eternal return of something different every time and for all time.

The Experience of the Dragon

In the Chinese tradition, the figure of the Dragon (Lun ) plays a major metaphysical role. The Chinese theory of the five elements professes strictly correspondences to two types of animals: ordinary (the pig, dog, sheep, chicken, and cow) and sacred-mythological (the Black Turtle or Snake, the Yellow Dragon, the Red Phoenix, the Yellow Unicorn, and the White Tiger). If the ordinary animals are situated on the external border of the circle or square of the calendar-map, then the sacred animals belong to the realm beyond this border. Insofar as Chinese metaphysics does not allow transcendence in any form, this “beyondness” of the sacred animals is nevertheless included within the system of the Chinese worldview on the grounds that, while being outside the world, dragons and phoenixes are maximally distant from the Center, but still within the border. As a rule, the structure of the sacred combines within itself both the extremely distant and the extremely close, the extremely big and the extremely small.[8] Therefore, what is furthest from the Center still reveals its presence in the Center itself, albeit in its hidden dimension. This is what makes the Center sacred.

The circle of sacred animals is apportioned according to the logic of the five elements: the Black Turtle or Snake is associated with Water and the Underworld (the land of the Yellow Springs); the Yellow Dragon with Wood, the East, and the Spring Equinox; the Red Phoenix with the South and the Summer Solstice; the White Tiger with Metal, the West, and the Autumnal Equinox; and the Yellow Unicorn (qilin) with Earth and the Center. All of these sacred beings, however, are described as having a whole complex set of properties, such as horns, the tails of snakes or fish, wings, paws, scales, etc. In other words, all of them are pantheria, or “all-beasts” featuring elements of other animals. They are proto-animals, spirits, and sacred symbols containing the powers of the fivefold rhythm of the dispensation of Yin-Yang. In some sense, they might be called “gods” or “onto-logoi” insofar as they exhibit the most general synthetic powers conjugated with each of the elements; but as living and personified beings, they embody these powers in a concentrated form drawn towards a single pole. Appealing to the pantheria is a kind of spell of the elements which, in order for it to be possible to be evoked, must have personal traits.

In a narrow sense and in its most archaic roots, the Dragon represents the pantherion associated with the element of Water, i.e., it is an entity bearing the traits of both the snake, the fish, and the turtle. In this understanding, the Dragon was one of the pantheria or spirit-gods of Water, the Underworld, and the element of Yin symmetrically opposite to that of the Red Phoenix, i.e., the pantherion or spirit/god of Fire, Heaven, and Yang. However, this strict opposition, as reflected in the myth of the battle between the spirit of fire, Zhurong, and the spirit of water, Gong-Gong, was resolved in the deep dimension of the Chinese tradition in a Dionysian spirit, as the rhythmic circulation of the elements – Yin, Yang, and Tao – presupposes constant transformations. Thus, the sacred snake grew wings and gained the ability to soar to the Heavens, and the sacred bird acquired bestial paws and a fish tail as well as the ability to dive into rivers and seas. Thus was born the figure of Lun, the Dragon in the broadest sense so fundamental to China, as being able to be black (in the element of Water), green (in the element of Wood and Spring), red (in the element of Fire), white (in the element of Metal and Autumn) and, finally, yellow (in the element of Earth). The Yellow Dragon is situated in the Center: it makes the Center the Center. Thereby its primary image becomes the Yellow Unicorn, which bears all the characteristics of the Dragon. As follows, the Dragon Lun can be interpreted as the universal Chinese pantherion, the all-animal combining the characteristics of Yin-Yang, the five elements, as well as the extreme periphery and the most secret Center itself. The Dragon is a “god” in the Chinese context: it expresses the pure element of sacrality. The sacrality of the Yellow Dragon Lun lies at the heart of the cult of the Sacred Emperor, the worship of China as a special, sacralized territory, as the pole of the power of all the local cults of sacred mountains, rivers, and woods in which the Chinese fulfilled rites and ceremonies of the most different shades. Hence why the Emperor was believed to be the embodiment of the Dragon or the Son of the Dragon, and why legends frequently attribute the Emperors with being born from the Dragon, its traces, seeing it in dreams, contemplating it from a distance, and so on. China was conceived to be the Land of the Dragon, and the Chinese themselves as embodiments of the Dragon, the people of the Yellow Dragon. Although the connection between the Dragon and water, rain, floods, and riverbeds constituted one of its most stable traits, no less attention was paid to the Dragons’ flight, dances, battles, and invasions of human and political life. Some of the sacred Emperors of Ancient China bred Dragons, others ate dragon meat, still others tamed them. In any case, the Dragon Lun was the fundamental factor in the structure of the ontology of breaths.

If we turn to the ontology of dreams discussed above, we can determine the status of the Dragon in the Chinese picture of being. This status is supreme in all senses. The Dragon Lun is supremely “real”: it is a reliable, necessary, and evidential being and existence precisely by virtue of its embodiment of the quintessence of dreams: it is because it is a dream, and insofar as it is the most pure and full dream, it stands closest of all to the Tao, to the secret code of the ontological rhythm of Yin-Yang.

To understand China means to experience the Dragon and to become acquainted in practice with the structures of its oneiric presence.

It should be noted that in this context the Gestalt of the Dragon is fundamentally different from its interpretations in the structures of the Logos of Apollo and the Logos of Cybele. For Apollonian culture, the Dragon is always the enemy, the titan, a chthonic force of the Great Mother against which the solar god or hero wages an irreconcilable struggle. Here the Dragon is subject to radical exclusion and in this capacity is endowed with exclusively chthonic features embodying aggressive emancipated femininity and the Underworld rising up against Heaven. For the civilization of Cybele, the Dragon is accepted as a matriarchal figure, a consort of the Great Mother, as her offspring and partner. In the latter, the Dragon is associated with the generative function of Earth, water, and chthonic forces. Hence the legend of the Nagi princess who becomes the wife of the hero and the first king.

In the Chinese horizon, this connection between the Dragon and the chthonic layers of ontology radically changes. The Chinese Dragon is just as much Yin as it is Yang, just as chthonic as it is celestial; it is a Snake just as it is a Bird, and both of these sides are not merely assembled together, but rather precede any division. The Dragon is primordial to the serpent, the eagle, man, and spirit. The Dragon embodies the thinking, living being par excellence, at once phenomenal and ideal. In this lies the essence of the Yellow Dragon’s being fully identical to the Yellow Unicorn or Yellow Emperor, i.e., the figure of the Absolute Center.



[1] Hence why, in speaking of Indo-European cultures, religions, and philosophies, we have frequently used the expression “Apollo-Dionysian structure.”

[2] When it comes to the drift of the center towards Cybele, we are speaking of the “black double of Dionysus”, Adionysus and the Gestalt of the Titan.

[3] Ma Lin, Heidegger on East-West Dialogue: Anticipating the Event (London/New York: Routledge, 1996); May R., Heidegger’s Hidden Sources: East Asian Influences on His Work (London/New York: Routledge, 1996). That Heidegger was indebted to Japanese ideas was insisted upon by the Japanese philosopher and Sinologist Tomonubu Imamichi (1922-2012), who argued that Heidegger borrowed the notion of “being-in-the-world”, In-der Welt-Sein, from the Book of Tea of Okakura Kakudzō, in which he interpreted the ideas of the Taoist sage Zhuang. See: Tomonubu Imamichi, In Search of Wisdom: One Philosopher’s Journey (Tokyo: International House of Japan, 2004).

[4] See: Alexander Dugin, Noomakhia – The Three Logoi: Apollo, Dionysus, and Cybele (Moscow: Academic Project, 2014).

[5] Another example of the Other Beginning of philosophy outside of the context of the Western European tradition might be the thought of Nagarjuna, who committed to the radical pivot (Kehre) of the Buddhist tradition which, originally nihilistic, in Mahayana was raised to a non-dualist (Advaita) synthesis. See: Alexander Dugin, Noomakhia – Great India: Civilization of the Absolute (Moscow: Academic Project, 2017).

[6] See: R. Guénon, The Great Triad.

[7] In German: Die Ewige Wiederkunft des Gleichen.

[8] See: Alexander Dugin, Sociology of the Imagination: An Introduction to Structural Sociology (Moscow: Academic Project, 2010). 

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