By Jared Olar
It’s on the logo of the Pekin Police Department and it’s the school symbol and sports mascot of Pekin Community High School – a red dragon. How did the high school and the police department come to choose a dragon as logo and mascot?
The reason for the choice of a dragon is rooted in the city’s name, which, as we’ve discussed here before, is an older “Anglicized” form of Peking or Beijing, China’s ancient imperial city and modern capital. In origin our city’s dragon logo is the representation of a wingless Chinese dragon (or “lung”) – although the PCHS dragon’s form has varied greatly through the decades.
Pekin’s having been named in 1830 after China’s capital soon gave rise to a tradition of fanciful association with different aspects of Chinese culture. Thus, Pekin residents very early on took to calling their home “the Celestial City.” Later on Pekin’s professional minor league baseball team in the early 1900s was called the Celestials, and the old downtown Pekin Theater was decorated as a Chinese pagoda. Local businesses often used Chinese themes and written Chinese characters in their advertisements.
This tradition of fanciful association with China does not appear in Pekin high school’s earliest “Pekinian” yearbooks, but by the 1920s the occasional or rare drawing of someone or something Chinese begins to appear in the high school yearbook.
It wasn’t until 1937 that the classic PCHS logo of a Chinese wingless lung first appeared in the Pekinian. In that year and over the next few years the same logo was printed on the front cover of the yearbook. The same dragon logo also would be embossed on the high school gymnasium floor and painted on the side of PCHS buildings. This is the same period when the high school adopted “the Chinks” – an old colloquial and sometimes disparaging American slang term for Chinese persons – as the school symbol and team mascot.
For a few years in the 1940s, the PCHS dragon disappeared from the high school yearbook, but it reappeared on the cover and inside pages of the 1948 Pekinian. The 1948 Pekin yearbook depicted a traditional Chinese dragon, but one with small wings. The following year, a pencil sketch of a scene reminiscent of traditional Chinese art was printed in the yearbook – central to the scene was a large Chinese lung flying through the sky. Other Chinese-themed pencil sketches are found throughout the 1949 Pekinian.
The cover of the 1950 Pekinian, however, departed from the classical Chinese dragon tradition, instead featuring more of a cartoon-style European winged dragon. The class ring that year featured the same dragon representation as on the yearbook’s cover.
The PCHS dragon usually was not featured in or on the cover of yearbooks during the 1950s, but the dragon began to appear more frequently in the 1960s. It was in the 1965 Pekinian that Pekin’s long established tradition of Chinese-themed fancy reached its apotheosis. Not only did the yearbook feature the high school’s traditional Chinese dragon logo, but the cover drawing featured Chinese bamboo window blinds, and the sections of the yearbook were organized and titled according to traditional Confucian social classes. The yearbook staff perhaps had pulled out all stops that year to celebrate Pekin’s 1964 high school basketball state championship.
Four years later, the Pekin dragon reappeared on the 1969 yearbook cover as a classic Chinese lung within a gold-embossed medallion. The 1970 and 1972 yearbook covers had the same dragon in a gold medallion. Once only once more in the 1970s – in 1975 – did the PCHS dragon appear on the yearbook cover. That year it was a photograph of the old school logo painted on the side of a high school building.
Chinese themes grew more and more rare in the Pekinian during that decade, and during that time Chinese Americans visited Pekin to express their great offense at the use of “Chinks” as a team name, asking the school to choose a different mascot. The great majority of high school students and alumni favored keeping the name, but in 1980 District 303 Superintendent Jim Elliott decided, despite opposition, to retire the “Chinks” mascot permanently. He retained the Pekin dragon, however, and the cover of the 1981 Pekinian sported a photograph of the new PCHS dragon mascot costume at a basketball game.
In the 37 years since then, the PCHS dragon has frequently appeared in and on the cover of the yearbook – but as a rule he takes the form of a classic European fire-breathing winged dragon, not a Chinese lung. The old school logo of the Chinese lung – which debuted on the cover of the 1937 Pekinian – may still be seen at the school and the stadium, and even appeared on the one of the pages of the 2011 Pekinian. This year’s Pekinian cover shows a European dragon amidst flames.
Below is an extensive gallery of images showing examples of the PCHS dragon through the decades: