Monthly Archives: August 2012

Chinese Dragons Part 3: The Dragon King’s Daughter

This story is based off of an old Chinese legend and play called Liu Yi and the Dragon Princess. I found it in a collection of old Chinese tales, but there are versions all over the internet, too.

 

As the story goes, Liu Yi was traveling across the countryside when he came across a lovely but sad girl tending a flock of sheep. She asked him to deliver a message to her father, the Dragon King, because she was unhappy with her cruel husband. Liu Yi was going to be passing through the area where her father’s lake home was, so he agreed. When he arrived at the lake the girl had described, he announced his arrival and was led down under the lake to the home of the Dragon King. The king and his court were sad about the princess’s plight, but tried not to make too much noise about it. If the king’s brother, Qiantang, were to hear of this, his temper might cause great disasters like the ones for which he was currently chained in his dragon form.

Qiantang did catch wind of what was going on, however, and broke free from his chains in a rage. Seeing the huge dragon roar through the halls badly frightened Liu Yi. He was quite relieved when Qiantang returned quietly in human form during a celebration for the princess (who had arrived home, free, in the meantime). The dragon lord seemed more polite then, but when the Dragon King interrogated him, he admitted that he had killed 600,000 people and destroyed 800 square miles of crops in his revenge on the princess’s cruel husband. Qiantang then suggested that Liu Yi marry the princess, but the poor young man was so afraid of receiving the same fate as the girl’s previous husband that he declined, soon leaving for home.

As soon as he left the abode of the Dragon King, Liu Yi regretted his choice. He missed the sweet, beautiful dragon princess. It was too late, though, so he married first one human wife, then another, only to have each die childless. Finally, he took a third wife, who soon became pregnant. Over time, he noticed how much she reminded him of the Dragon King’s daughter. After their son was born, she revealed to him that she was in fact the princess, but had been afraid to say anything sooner. He was as overjoyed to finally be with her as she was to find out that he had always loved her. When she shared her long dragon life span with him, they lived together in the kingdom of the Dragon King for many happy years.

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Chinese Dragons Part 2: The Water Dragon

In Chinese legend, dragons are the ones who provide rain and water to the people. As such, it becomes a problem when they withhold their favor or just plain go missing. Today, I’m sharing two versions of a story that tells what happens when a young boy finds a mysterious stone during a dragonless drought.

 

Version 1: The Water Dragon

One day, a young boy finds a strange red stone, which he puts in his rice jar. When it magically refills the rice, he decides to see if it will refill his coin box, too—and it does! The boy is kind and unselfish, so he uses the stones to help his neighbors, as well. There is just one problem—since around the time he brought the stone home, there has been no rain. The people need water badly. When the boy puts the stone in the water jar to try to help, the stone absorbs all the water instead of replacing it, and the boy doesn’t know what to do.

That night, he dreams of the water dragon that could save his people. Packing up some supplies and his stone, the boy starts a journey to find the dragon and ask for its help. As he searches, he meets a snake, a carp, a deer, and some eagles. He helps each of them out of a dilemma, and in return, they give him a gift (the fish’s scales, the deer’s horns, and so forth) that they say he will need later. Each also gives him the same warning: Beware of the greedy red monster.

Finally, up on a cliff, the boy finds a red monster, who tells him that he can’t find the dragon if he doesn’t have the dragon ball. When the boy holds up his red stone to ask if that is the dragon ball, the greedy red monster tries to steal it from him. In desperation, the boy swallows the stone and jumps from the cliff. In the waters at the bottom, the animals’ gifts all become a part of his body as he grows and changes. He has become the water dragon! After he drinks from the sea to satisfy his sudden terrible thirst, he flies back to his village and returns water to their rivers and wells. Thanks to the water dragon, the people have water once more.

 

Version 2: The Dragon’s Pearl

In this version of the story, the drought has been plaguing the land all summer. When a little boy finds a strange white stone that is keeping a patch of grass green, he brings it home and accidentally discovers that it refills his rice jar. He and his mother are excited, and use it to refill their coin and oil supplies, too.

When the neighbors find out, they are jealous. They try to take the stone from the boy, who puts it in his mouth to protect it. When he accidentally swallows it, he becomes so thirsty that he drinks up the whole river. Then, he begins to change. As his mother watches and cries, he becomes bigger and bigger—and scalier—until he ultimately becomes a dragon. The dragon turns around several times to look at his mother until finally disappearing into the mud. The drought ends, but the muddy river banks where the boy and his mother parted remain, and have been called “Looking at Mother Banks” ever since.

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Chinese Dragons Part 1: The Protector

Growing up in the Western tradition, I first knew of dragons as the Europeans saw them—fierce monsters who guarded great treasures and threatened human civilization. Later, when I hit a stage of science fiction/fantasy fandom, I saw them as intelligent, powerful creatures that could stand as either clever enemies or close friends and allies for humans. I left that obsession back with my teenage years, but now that I’m taking a new look at dragons for Dragon Crossing, I’m curious about another tradition: the Eastern one.

Red Dragon Flag

Can you see any of the nine animal elements in this dragon’s form?
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The most famous Asian dragon is the Chinese dragon, long viewed as a wise protector and bringer of good luck. Where Western dragons are greedy and cruel, Chinese dragons are generous, protecting, and even kind. Where the dragons of Europe are built like solid lizards with large wings, Chinese dragons are long, sleek, and able to fly with small-to-nonexistent wings.

The Chinese dragon is said to be a combination of nine other animals—it has the horns of a deer, the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the neck of a snake, the viscera (inner organs) of a tortoise, the claws of a hawk, the palms of a tiger, and the ears of a cow. Some variations list different animals, such as the fish, the ox, or the rabbit, as part the dragon’s form. Whatever it’s made of, though, the dragon will most often appear in human form when interacting with humans.

The dragons of China, with their ruling of the water and authority over the weather, were seen as powerful protectors, leading to many ceremonial rituals asking them for rain. Some of these rituals, like the dragon dance and dragon boat festival, are still celebrated today, though they have become less of a ritual and more of a cultural holiday.

Because Westerners like me are most familiar with the legends surrounding our European dragons (like Beowulf’s dragon or the tale of Saint George), I thought it would be interesting to look into just a few of the many stories of China’s dragons. It won’t just help in understanding the dragons—it will help in understanding another culture, too! Stories have always been my gateway into other places, whether real or imaginary, and it’s time now to step into the mind of ancient China. In my next two posts, I will be sharing two of the legends I have discovered.

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