Myths and Legends of China
Page: 83shang yang, which can change its height at will and drink the seas dry. The following legend is related of this bird.
The One-legged Bird
At the time when Hsüan-ming Ta-jên instructed Fei Lien in the secrets of magic, the latter saw a wonderful bird which drew in water with its beak and blew it out again in the shape of rain. Fei lien tamed it, and would take it about in his sleeve.
Later on a one-legged bird was seen in the palace of the Prince of Ch’i walking up and down and hopping in front of the throne. Being much puzzled, the Prince sent a messenger to Lu to inquire of Confucius concerning this strange behaviour. “This bird is a shang yang” said Confucius; “its appearance is a sign of rain. In former times the children used to amuse themselves by hopping on one foot, knitting their eyebrows, and saying: ‘It will rain, because the shang yang is disporting himself.’ Since this bird has gone to Ch’i, heavy rain will fall, and the people should be told to dig channels and repair the dykes, for the whole country will be inundated.” Not only Ch’i, but all the adjacent kingdoms were flooded; all sustained grievous damage except Ch’i, where the Page 207necessary precautions had been taken. This caused Duke Ching to exclaim: “Alas! how few listen to the words of the sages!”
Ma Yüan-shuai is a three-eyed monster condemned by Ju Lai to reincarnation for excessive cruelty in the extermination of evil spirits. In order to obey this command he entered the womb of Ma Chin-mu in the form of five globes of fire. Being a precocious youth, he could fight when only three days old, and killed the Dragon-king of the Eastern Sea. From his instructor he received a spiritual work dealing with wind, thunder, snakes, etc., and a triangular piece of stone which he could at will change into anything he liked. By order of Yü Ti he subdued the Spirits of the Wind and Fire, the Blue Dragon, the King of the Five Dragons, and the Spirit of the Five Hundred Fire Ducks, all without injury to himself. For these and many other enterprises he was rewarded by Yü Ti with various magic articles and with the title of Generalissimo of the West, and is regarded as so successful an interceder with Yü Ti that he is prayed to for all sorts of benefits. Page 208
2 In Sagittarius, or the Sieve; Chinese constellation of the Leopard.
Myths of the Waters
The dragons are spirits of the waters. “The dragon is a kind of being whose miraculous changes are inscrutable.” In a sense the dragon is the type of a man, self-controlled, and with powers that verge upon the supernatural. In China the dragon, except as noted below, is not a power for evil, but a beneficent being producing rain and representing the fecundating principle in nature. He is the essence of the yang, or male, principle. “He controls the rain, and so holds in his power prosperity and peace.” The evil dragons are those introduced by the Buddhists, who applied the current dragon legends to the nagas inhabiting the mountains. These mountain nagas, or dragons (perhaps originally dreaded mountain tribes), are harmful, those inhabiting lakes and rivers friendly and helpful. The dragon, the “chief of the three hundred and sixty scaly reptiles,” is most generally represented as having the head of a horse and the tail of a snake, with wings on its sides. It has four legs. The imperial dragon has five claws on each foot, other dragons only four. The dragon is also said to have nine ‘resemblances’: “its horns resemble those of a deer, its head that of a camel, its eyes those of a devil, its neck that of a snake, its abdomen that of a large cockle, its scales those of a carp, its claws those of an eagle, the soles of its feet those of a tiger, its ears those of an ox;” but some have no ears, the organ of hearing being said to be in the horns, or the creature “hears through its horns.” These various properties are supposed to indicate the “fossil remnants of primitive Page 209worship of many animals.” The small dragon is like the silk caterpillar. The large dragon fills the Heaven and the earth. Before the dragon, sometimes suspended from his neck, is a pearl. This represents the sun. There are azure, scaly, horned, hornless, winged, etc., dragons, which apparently evolve one out of the other: “a horned dragon,” for example, “in a thousand years changes to a flying dragon.”
The dragon is also represented as the father of the great emperors of ancient times. His bones, teeth, and saliva are employed as a medicine. He has the power of transformation and of rendering himself visible or invisible at pleasure. In the spring he ascends to the skies, and in the autumn buries himself in the watery depths. Some are wingless, and rise into the air by their own inherent power. There is the celestial dragon, who guards the mansions of the gods and supports them so that they do not fall; the divine dragon, who causes the winds to blow and produces rain for the benefit of mankind; the earth-dragon, who marks out the courses of rivers and streams; and the dragon of the hidden treasures, who watches over the wealth concealed from mortals.