Myths and Legends of China

Page: 96

The Prince’s Dream

The two dragons then transformed themselves into an old man and an old woman, went to the chamber of the Prince, who was asleep, and appeared to him in a dream. Kneeling before him, they cried: “O Lord of a Thousand Years, we have come before you to beg leave to retire from this place, and to beseech you out of your great bounty to give us permission to take these two baskets of water with us.”

The Prince readily assented, little dreaming of the danger he was incurring. The dragons were highly delighted, and hastened out of his presence; they filled the baskets with all the water there was in Peking, and carried them off with them.

When the Prince awoke he paid no attention to his dream till he heard the report of the scarcity of water, when, reflecting on the singularity of his dream, he thought there might be some hidden meaning in it. He therefore had recourse to the packet again, and discovered that his dream-visitors had been dragons, who had taken the waters of Peking away with them in their magic baskets; the packet, however, contained directions for the recovery of the water, and he at once prepared to follow them.

The Pursuit of the Dragons

In haste the Prince donned his armour, mounted his black steed, and, spear in hand, dashed out of the west gate of the city. He pressed on his horse, which went swift as the wind, nor did he slacken speed till he came up with the water-stealing dragons, who still retained the forms in which they had appeared to him in his Page 234dream. On a cart were the two identical baskets he had seen; in front of the cart, dragging it, was the old woman, while behind, pushing it, was the old man.

An Unexpected Flood

When the Prince saw them he galloped up to the cart, and, without pausing, thrust his spear into one of the baskets, making a great hole, out of which the water rushed so rapidly that the Prince was much frightened. He dashed off at full speed to save himself from being swallowed up by the waters, which in a very short time had risen more than thirty feet and had flooded the surrounding country. On galloped the Prince, followed by the roaring water, till he reached a hill, up which he urged his startled horse. When he gained the top he found that it stood out of the water like an island, completely surrounded; the water was seething and swirling round the hill in a frightful manner, but no vestige could he see of either of the dragons.

The Waters Subside

The Prince was very much alarmed at his perilous position, when suddenly a Buddhist priest appeared before him, with clasped hands and bent head, who bade him not be alarmed, as with Heaven’s assistance he would soon disperse the water. Hereupon the priest recited a short prayer or spell, and the waters receded as rapidly as they had risen, and finally returned to their proper channels.

The Origin of Chên-shui T’a

The broken basket became a large deep hole, some three mu (about half an English acre) in extent, in the Page 235centre of which was a fountain which threw up a vast body of clear water. From the midst of this there arose a pagoda, which rose and fell with the water, floating on the top like a vessel; the spire thrusting itself far up into the sky, and swaying about like the mast of a ship in a storm.

The Prince returned to the city filled with wonder at what he had seen, and with joy at having so successfully carried out the directions contained in the packet. On all sides he was greeted by the acclamations of the people, who hailed him as the saviour of Peking. Since that time Peking has never had the misfortune to be without water.

The pagoda is called the Pagoda on the Hill of the Imperial Spring (Yü Ch’üan Shan T’a; more commonly Chên-shui T’a, ‘Water-repressing Pagoda’).3 The spring is still there, and day and night, unceasingly, its clear waters bubble up and flow eastward to Peking, which would now be a barren wilderness but for Yen Wang’s pursuit of the water. Page 236