Chinese Folktales: Lu-san, Daughter of Heaven

Kwan Yin by 6paramitasSource

Presented here is a retelling of Chinese folktale called Lu-san, Daughter of Heaven from a compilation by Norman Hinsdale Pitman called, A Chinese Wonder Book and Illustrated by Li Ch-T’ang.  The goddess known as Kwan-yin is also known as Guanyin and several other names that vary with country and region and its use here follows that of Pitman.

Lu-san, Daughter of Heaven

Out of dirt spring flowers; out of mud comes goodness and along the Great River in rickety, beaten-up boats lived the boat-people. The land all around was owned by landlords who charged high rents for homes.  Not everyone could afford such rents and such people constructed rickety boats that they moored to the river bank. The boats served as a home and a means to earn a meagre living catching fish which they ate or if there was surplus, sold in the city nearby.  It was a hard and miserable existence living from day to day with no hope of betterment. Although everyone tried hard to maintain their dignity and faith sometimes one or two failed and acted in unworthy ways.

It is in this setting we find a young girl named Lu-san who lived with her parents and four brothers in a boat moored on the Great River.  As usual, she had gone to bed hungry with no supper because there was no food to be had.   Although  she was famished, it was not food that she hungered most for, it was love.  At night she cuddled up close to her brothers but they pushed her away so even in sleep she was denied the affection she desperately sought.  In her short life all she had known was scorn and hard words from her family and she longed so much for warmth and affection. She could hear the water gently lapping against the boat and usually it sent her to sleep, but not this night.

Perpetual Struggle

Her father was a fisherman and all his life had lived on a knife edge barely surviving the grinding poverty while struggling to provide for his family.  He had become cold, devoid of emotion and wicked; hardened by the perpetual struggle to survive. He lost his faith, lost his dignity and lost his love for his wife and children and treated them cruelly. He blamed them for his lot in life but little Lu-san he treated worse of all.  He had threatened to drown all of his children in the past to be free of the responsibility of bringing them up and it was only his fear of the mandarin who administered the area that prevented him. His wife and his four sons had caught his affliction and they also treated poor Lu-san badly seeking to deflect his wrath from them to her.

It has to be said that her mother was almost as bad as her father.   She too was cold, impatient and cruel to the children always joining in when her husband berated them.  For some unknown reason both mother and father resented and even hated Lu-san more than her siblings and she always bore the brunt of their wrath.  Her parents had no love in them at all and Lu-san yearned to be taken into the arms of someone warm, kind and caring and cuddled like she had seen other parents do with their children.  It never happened. Instead of warmth and love she received nothing but hard words and beatings from her own parents who, sinking to undreamed of depths of depravity, had made plans to be rid of their little girl. 

Fear in the Night

On this night as she lay in bed below deck after another miserable and lonely day to her horror  she heard her parents talking above her on deck.“It will be alright.  We have a new mandarin and  he will be too busy administering for the emperor and will never find out,” said her father.

“The  girl is always in the way – always  in the wrong place and our boat is too small and she is growing and eats as much as the boys.  We will be better off without her,” replied her mother.

“That is true,” replied her father, “the sooner it is done the better!”
“Yes, but wait until the moon has  gone down then do it,” said her mother.
“As soon as the moon has gone down we will do it! Let us sleep until then …” replied her father.

Lu-san’s heart began to beat fast and fear washed over her as she realised they were talking about her.  She had no doubt what her parents meant to do and prayed to her goddess for guidance. As soon as she heard them snoring on deck above her she quickly and quietly dressed herself and carefully and silently climbed up the ladder to the deck above.  She had but one thought in her mind and that was to escape. She did not take any extra clothes or food because there was none. All she wanted to do was escape as quickly as possible without disturbing her sleeping parents.

Escape  in the Dark

The only single thing she took with her along with the rags that clung to her body was a small soapstone statuette of the goddess Kwan-yin.  She had found it one morning as she walked on the dried mud along the river shore. It had caught her eye as it stuck out of the dirt like a flower.  Throughout her few years of life this had been her sole treasure, the only plaything she had ever possessed that was hers alone. She knew if her mother or father ever found it they would beat her for not handing it to them and take it away and sell it.  Therefore, she kept it hidden close to her heart and she cherished this small image of Kwan-yin more than gold or jewels. She had listened to stories from an old priest and learnt that Kwan-yin was the Goddess of Mercy and cared for women and children who could pray to her in troubled times.  Lu-san had prayed to her often.

Like a small ghost she flitted silently across the deck and stepped on to the bank.  The moon had gone down, the air was cold and she could hear the frogs croaking. Without  looking back she ran silently along the shore. Each time she heard someone she hid in the shadows until they had gone and then ran on keeping her nerve.  The only time she was afraid was when a large dog ran snarling at her but stopped short to look at her and sniff before running off in the opposite direction.

She had not had time to make a plan  but she thought it likely that if her parents found her gone they would be only too glad and not come after her.  It was not her parents she feared but some of the boat people who if they caught her might sell her to the city folk as a servant. She had heard tell of some of the dreadful things that happened to those children who they caught and sold.  That was why she feared the boat people and ran as fast as her legs would carry her past the line of tied up boats along the river shore.

She wanted to flee the  cold, dark river and find her way to the sunshine lands which she loved. Carefully and quietly she ran as fast as she could past the last of the boats until she was a long way beyond them and completely alone in the dark.  At last her legs gave way and she fell in a heap on the dirt and hard baked mud breathless and lay on her back looking up at the stars that sprawled and glittered across the dark sky.  

Looking up at the vastness of the sky and the multitude of glittering stars she was struck by how small and insignificant she was and a great feeling of loneliness washed over her.  Now she had no siblings, no parents and no friends in the world. Indeed she had never had a friend or a playmate and now she lay alone in the darkness under the stars overwhelmed by the magnitude of the universe.  She knew the city was not far away with all its great buildings, multitudes of people and the roaring of voices. She felt inside her ragged clothing and pulled out the little statuette of Kwan-yin and clutching it to her small, lonely heart, whispered a childish prayer  and cried herself to sleep.

Kwan-yin

Awaking with a start she found a strange person standing over her looking down at her.  She saw it was a beautiful woman dressed in the most gorgeous clothes she had ever seen in her life.   Such clothes could only have been worn by a princess or someone very special. The woman stood tall and erect in the dirt and hard-baked mud of the river shore like a beautiful flower in the dark. As Lu-san gazed at the lovely face and looked into those deep, dark, eyes she was suddenly conscious of her own rags and impoverishment.  Embarrassed at her own condition she shrank away fearing that this perfect being would touch her and soil their own perfection.

Strangely,  she was overcome by the impulse to throw herself into the arms of this most perfect of women and beg her for mercy.  It was only the fear that she might vanish before her eyes that stopped her.  Therefore, slowly she held out the little statuette of Kwan-yin to the woman and said, “You must be  the most beautiful princess in the world!  This must belong to you. Please take it I found it in the dirt and mud.  It is all I have ever had, but please take it!”

The princess bent down and gently took the statuette and looked at it with great interest then smiled and said, “And do you know who it is that you are giving this statuette to?”

“I do not know,” replied  Lu-san, “I found it in the dirt and mud by the river.  All I know is that it is all I have ever had in the world and that you are so beautiful that it must surely belong to you.  Please take it.”

To little Lu-san’s  surprise and delight a wonderfully strange thing happened which she had never experienced before. The graceful, elegant lady bent her body towards her holding out her arms in invitation to the ragged and bedraggled little girl.  Lu-san hesitated for a second and then with a cry of sheer joy threw herself into the arms of the lady who took her up and whirled her around holding her close to her. At last little Lu-san had found the love that she had yearned  for so long and she clung to the lady who kept her in a tight embrace.

“My child, do you know who this statuette represents that you have kept so carefully, so lovingly and have given to me so unselfishly without a second thought?” asked the lady quietly.

“Yes, I do,” she replied, “It is the loving goddess Kwan-yin who loves and looks after children and women.”

“And this goddess looked after you  and kept you safe did she?” asked the lady flushing slightly at the innocence of the child.

“Indeed she did, for without her I would not be here with you now.” replied little Lu-san earnestly, “Indeed, without her I would not have escaped my father and mother tonight and would certainly have been killed.  It was the good lady that listened to my prayer and told me what to do.”

“So now that you have escaped, where will you go and what will you do in the world all alone? Where will you live – how will you survive?  Do you not fear to walk in the dark alone?” asked the lady.

“No, no, I have  no fear for the blessed goddess is with  me and will protect me. She has heard my prayers and shown me how to escape and she will show me how to live in the great big world.  She will keep me safe,” replied Lu-san as she cuddled  the lady.

The lady responded warmly to Lu-san who believed she must be in heaven.  She did not see the lady look upward to a certain star and catch its light in her eye.  She did not see a glistening tear roll from the lady’s eye and down her cheek. She did not feel it fall gently upon her forehead because she was sound asleep in the arms of her guardian and knew nothing of the gentle rain that fell from the stars that night.

The Next Morning

In the morning a ray of sunlight found its way through the warped and cracked planks to slip below the deck of her father’s rickety boat to where Lu-san was still sleeping.  As it touched her face she awoke to find herself all alone in her bed. Despite her terror the night before she now experienced no fear at all to be so close to where her parents were. 

She did not know that as she lay asleep her parents had crept down the ladder from the deck and up to the bed of their sleeping daughter.   She did not know they had crept silently to her side intending to grasp and throttle. She did not know of the strange and shocking thing had happened as she slept.  As her father had reached for her throat and her mother to pin her arms a disembodied voice cried out,

“On your knees! Do not dare threaten harm to one who has caused the tears of the great goddess  Kwan-yin to flow! Know that when Kwan-yin weeps the gods themselves weep with her! If you ever try and hurt this child again you will burn forever!  Know this – out of dirt spring flowers – out of mud comes goodness!”

With that her mother and father fell on their knees before their sleeping daughter and as they did so they felt a thousand red hot needles pricking into every part of  their bodies. The terrible sensation lasted but a few seconds and then their heads were forced down until their foreheads touched the wooden floor before their sleeping daughter and the terrible voice spoke again,

“Now swear obseiance to Lu-san and leave her to rest.  Go and await for this Daughter of Heaven to awake and then you will serve her faithfully!”

Her terrified parents crawled painfully across the wooden planks of the floor and up the ladder to wait on deck for their daughter to awake.  They gathered their sons together and huddled in a corner seeking shelter from the cold drizzle which now fell from the sky upon them.

The  Transformation

Below deck Lu-san gently awoke and lay listening and heard low voices talking on deck just above her head.  Unusually their voices did not sound harsh and cruel, instead they spoke in hushed tones as if not wishing to disturb the peace of their sleeping daughter.

“What happened?” asked her father trembling, “Did you hear that terrible voice?  Did you feel the burning needles?”

“I did feel those burning needles and heard that terrible voice,”  replied his wife, “It could  only have been the gods warning us!”

“Yes, it must have been the gods,” replied her husband, “but it is strange now that I think about it how we came to hate our daughter, for I now see how wrong and wicked we are.”

“Indeed, I do not know what happened to us.  We must have been blind that we could not see her goodness, our hearts numb that we could not feel her love.  We must be evil indeed and the gods will rightly punish us for our wickedness!” replied his wife.

As she listened to her parents she experienced great love welling up in her heart for them and rose  from bed . She decided that she would tell them she loved them despite their evil treatment of her and no matter what they did to her.   Looking around for her ragged clothes she was surprised she could not find them but instead found carefully placed on one side of the bed the most beautiful clothes she had ever seen.  They were made of the finest silk and gaily decorated with birds and flowers and as there was nothing else for her to wear she slipped these on discovering they fitted perfectly.

As she dressed she glanced at her fingers and saw they were now long and elegant and her hands that had been rough and worn with work were now smooth and soft.  Looking around she found a pair of red silk slippers on the bed and put them on. As she did so she was astounded to see that her feet that had been blistered, cracked and calloused were now healed.  She had always walked barefoot having never had shoes and sliding on the slippers she stepped daintily across the rough wooden planks that made the floor. 

To her surprise wherever she placed her feet the planks transformed into smooth rich red polished flooring.  As she looked around at the rude wooden room below deck wherever her glance fell the rough walls appeared gaily decorated.  As she climbed up the old wooden ladder it transformed into a magnificent wooden stair and as she stepped on deck the drizzle stopped and the sun came out.  As she crossed the deck the rough boards transformed beneath her feet to beautiful polished wood and wherever she glanced around the rickety old boat transformed into magnificent ship with a full crew of sailors.

Looking around for her parents she found them huddled with her brothers in a corner.  They were trembling with fear at her approach and looked terrified. Her mother tried to speak but her mouth would not open.  Her father stared in awe at her and mumbled, “A goddess has come down from Heaven, have mercy on us!”  Her brothers hid their eyes in their hands as if dazzled and sheltered behind their parents.

Transformation  Complete

Lu-san paused before them her transformation complete  and said, “Mother, father, my brothers, do you not recognise me?  Father, mother, I am Lu-san your daughter. My brothers I am your sister. Do you not know me?”

Her father looked at her in fear and wonder and his cruel face took on a strange light, while his body trembled and shook.  To her surprise he knelt before her and bent his head so low he touched the deck with his forehead before her feet. Her mother and her brothers did exactly the same and then gazed in awe at her waiting for her to speak.

“Tell me father, tell me that you love me,  Tell me that you will not kill your only daughter,” said Lu-san.

“You must surely be a daughter of the gods,” murmured her father in a daze, “ but I … “  and could not continue.

“Have no fear! Tell me father,” she said gently.

“Yes, I do love you.  Can you ever forgive me?” he replied.

Lu-san stepped forward and placed her left hand on her kneeling father’s forehead and placed her right hand over the heads of her mother and brothers and said,

“Just as Kwan-yin, Goddess of Mercy, has smiled upon me and given me her blessing, I bestow upon you my father, my mother and my brothers my love and the love of heaven.  When the time comes that only love shall rule your hearts this ship will be yours and all that it carries and I will leave. Out of dirt springs flowers; out of mud comes goodness!”

As Lu-san had been transformed so too were her parents and her brothers.  From the poor wretched family that had struggled to make a living along the Great  River they began to enjoy peace and happiness. For her parents, especially her father it was not an easy transformation for the misery of the years had ingrained deep in him.  Every now and then he flew into a rage before quickly calming himself down to feel ashamed. Her mother too, still hurled the occasionally spiteful word or retort before suddenly thinking better and holding her tongue.  Nevertheless, although it was a slow and painful lesson they did learn that love was the way and thanked the mud and dirt of river life for the lesson they received from their daughter.

The family sailed the great ship up and down the Great River its company of sailors obeying Lu-san’s every command.  Wherever she told them to cast the nets they caught masses of the largest and best fish and sold them in the markets of the towns and cities along the Great River.  Soon Lu-san and her family were deemed to be among the wealthiest that lived and worked along the river.

A Flight of Doves

One fine day Lu-san led her family to a temple to celebrate the birthday of Kwan-yin.  As they returned and boarded the ship her father pointed to a spot in the sky just above the horizon, “What is that!” he exclaimed, “What manner of birds  are they that are flying this way?  What is it they carry?”

As the birds drew near they saw it was a flight of pure white doves carrying a strange object below them.    Her mother and father gazed in wonder and her brothers became excited and began to jump up and down. Lu-san just smiled serenely and remained calm and quiet as if she had been expecting the arrival of these birds.

“Look!” cried her father, “It is a flight of doves, but what is it they carry?”

As the flight of doves drew closer they saw that from their necks trailed golden ribbons. These were attached to a most wonderful chair that was as pure white as the doves and inlaid with gold and precious gems and floated  below the birds as they flew. The flight of doves flew to the ship carrying the chair below them and on reaching the ship paused their flight. Hovering over the deck they gently let the chair descend before Lu-san. She turned to her parents and brothers and kissing them goodbye seated herself in the wonderful chair.   As the doves rose in the air and carried the chair and Lu-san towards the heavens a voice was heard from the skies saying,

“So it is that Kwan-yin, Mother of Mercies rewards Lu-san. Daughter of the Earth she will be no longer.  Now she will take her place as a star in the Western Skies as a Daughter of Heaven. Lu-san, know this, those tears you brought from the eyes of Kwan-yin fell upon the dirt and dried mud and from the dirt sprang flowers and from the mud came goodness.”

© 18/092019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 18th, 2019 zteve t evans

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Chinese Mythology: The Eight Immortals

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The Eight Immortals – Public Domain

The Eight Immortals

In Chinese mythology, the Eight Immortal were a legendary group of eight individual beings who had transcended the human state to become endowed with divine and supernatural attributes or powers.  Each immortal is endowed with a power that can give life or help their fight against evil.  Most of the Eight Immortals were born during either the Tang or Song dynasties and venerated by Taoists and became popular in Chinese culture.  This work is a brief introduction to the Eight Immortals who were; He Xiangu, Cao Guojiu, Li Tieguai, Lan Caihe, Lü Dongbin, Han Xiangzi, Zhang Guolao and Zhongli Quan and concludes with an observation about their popularity.

He Xiangu

He Xiangu was the only known female member of the Immortals.  While Lan Caihe, another Immortal, is often depicted dressed as a young girl, or sometimes a young boy, making gender uncertain, that of He Xiangu is clearly female. He is her family name and her father was known to be He Tai and was thought have lived during the Tang Dynasty.  She is often depicted holding a lotus flower and a musical instrument called a sheng.  Sometimes she is accompanied by the Fenghuang a mythical bird that was said to reign over all birds.

According to legend when she was born she had six long hairs growing from her head which indicated her as special. When she reached the age of 14 or 15 years old she experienced a dream where a divinity instructed her to eat powdered mica to make her body become light and delicate and to give her immunity from death.  She followed these instructions and abstained from sex and cut down on her food intake becoming like a wraith.  During the reign  of  Emperor Zhongzong during the Tang Dynasty, she gained immortality and transcended to Heaven.

Cao Guojiu

According to tradition, Cao Gujiu was descended from Cao Bin a distinguished Chinese general who went to great lengths to avoid killing non-combatants and innocent people and discouraged looting and pillaging by his troops over his defeated enemies.  Cao Gujiu was believed to be the younger brother of Empress Cao, who was married to Emperor Renzong of the Song Dynasty.  Cao had a younger brother by the name of Cao Jingzh who abused his position who and was corrupt and bullied those below him.

The actions of his younger brother embarrassed and ashamed Cao and he begged him to stop but to no avail.  Cao would use his own fortune to try and make amends for the misdeeds of his brother.  His younger brother’s bad behavior had made him enemies at the court of the emperor and he was charged with abusing his power and position.  Cao was so ashamed of his brother that he resigned from his own position and became a recluse in the countryside.   While living as a recluse he met Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin who taught him the magical arts. After many years of practice and dedication to Taoist principles he transcended the human condition to become immortal.

Li Tieguai

Li Tiegua had a reputation of being irritable and bad-tempered but was seen as being compassionate and caring towards the poor, sick and those in need.   He carried a gourd in which he carried special medicine which he dispensed to those in need.  Li Tiegua is often depicted in a rather unattractive way as being an old man with a wispy beard and unkempt hair.  He used an iron crutch to aid his walking and was often depicted as a type of clown or beggar who used his powers to benefit those in need.  He could be found wherever the sick needed curing or the oppressed needed freeing.   Li had been the apprentice of Lao-Tzu the founder of Taoism.

Lan Caihe

The age and gender of Lan Caihe are not known for sure.  Lan can be depicted as either a boy or girl often in clothing that was worn by either sex and  often carrying a flower basket made of bamboo, or castanets of the same material.  According to legend Lan was carried to Heaven by a crane or a swan while in a drunken stupor. Lan and was said to have become an Immortal when five hundred years worth of magic was transferred him by Sun Wukong who was also known as the Monkey King.

eight_immortals_crossing_the_sea_-_project_gutenberg_etext_15250

The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea – Public Domain

Lü Dongbin

Lü Dongbin was said to have been born on the 14th day of the 4th month of the Chinese calendar.  When he was born the room was magically filled with a sweet fragrance.  According to tradition Lü Dongbin was a clever scholar and poet who was elevated to immortal status.  He is often depicted wearing the clothes of a scholar and carrying a sword on his back that he used to banish evil spirits. He was one of the most famous of the Eight Immortals and was especially revered by Taoists.

He was regarded as someone who was intelligent and scholarly with a strong desire to help others elevate their own spiritual growth but was seen as having certain character flaws. For example, he was known to be a “womanizer’ who was susceptible to getting drunk and he had bouts of anger, but he was also known for being a prolific poet.

Lü ‘s master was Chang An who put him through Ten Trials before he was told the secrets of life to become an Immortal.  He then improved upon the method so that more people could benefit which was considered to be his major contribution to the wellbeing of mankind and he strove to improve the health and life of many people.

Han Xiangzi

Han Xiangzi was a student of Lü Dongbi.  He is often seen in depictions holding a dizi, which is a kind of Chinese flute and was honored as the patron of flutists. He was believed to have composed a piece of music called Tian Hua Yin.  It is not known if Han Xiangzi actually existed at all but if he did he was thought to have been a grandnephew of an important scholar, poet, and politician by the name of Han Yu who was said to have dedicated three poems to him.

Zhang Guolao

Zhang Guolao was believed to have been a real historical figure and sometimes known as Zhang Guo.  He was thought to have lived from the about the end of the 7th century to about the middle of the 8th, living on Zhongtiao Mountain as a hermit at the time of the Tang Dynasty.

Zhang was a practitioner of necromancy and claimed he has been the Grand Minister to the legendary Emperor Yao in a previous existence.  He was known to enjoy drinking wine and made his own which was reputed to have medicinal and healing powers and greatly favored by others of the Eight Immortals.   Zhang was also a qigong master and was said to be able to abstain from food for many days existing only on small sips of his wine.

He had many special powers and was said to be able to turn invisible, drink poison without harm, make flowers wilt by pointing his finger at them and snatch birds from out of the sky.  In art, he is often depicted on the back of a white mule.  When the journey was over he would fold the mule up and place it in a box, or in his pocket for safe keeping.  When he needed the mule again he would he would pour water from his mouth onto it and the mule would regain its shape. His symbol was a fish-drum a kind of percussion instrument and sometimes he is shown with a peach or phoenix feather.

Zhongli Quan

Legend tells how when Zhongli was being born the room was filled with light and that he cried non-stop for seven days.  From this and because had was born with special physical features such as high cheeks and red lips, a square shaped mouth, deep-set eyes, long eyebrows wide ears, and a broad forehead he was known to be destined for greatness.  The first words he was said to have spoken  were,

 “my feet have wandered in the purple palace of the immortals, my name is recorded in the capital of the jade emperor.”

When he grew up he became a general and led his army against Tibet.  He was beaten in battle by the Tibetans and had to escape into the mountains.  He was found in the mountains by an old man who took him back to his spiritual sanctuary. The old man taught him alchemy and magical rituals and after three days of intensive teaching dismissed him telling him to go back into the world and use his powers to help people.  He left the sanctuary with a magical fan that could bring the dead back to life and turn stones into gold or silver and he used this to alleviate hunger and poverty wherever he found it.

There are two versions of how he finally achieved immortality.  The first tells how the frequent use of his magical powers and special fan to help people caused him to join the shimmering cloud and become immortal.   In the second he was meditating near a wall when it collapsed on top of him but behind the wall was a vessel of jade that bore him to the shimmering cloud to become one of the Immortals.

The Popularity of the Eight Immortals

Since ancient times the depiction of the Immortals in art has been popular with Chinese artists and the tradition was continued when Taoism flourished and they depicted the Immortals in their own style.  Perhaps their popularity was their association with prosperity and longevity but they were also the seen as the heroes of the general population who cured them of illness and disease, fought for them against oppression and taught them how to evolve spiritually to greater heights.

© 16/11/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright November 11, 2016 zteve t evans

 

 

The Dragon in Chinese Culture

The dragon has played an important part in Chinese culture for thousands of years and is central to many myths, legends and traditions. This article briefly looks at how the dragon evolved to become such an essential part of Chinese culture.

Dragon and armed warrior design. From the Chinese Western Han Dynasty – Public Domain

Dragons in Chinese legend

In China from the earliest of times the dragon has been regarded as a lucky creature, bestowing fortune and blessing upon the lives people.   There is an ancient tradition that the Chinese people are descended from the dragon and it is a belief that still found deeply rooted in Chinese culture and the thinking.   Unlike western societies where dragons are often seen as evil, the Chinese people revere the dragon for its majesty and gravity and for its beneficial properties

A national symbol

Over the centuries as different tribes strove and often went to war for control of China before finally unifying the country it became accepted as a unifying national symbol.    As such, great powers were bestowed upon it making it the god of thunder, rain, rainbow and the stars.

Ancient Chinese society was heavily dependent on agriculture and farm animals making it heavily dependent on getting not just rain, but the right amount of rain.   In some areas too much rain could be as detrimental as too little causing floods and crop failures.  As such the dragon became regarded as the basis for all that was favorable and positive for Chinese society

The Imperial dragon

Over thousands of years the dragon received increasing exaltation’s becoming regarded as the source of joy, prophecy and the miraculous. With the development of a feudal society, emperors equated themselves along side the dragon and expected their servants to do the same which made the dragon the restricted symbol of imperial power and magnificence.   It became that no one else could intentionally or otherwise use the dragon as a symbol on pain of death.

Metamorphosis of the dragon

In China, the visual form of the dragon has also undergone considerable metamorphosis over the ages gaining in power and beauty.   Ancient portrayals on bronze ware depict it as a mysterious creature of wild ferocity.  Later during the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC) it is depicted as something glorious though wild and untamed.  During the Tang Dynasty it was portrayed as being of a creature of mild disposition and controlled elegance.   During the Song Dynasty, and after, the dragon designs became finer with greater intricacy.

The colors of dragons

According to Chinese tradition dragons were different colors which signified their status.  Dragons could be blue black, white, red or yellow and it was the yellow dragon that was most sacred.   Chinese emperors would wear a gown with displaying a yellow dragon design.

Features of the dragon

Even though there are many different appearances of dragons that were depicted they all contain the same common features.  This is because the features are representing physical characteristics taken from other animals that are in turn representative of a desirable quality for humans.

For example, wisdom is represented in a dragon by giving it a  protruding forehead, while antlers are a sign of longevity.   Giving it the eyes of a tiger signifies it is powerful, while giving the claws of an eagle shows its bravery.    For flexibility the dragon is given the tail of a fish and for diligence it is given horse’s teeth.  In this way the dragon takes on numerous qualities that can be recognized in its form by humans.

The dragon today

Today the dragon is still an important part of Chinese culture with many myths and legends attached to it.   Public holidays to honor it are still enthusiastically observed such as Dragon Heads-raising Day, along with events such as the Dragon Boat Festival. The dragon dance is also still an important activity performed from the Spring Festival through to the Lantern Festival.

© 03/12/2012 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

This article was originally published on Triond titled The Dragon in Chinese Culture by zteve t evans – Copyright Dec 3, 2012 zteve t evans

The Origins of the Chinese Dragon Dance

The Chinese Dragon Dance is an extremely colorful and spectacular event that is traditionally performed at Chinese festivals around the word today. This article looks briefly at how it originated and evolved into the spectacular performances we see today.

A divine beast

In ancient Chinese culture the dragon was revered and venerated as a divine beast.  It was regarded as auspicious creature that brought good luck and enhanced the well being of people.   It became the symbol of honesty and decorum and was thought to control the waters of the earth especially rivers and the rainfall.

Chinese New Year celebrations

The Dragon Dance spectacularly expresses the vibrancy and energy associated with the dragon by the Chinese people.   This has become a popular celebration around the world where ever enclaves of Chinese people are found and is performed from the Spring Festival until the Lantern Festival and is the centre point of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

The Dragon Dance is also known as the ‘Dance of dragon lantern’ or as ‘Playing dragon lantern’.  Traditional dragons are constructed from bamboo, cloth and grasses and other materials found locally.  The dragon dance is a much-loved folk dance performed during the Spring Festival and the Festival of Lanterns.

Origins of the Dragon Dance

The Dragon Dance is generally believed to have originated in the time of the Han Dynasty (180-230 AD).  At the time, and still today, the Chinese people were very much an agrarian society depending for survival on their farming and agriculture for their daily needs.

Performing the Dragon Dance was a means of appeasing the dragon so that rain would fall in the right amounts for a good harvest and there would not be too much hot weather which brings drought, hunger and disease.    During the Song dynasty it had become more of a folk dance that was performed during the major festivals.

The dance is performed by a team of dancers who move in a flowing way in imitation of way the dragon causes a river to move.   The performers need to be very fit and move in a very coordinated way.  They need to time their movements perfectly as a mistake by one dancer can have a domino effect on the other dancers ruining the performance.

The Dragon Dance today

The Dragon Dance celebrates the old year’s ending and welcomes in the New Year bringing the people good luck and blessings and banishing evil spirits.

Today it is performed all around the world where ever Chinese immigrants have settled and is a spectacular highlight to their celebrations and also enjoyed by millions of other people who are not of Chinese origin.

© 04/12/2012 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

This article was originally published on Triond titled The Chinese Dragon Dance on Dec 4, 2012 by zteve t evans – Copyright December 4, 2012, zteve t evans

Legends behind the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon boat racing is a spectacular and exciting event and the highlight of the Dragon Boat Festival. In China and many other countries in south-east Asia, the Dragon Boat Festival, or more correctly the Duanwu Festival, is a traditional and national folk festival originating in China over 2000 years ago. It is one of the most popular and widespread of Chinese festivals and officially recognized. The festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth month by the Chinese lunar calendar and the last one was held on 5th May 2009, by western calendars.

Qu Yuan – Public Domain

The Legend of Qu Yuan

Its origins are shrouded in history and there are different theories on how it began. The most popular account is that it was derived from the remembrance of Qu Yuan, the great Chinese poet and patriot.

Qu Yuan was a loyal minister to Emperor Huai, in the state of Chu, between 475 BC and 221 BC, which was known as the Warring States period. He was much respected for his patriotism, wisdom and integrity.  Read more