Chinese Ancient Tales (2)
                                                   YU THE GREAT SUBDUES ( Da Yu Zhi Shi )

It is not clearly known how many years passed after Nuwa had patched up the sky with melted coloured stones (Cf. Nuwa Bu Tian) when trouble broke out again. Gonggong, God of Water and Thunder, defeated in a power struggle against Zhuanxu, knocked himself against the Buzhou mountain in a burst of anger. The pillars on that Mountain which supported the vault of heaven broke again. As a result, heaven tilted to the northwest and the sun, the moon and the stars were set in motion; the earth sank in the southwest, causing a great flood. Once more, great misery befell the people.

A superman by the name of Gun, in commiseration with the sufferings of the people, tried to contain the flood. He stole God's "inexhaustible earth" with which to block the water and dam it up. Not only did he fail, but for his offence, he was executed by God's order. After his death, Yu, our hero, was born out of his abdomen.

When Yu grew up, he carride on his father's unfulfilled task, fighting against the Great Flood in the face of untold difficulties. For thirteen arduous years he travelled everywhere, devoting himself so conscientiusly to his work that "wind was his hair-comb and rainfall his bath" and "three times he passed the door of his house without going in".

Drawing a lesson from his father's failure, he used methods of channelling and dredging and finally successded in subduing the Great Flood. He did so much for the people that the reigning Emperor Shun asked him to take over the throne. (Incidentally, his son Qi became the second emperor of the first hereditary dynasty, the Xia, by which name China is still accasionally referred to by writers in the classical style.)

Yu the Great is the personification of wisdom, perseverance and selfless devotion and, as such, he makes a popular theme for artistic creations.

                                              HOUYI SHOOTS DOWN THE SUNS ( Houyi She Ri)

Houyi, leader of a tribe and a superb archer, is one of the heroes in Chinese mythology, like Yu the Great.

In the remote past , it is said , there were ten suns in the sky, veritable burning fires which scorched the plants , the grass and the woods . Nothing could grow and there was great famine . On top of this , smakes and beasts roamed everywhere, endangering the people.

In view of this , King Yao presented Houyi a strong bow and sharp arrows with orders to shoot down the suns and kill the beasts to rescue the people from their misery.

Houyi defied all difficulties to carry out this order, and succeeded in shooting down all the surplus suns and finishing off the ferocious animals. Since then , there has been only one sun shining in the sky , making for a temperate climate, exuberant vegetation, fine harvests and consequently general well-being. His immortal feats for the people and for posterity won Houyi universal admiration and support..

This popular myth symbolises the people's aspiration for power to bring the natural element under conrtrol.

                                                   Jing Wei Filling up the Sea (Jingwei Tian Hai )

Nuwa, daughter of emperor Yan in pre-historic China, drowned in the sea while swiming. Her ghost, according to an ancient myth, resolved to avenge her death by filling up the sea.

Her spirit changed itself into a small bird with a multi-coloured head, while bill, red feet and black feathers. As she flew she chirped "jingwei, jingwei", which became her name.

All she did, day and night, was carry pebbles and things in her bill from the West Mountain and drop them into the East Sea in an unremitting effort to fill it up.

She is still at it, if the myth is to be believed. For the sea is still there.

The staunch little bird has been sung by great poets of past ages and repeatedly depicted by artists of various genres down to this day. The story of Jingwei Tian Hai has become an inspiring symbol of dogged determination.

                                                        GOD OF LONGEVITY (Lao Shouxing )

This figure of an old man is frequently seen in paintings and sculptures, which were often used as birthday presents, as it symbolies the human wish for a long life. But there are different interpretations as to who the god was.

One versions says that he was Laozi, alias Li Dan, who was already three hundred years old at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty and who served as offical historian to the throne for 276 years. Another source claims that he was born even before heaven and earth were created and lived through the ages of the "Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors" down to the Zhou dynasty. Yet a third source records simply that he was a native of Kuxian county in the state of Chu during the Spring and Autumn Period.

All accounts, however, seem to agree on his appearance and character. He is distinguished by large, protruding forehead which is deeply lined and crowned with white hair; also by big ears, long eyebrows, and a square mouth with thick lips. He had a quiet and tranquil character, indifferent to fame and gain, free from cares and worries. He was in favour of everything following its natural course, and opposed to all expressions of affectation and artificiality. In the running of a state, he advocated doing nothing that went against nature. He is said to have sought and studied the way of Illumination in the Kunlun Mountains. He worte the Tao Te Jing, a Taoist classic, and was later considered to be the founder of Chinese Taoism.

As he lived an almost interminable long life, he has been popularly known as "Laozi" (the very old one) or "Lao Shouxing" (the old undying star), the Chinese name for the star Canopus.

Another version says Lao Shouxing was a totally different man by the name of Peng, generally known as Peng Zu or Old Men Peng. This legend claims that at the end of the Yin dynasty (11th century B.C) he was already 767 years old but showed no signs of senility. He is also said to be of a quiet nature, not interested in worldly affairs but devoted to physical self-cultivation.

When offered a high government post by the king, he declined it. On the pretext of illness, he managed to keep himself out of officialdom and politics. A stay-at-home, he rarely ventured out, and when on occasion he did, he would go on foot and alone, wandering about without any definite aim or destination.

He developed a whole set of indoor exercise--meditation, deep-breathing and massage--not only to keep fit but to cure himself of occasional ailments or feelings of discomfort. When kings and princes asked him to teach them the secret of long life, he would refuse; their donations of gold and jewelry, he would accept, passing them on to the needy and poor without keeping any for himself.

He said he had no father when he was born, lost his mother when he was three, lived through more than a century of war, chaos and exile in the western region, and survived 49 wives and 54 sons. Not entirely free from sorrows and troubles, he complained that was why he had died "young" at the age of eight hundred years, when his life was cut short after only a brief span.

The name "Peng Zu" came to be synonymous with "longevity" in later ages.

                                                     THE NYMPH OF THE RIVER LUO (Luo Shen)

Luo Shen is mythical figure of ancient China. She became popularly known because of a poem, Ode to the Nymph of the River Luo (Luo Shen Fu), composed by Cao Zhi of the Three Kingdom period.

It is said that she was Mifei, the daughter of Emperor Fuxi of prehistorical legends, and became a nymph after she drowned in the Luo River. (This river flows through Shaanxi and Henan provinces and the tourist town of Luoyang.).

A goddess of peerless beauty, she is, in the words of Cao Zhi's poem, as "elegant as a startled swan and supple as a swinning dragon." Light of carriage and attractive in appearance, she looks from a distance like the red sun carried up by the morning glow and, from nearby, like the lotus freshly borne out by the clear waters. She is of medium stature, between plump and thin, slender of shoulders and waist, fair and clear of complexion. Her tresses are coiffured like clouds over a pair of long, graceful brows. She has white teeth inside a pair of crimson lips, With eyes limpid as autumn waters, her face carries a faint smile vaguely suggested by her dimples. refined in bearing, she is gentle and tender. Attired in a gorgeous costume and swaying skirt of silk gauze, she is crowned with a gold coronet set off by jade ornaments, radiating magnificence and fragrance. On an excursion outside her palace gates she is flanked by colourful banners and fluttering standards and followed by a cortege of graceful ladies in-waiting, she rides in a cloud-borne chariot drawn by a team of six dragons, with sea birds hovering about in escort.

She seem to be going ahead, or is it that she has stopped and wants to turn back? She appears about to say something but has not yet uttered a word. Looking around, she is full of a subtle longing and affection.

A personality unparalleled on earth or in heaven, she is as tantalizing as affection.

It is in an effort to catch this grace, this subtle, exquisite quality that artists have used heer as a source of inspiration for paintings, shell carving pictures, inlaid or carved screens. Their masterly execution generally succeeds in winning appreciation.

                                     THE ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS ( San Guo Yanyi )

The classical historical novel San Guo Yanyi (or Romance of Three kingdoms) by Luo Guanzhong (14th century) covers the period 220-280, known in Chinese history as the Three Kingdoms period.

When the degenerating Eastern Han dynasty was shaken by the uprising of the Yellow Turbans, great confusion reigned in China with local governors and landlords fighting for control of the country. Finally three leaders emerged:

Cao Cao, leader of the Kingdom of Wei (its capital at Luoyang), occupying the Yellow River valley;

Liu Bei of the kingdom of Shu ( roughly present-day Sichuan province with Chengdu as its capital); and

Sun Quan heading the kingdom of Wu (its capital at Wuchang and then Nanjing), which spread over the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtse) River.

It was a period of acute strife among the warloads, their unceasing warfare interwoven with alliance and betrayal, strategem and counter-strategem, intrigue and espionage. The novel abounds with gripping episodes, making it a rich source for dramatic material. The Peking Opera, for instance, has a large repertoire based on this masterpiece. Painters and handicraft artists have also drawn liberally on this work, using it for their "suites of paintings" or for screens (paravents), either painted or inlaid with stones or mother of peals.


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