Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of March 24th - March 30th,  2000

Yu the Great

Columns Archive


   In our investigations of the Chinese Dragon, we keep mentioning that the people of China consider themselves to be the children of the Dragon. This lineage comes as a mixed blessing.

   The world over, and in China especially, the Dragon is associated with the rains and floods. Traditionally, China is a nation that has a long history of floods and flooding. As might be expected, there are also many myths that concern themselves with this topic.


Shou-lao, the God of longevity
Old Man of the Southern Star

   One of the most popular of these involves a heroic figure called Yu the Great. In its original form, Yu was a Dragon, or a creature half dragon and half human. As in many pagan traditions, this motif is simply a vehicle for the forces of heaven to work through. Hence, Greek heroes might be able to see beyond the guise of a known friend or foe, aware of the divine presence operating through that person. Indian myths might depict a lonely, hermetic sage in the forest as a dragon in disguise. Depending on how much texture the author would like to include, the figure is more or less mythological in nature. As a general rule, the older the tradition, the more likely the figure will be purely mythic. In this particular story, there are different versions. In one, Yu assumes the guise of a Dragon, and it is his father, Gun, who is sent down from heaven to control a flood. In this later version, Yu is represented as entirely human.

   The Emperor Shun had appointed Yu to find a means of controlling the waters of a great flood. For thirteen long, hard years, Yu labored unceasingly, his hands worn with toil and his feet calloused. After all this painstaking work, he could barely hobble, and his back was bent. His skin was black and weather-worn due to working outside under the hot Sun all day. He was as thin as a rake.

   But at long last, all his suffering was rewarded. Through much digging, he was able to channel the flood waters off through a series of artificial canals into the sea. The rulers of China have long had a tradition of administering the country and people in a manner which served them best, and when the Emperor Shun saw what it was that Yu had done for the nation, he abdicated in his favor. Yu became the first emperor of the Xia Dynasty, and is said to have reigned from 2205 to 2197 BC. It is claimed that his tomb can still be seen near present day Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province.

   Here, we have an entirely different look at the power of the Dragon. Instead of these stars simply triggering lightning, floods, rain, and powerful storms, we see one who is incarnated as a Dragon having the power to make changes where these forces are concerned. Ptolemy characterized the nature of Draco as being Martial and Saturnine. One astrological translation of this could be difficult architectural works or governmental projects which take a long time to complete. These efforts may leave you old, worn, and weathered before they're finished, but could also lead to professional recognition, achievement and corporate power.

   The metaphor of myth reigns (sic) down on us from heaven above. The Dragon could appear as, as it has in previous stories, Typhoon, Lillith, Liu Ye, Zhou Chu or Chien Tang. Or, it could be...

   ...Yu, too.

A Dragon from Beijing

Dragons and Emperors
have long been identified as One in China

Emperor Dragons

   Yu, the mythical founder of the Xia dynasty, was originally said to have been a dragon, and each emperor was seen as the incarnation of this creature. The dragon above is in the Forbidden City. Note the waves, lightning, and the dragon's attention focused on the mystical pearl.

   The Pearl

   The Pearl which occupies the dragon's attention is also sometimes depicted as the yin-yang symbol. Yang originally meant sunshire or light, while Yin meant shadow or darkness. These two forces interact together to produce the phenomena of the universe. All creation is divided between these two divine halves.


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