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 , 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 worship 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.
The Buddhists count their dragons in number equal to the fish of the great deep, which defies arithmetical computation, and can be expressed only by their sacred numerals. The people have a more certain faith in them than in most of their divinities, because they see them so often; every cloud with a curious configuration or serpentine tail is a dragon. "We see him," they say. The scattering of the cloud is his disappearance. He rules the hills, is connected with _fêng-shui_ , dwells round the graves, is associated with the Confucian worship, is the Neptune of the sea, and appears on dry land.
The Sea-dragon Kings live in gorgeous palaces in the depths of the sea, where they feed on pearls and opals. There are five of these divinities, the chief being in the centre, and the other four occupying the north, the west, the south, and the east. Each is a league in length, and so bulky that in shifting its posture it tosses one mountain against another. It has five feet, one of them being in the middle of its belly, and each foot is armed with five sharp claws. It can reach into the heavens, and stretch itself into all quarters of the sea. It has a glowing armour of yellow scales, a beard under its long snout, a hairy tail, and shaggy legs. Its forehead projects over its blazing eyes, its ears are small and thick, its mouth gaping, its tongue long, and its teeth sharp. Fish are boiled by the blast of its breath, and roasted by the fiery exhalations of its body. When it rises to the surface the whole ocean surges, waterspouts foam, and typhoons rage. When it flies, wingless, through the air, the winds howl, torrents of rain descend, houses are unroofed, the firmament is filled with a din, and whatever lies along its route is swept away with a roar in the hurricane created by the speed of its passage.
The five Sea-dragon Kings are all immortal. They know each other's thoughts, plans, and wishes without intercommunication. Like all the other gods they go once a year to the superior Heavens, to make an annual report to the Supreme Ruler; but they go in the third month, at which time none of the other gods dare appear, and their stay above is but brief. They generally remain in the depths of the ocean, where their courts are filled with their progeny, their dependents, and their attendants, and where the gods and genii sometimes visit them. Their palaces, of divers coloured transparent stones, with crystal doors, are said to have been seen in the early morning by persons gazing into the deep waters.
The Foolish Dragon
The part of the great Buddha legend referring to the dragon is as follows:
In years gone by, a dragon living in the great sea saw that his wife's health was not good. He, seeing her colour fade away, said: "My dear, what shall I get you to eat?" Mrs Dragon was silent. Just tell me and I will get it," pleaded the affectionate husband. "You cannot do it; why trouble?" quoth she. "Trust me, and you shall have your heart's desire," said the dragon. "Well, I want a monkey's heart to eat." "Why, Mrs Dragon, the monkeys live in the mountain forests! How can I get one of their hearts?" "Well, I am going to die; I know I am."
Forthwith the dragon went on shore, and, spying a monkey on the top of a tree, said: "Hail, shining one, are you not afraid you will fall?" "No, I have no such fear." "Why eat of one tree? Cross the sea, and you will find forests of fruit and flowers." "How can I cross?" "Get on my back." The dragon with his tiny load went seaward, and then suddenly dived down. "Where are you going?" said the monkey, with the salt water in his eyes and mouth. "Oh! my dear sir! my wife is very sad and ill, and has taken a fancy to your heart." "What shall I do?" thought the monkey. He then spoke, "Illustrious friend, why did not you tell me? I left my heart on the top of the tree; take me back, and I will get it for Mrs Dragon." The dragon returned to the shore. As the monkey was tardy in coming down from the tree, the dragon said: "Hurry up, little friend, I am waiting." Then the monkey thought within himself, "What a fool this dragon is!"
Then Buddha said to his followers: "At this time I was the monkey."
The Ministry of Waters
In the spirit-world there is a Ministry which controls all things connected with the waters on earth, salt or fresh. Its main divisions are the Department of Salt Waters, presided over by four Dragon-kings--those of the East, South, West, and North--and the Department of Sweet Waters, presided over by the Four Kings of the four great rivers--the Blue , Yellow , Huai, and Ch'i--and the Dragon-spirits who control the Secondary Waters, the rivers, springs, lakes, pools, rapids. Into the names and functions of the very large number of officials connected with these departments it is unnecessary to enter. It will be sufficient here to refer only to those whose names are connected with myth or legend.
An Unauthorized Portrait
One of these legends relates to the visit of Ch'in Shih Huang-ti, the First Emperor, to the Spirit of the Sea, Yang Hou, originally a marquis of the State Yang, who became a god through being drowned in the sea.
Po Shih, a Taoist priest, told the Emperor that an enormous oyster vomited from the sea a mysterious substance which accumulated in the form of a tower, and was known as 'the market of the sea' . Every year, at a certain period, the breath from his mouth was like the rays of the sun. The Emperor expressed a wish to see it, and Po Shih said he would write a letter to the God of the Sea, and the next day the Emperor could behold the wonderful sight.
The Emperor then remembered a dream he had had the year before in which he saw two men fighting for the sun. The one killed the other, and carried it off. He therefore wished to visit the country where the sun rose. Po Shih said that all that was necessary was to throw rocks into the sea and build a bridge across them. Thereupon he rang his magic bell, the earth shook, and rocks began to rise up; but as they moved too slowly he struck them with his whip, and blood came from them which left red marks in many places. The row of rocks extended as far as the shore of the sun-country, but to build the bridge across them was found to be beyond the reach of human skill.
So Po Shih sent another messenger to the God of the Sea, requesting him to raise a pillar and place a beam across it which could be used as a bridge. The submarine spirits came and placed themselves at the service of the Emperor, who asked for an interview with the god. To this the latter agreed on condition that no one should make a portrait of him, he being very ugly. Instantly a stone gangway 100,000 feet long rose out of the sea, and the Emperor, mounting his horse, went with his courtiers to the palace of the god. Among his followers was one Lu Tung-shih, who tried to draw a portrait of the god by using his foot under the surface of the water. Detecting this manoeuvre, the god was incensed, and said to the Emperor: "You have broken your word; did you bring Lu here to insult me? Retire at once, or evil will befall you." The Emperor, seeing that the situation was precarious, mounted his horse and galloped off. As soon as he reached the beach, the stone cause-way sank, and all his suite perished in the waves. One of the Court magicians said to the Emperor: "This god ought to be feared as much as the God of Thunder; then he could be made to help us. To-day a grave mistake has been made." For several days after this incident the waves beat upon the beach with increasing fury. The Emperor then built a temple and a pagoda to the god on Chih-fu Shan and Wên-têng Shan respectively; by which act of propitiation he was apparently appeased.
The Shipwrecked Servant
Once the Eight Immortals (see