The Four Dragons – An Asian Folktale
Posted on: September 28, 2018.

During ancient times when there was only the Eastern Sea—then Earth had neither rivers nor lakes—there lived four dragons: Black Dragon, Long Dragon, Pearl Dragon, and Yellow Dragon. They generally lived in the sea, but one day they decided to fly up to the skies. There, they played hide-and-seek amidst the clouds, soaring up and diving down.

In the middle of play, Pearl Dragon suddenly cried out, “Come over here quickly!” Curious, the other three dragons come over. Pearl Dragon was pointing down towards Earth, and they all looked in that direction. Amidst fruits, cakes, and smoking incense sticks, they witnessed a lot of people praying. A woman with white hair and a thin boy on her back was kneeling on the ground. The people were desperate because it hadn’t rained in a very long time, the crops had withered, the fields had cracked under the scorching sun, and even the grass had turned yellow.

“Oh, God of Heaven above! Our children need rice to eat. Please send rains quickly.”, the old lady murmured.

Yellow Dragon sympathized saying, “How poor the people are! If it doesn’t rain soon they will all die.”

“The Jade Emperor is the only one who can help. Let’s go and plead him to send rains.”, Long Dragon added.

The Heavenly Palace, set in the realm of the clouds, was the royal abode of the Jade Emperor. He was an all-powerful ruler, in-charge of all affairs in heaven, earth, and sea. Consequently, the four dragons rushing into his presence clearly displeased him. “Wouldn’t it be better if you four stayed in the sea and behaved yourselves instead of rushing in here like this?”, admonished the Emperor.

Stepping forward, Long Dragon said, “Your Majesty! We came here to collectively plead that you send rains down to Earth before the people of the land die of starvation.” The Jade Emperor, pretending to agree while actually listening to the fairies singing, replied, “So be it. I’ll send down rains tomorrow. But you should leave, first thing now.” Happy to have successfully presented their plea before the all-powerful Emperor, the four dragons returned to the sea.

However, in the days that followed, there came not a drop of rain, and consequently, ten days had passed. Unable to suffer hunger any more, the people began to consume the barks of trees and the roots of grass. When people had eventually run out of barks and roots, they were forced to eat only the white clay that remained. Knowing that the Jade Emperor cared for nothing else but his own pleasures, and that their plea had actually only fallen on deaf ears, the four dragons got together to think of a better idea to help the starving people.

Gazing at the Eastern Sea, Long Dragon had a brainwave. The four dragons could scoop up the waters of the sea in plenty and spray it skywards, making it fall all over the land as rain! Aware that the Jade Emperor would be enraged if he came to know of the dragons taking matters in their own hands yet resolved to do anything to alleviate the suffering of the people, they decided to execute their idea. They flew back and forth, scooping water from the sea into their snouts, flying into the sky, and spraying it over the earth.

Subsequently, the skies began to turn dark all around, and before long the sea water sprayed by the dragons turned into rain pouring down from the sky. The people were jubilant and began to leap and cry with joy, “It’s raining! It’s raining! The crops will be saved!” Subsequently, wheat stalks raised their heads and the sorghum stalks straightened up. Just as the dragons had known, their exploits were reported to the Jade Emperor by the god of the sea. “How dare the four dragons bring rain without my permission!” bellowed the enraged Jade Emperor.

He immediately ordered his heavenly generals to arrest the dragons. Outnumbered and defenceless, the dragons were brought to the Heavenly Palace as prisoners. The Jade Emperor summoned the god of the mountains and commanded him, “Lay upon them the four mountains, and may they never escape!” Using his magical powers, the Mountain God made four mountains whizz through the air and land on each of the four dragons.

Determined to end the suffering of the people once and for all time, despite their predicament, they used magical powers of their own to turn themselves into four rivers and flow through high mountains and deep valleys, crossing the land from the west to the east and finally emptying into the sea…

…giving China its four major rivers—the Heilongjiang (Black) in the far north, the Huang He (Yellow) in central China, the Chengjiang (Yangtze, or Long River) farther south, and the Zhejiang (Pearl) in the extreme south.

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