China in Ancient Books
Published: Nov 14, 2022 08:45 PM
A contemporary copy of the Classic of Mountains and Rivers Photo: IC

A contemporary copy of the Classic of Mountains and Rivers Photo: IC

'Classic of Mountains and Rivers'(II): The legacy of legends for descendants

Today the Classic of Mountains and Rivers is more commonly seen in China as a book of legends and myths. There are several well-known sagas in the book, the following three are the most well known.

Goddess mends the sky

In ancient times, the four pillars supporting the sky broke. As a result, the sky could not cover the land, which then could not bear the weight of all things on it. Fires burned and floods seemed endless. Savage wild animal and ferocious birds ate old people and children. So the Goddess Nüwa came to the rescue. She smelted five-colored stones and cut off the four feet of the big tortoise at the bottom of the sea and then used them to make pillars to support the sky. She also killed the water monster to stop the floods. Finally the people were saved. 

Houyi shoots nine suns

Long, long ago, 10 suns would rise into the sky together. The searing sunshine dried the land and burned crops and forests, leaving people in starvation. Houyi was sent by King Yao to save mankind. He used his bow to shoot nine of the suns, leaving only one left. Later, Houyi was honored as a hero. 

Dayu tames the flood

During King Yao's reign, the Yellow River, cradle of Chinese civilization, often suffered from flooding. King Yao ordered Gun, a tribal head, to control the floods. Unfortunately, Gun simply used dams to block the water from people's residential areas and so failed for nine years. When King Sun succeeded to the throne, he tasked Gun's son Dayu to take over the job. Based on his father's experience, Dayu invented a "water diversion" method based on natural terrain to direct the flood into other rivers before all of the water merged into the sea. 

Dayu was so devoted to the endeavor that he "didn't go back home despite passing by his door three times." 

After 13 years of efforts, the floods were finally brought under control. Since then, Dayu was acclaimed as the "God Dayu," and later became the first king of the Xia Dynasty (c.2070BC - c.1600BC).

These legends have exerted great influence on the Chinese people. They describe the struggles between man and nature and between tribes, expressed people's ideals and courage with the support of deities, and are the first record of social awareness in Chinese literature. 

Global Times