The Dragon Kings of China: The Lore Of The Serpents of Old Part III
Okay, I have a confession to make-I LOVE Chinese dragon mythology. Like… LOVE. Eastern dragon lore is SOOOOO much cooler than its western counterpart. I mean, I realize this is my opinion, but Western dragons are mostly evil, maiden stealing, fire breathing asshats. Eastern dragons… well… they don’t just breathe fire, they can manipulate water, wind, ice, AND fire AND they’re cloud breathers, shapeshifters, and soooo much more. I don’t have time to tell all the awesome Eastern dragon tales, but I’m gonna do my best to condense one.
First off, as far as the ancient Chinese are concerned, every body of water, from the largest ocean to that old, creepy abandoned well out in the middle of nowhere, is under the jurisdiction of a dragon.
The four seas surrounding the Eastern Continent all have a Dragon King which controls the weather and rainfall of their surrounding lands. The big kahuna, the high Dragon King, rules in the center of these. Oh, and did I mention they all live in gorgeous decked out glam Crystal Palaces under the sea? Picture this: grand gates of agate stand century over large crystalline complexes with shimmery rainbow clamshell roofs. Paths of abalone shells crisscross and wind their way around pink coral gardens and seaweed lawns gently swaying in the breezy current.
Inside, you’ll find bejeweled throne rooms of jadeite and other precious gems. Yes, there’s a lot of precious gems, especially pearls and opals, which they feed off of. Ever been curious what a dragon king looks like? Well, when they’re in their element in the sea, each king is a league in length. They have five feet with five-clawed, super sharp talons. Each king can stretch itself to the heavens and all quarters of the sea. They’re armored with glowing yellow scales with beards underneath their long snouts. When they move, they can knock mountains into each other. Fish are boiled by the blasts of their breath and when one of them rises to the surface, the whole ocean surges. Typhoons rage, waterspouts foam, and when they fly, wingless through the sky, the winds howl and torrents of rain pour out from the heavens.
The Sea Dragon Kings are immortal and telepathic, knowing each others’ thoughts, desires, and plans. Handy little trick I’m sure. The dragons are powerful, but, like all the other gods of Chinese mythology, they must ascend to the Superior Heavens once a year for their annual report to the Supreme Ruler. Which, of course, because it’s Chinese mythology and they’re SUPER serious about their administrative rules. I’m not kidding. There’s actually a Ministry called the Department of Salt Waters which they report to. And, in case you were wondering, they make this trip in the third month of the year, and none of the other gods dare to appear at this time.
The White Dragon Horse Adventures
Our Chinese dragon tale comes from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. I wrote this book in the 16th century and like the three other Chinese literary classics, contains Chinese “mythistory”. When it comes to ancient China, they weave myth and history together. This book is a perfect example of this. It’s a tale of adventures, mixed with some humor, mythology, and a bit of spiritual lessons.
The novel takes place in the seventh century and tells the tale of one of Buddha Sakyamuni’s disciples who was banished to the human realm for slighting Buddhist law. His sentence was ten human lifetimes, each of which required him to practice religious self-cultivation to atone for his sins.
In his tenth lifetime, our hero reincarnates as a monk named Xuan Zang during the Tang dynasty. Most tales refer to him as Tang Monk, so I will, as well. Basically, the emperor of the time gives Tang a quest-go to the west and bring back some holy Buddhist scriptures. Tang accepts the quest, but only after some visions from the divine. He’s up against a lot. This is not just a journey to the west. See, the evil human eating creatures of the world know about Tang… and his skin, which holds the power of immortality. Naturally, this causes some issues.
Fortunately, for Tang, the Goddess of Mercy was concerned for his plight and intervened by giving him help on his journey. She recruits an eclectic, and interesting group of disciples to protect him: The impetuous Monkey King, the lustful Pigsy, the reserved Sand Monk, and the White Dragon Horse.
The White Dragon wasn’t actually a horse. He was really the third son of the West Sea Dragon King but he’d gotten himself into some trouble. See, his father had this beautiful and irreplaceable pearl which the Supreme Ruler gave him. Invaluable. Only one of its kind. And our dragon, well… he accidentally destroys it with fire, as dragons do. For this, he was sentenced to execution. This is when the Goddess of Mercy steps in and contracts him to help Tang Monk on his journey in exchange for freedom.
The Goddess tells the White Dragon to wait in a stream on Shepan Mountain for Tang and his group. He does so, but accidentally swallows Tang’s white horse when the monk attempts to cross the stream, not recognizing him. This pisses off Monkey, who then fights the dragon and wins. The prince retreats underwater and Monkey is approached by the Earth deity and told of the white dragon’s purpose. Eventually, all make amends and the white dragon transforms into a white horse and becomes Tang’s steed for the journey.
In one chapter of the book, the dragon horse transforms into a beautiful woman in an attempt to save Tang from the Yellow Robe Demon. He fails but runs off to find Pigsy, who, by the way, is this gluttonous ridiculously ugly character who consistently gets the crew into trouble with his lustful and lazy ways. He was also once a marshal of the heavens but was sentenced to human life after a drunken half-assed seduction attempt on the Goddess of the Moon, who is married, but I digress. In the end, Pigsy gets Monkey and Tang Monk is saved from his fate.
The Dragon Kings are featured in the epic tale, as well. Eventually, they kind of become somewhat fond of Tang and the gang and come to their rescue more than once. In one such episode, Tang and his friends are captured by monsters on Lion Mountain and stuffed into a giant steamer (yep, not kidding). Monkey can summon the North Sea Dragon King, lord of ice and snow, who flies in on a magical cloud and morphs into a freezing wind to insulate the gang from becoming demon dim sums!
At the end of the adventures, the White Dragon Horse is taken to the Dragon Transformation Pool (because, of course, there’s a Dragon Transformation Pool) and gets his scales, silver whiskers, and horns back. He also gets a few nifty titles, being ordained as the “Great Strength Bodhisattva of the Eight Heavenly Sections” (八部天龍廣力普薩) and “Dragon Horse of the Eight Heavenly Sections” (八部天龍馬). He then turns into a white dragon and wraps his body around one of the pillars in the Great Leiyin Temple and that’s pretty much the end of our White Horse Dragon Tale.