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30: CHAPTER XXIX. On Dragons

On Dragons. B51 

CHAPTER XXIX. On Dragons (Lung-hsü). 

When in midsummer during a thunder-storm lightning strikes 

a tree or demolishes a house, it is a common saying that Heaven 

fetches the dragon, which is believed to hide in the tree, or to be 

concealed in the house. The lightning striking the tree, or demolishing the house, the dragon appears outside. On its appearance, 

it is seized upon by the thunder, and carried up to Heaven. The 

unintelligent and the learned, the virtuous and the wicked are all 

agreed upon this, but trying to get at the truth, we find that it 

is idle talk. 

Why should Heaven fetch the dragon? Provided that the 

dragon be a spirit and Heaven's envoy, as a virtuous minister is 

the deputy of his sovereign, then it ought to report itself at a 

fixed time, and would not have to be fetched. If, on the other 

hand, the dragon sneaks away, and does not come back, it does 

not behave like a spirit, and would be of no use to Heaven. 

According to the dragon's nature its real abode is Heaven. 

Being there it certainly must have offspring. There would be no 

reason, why it should be on earth again. If there are rising and 

descending dragons, the latter class might bear its offspring on earth, 

and Heaven fetch it, when grown up. People call a tempest an 

expression of Heaven's anger, but in fetching the scion of a dragon 

it cannot be angry. 

Further the dragon generally lives in ponds, not in trees or 

houses. Whence do we know that ? Shu Hsiang's 1 mother said : 

" In the depths of mountains and in vast marshes dragons and 

snakes really grow." 2 And in books we read, "Where the 

mountains are highest, the rain clouds rise, and where the water 

is deepest, the different species of dragons are born." 3 The annals 

1 A minister in Chin, 6th cent. b.c. 

2 Quoted from the Tso-chuan, Duke Hsiang 21st year (Legge, Classic Vol. V, 

Pt. II, p. 491). The mother of Shu Hsiang spoke these words in a figurative sense, 

with reference to Shu Hsiang's half-brother, and his beautiful mother, a concubine 

of her husband. Cf. p. 302. 

3 A parallel passage, worded a little differently, occurs in Hsün Tse. 

352 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

go on to say that, when Yü crossed the Yangtse, a yellow dragon 

carried his boat on its back,1 and that, when Ching Tse Fei went 

over the Huai, two dragons swam round his ship. Near the 

Eastern Sea 2 there lived Lu Chiu Hsin, a bold and strong man. 

When he once passed the Spirit Pool, he ordered his charioteer 

to give his horse to drink there, but when it drank, it sank down. 

Lu Chiu Hsin got angry, drew his sword, and went into the pool 

in pursuit of his horse. He then beheld two dragons just in the 

act of devouring his horse. Sword in hand, he slew the two dragons.3 

Hence it is evident that the dragons called " chiao " 4 and the others 

always live in the water of pools, and not on trees or in houses. 

Living in deep water dragons belong to the same category 

as fish and reptiles. Why should fish and reptiles ascend to 

Heaven, and what could Heaven use the dragon for, if it fetched 

it up? If the Spirit of Heaven should ride on the dragon, a spirit 

is something diffuse and incorporeal. Entering and departing, it 

needs no aperture, neither would it require a dragon to ride upon. 

Should the genii mount the dragon, then Heaven would fetch it 

for their sake. But the genii are imbued with the fluid of Heaven, 

and their bodies are so light, that they can fly up like wild geese. 

Therefore, why should they ride upon dragons? 

People in general say that Huang Ti ascended to Heaven on 

a dragon. This statement is as inane as the other, made now-a- 

days, that Heaven fetches the dragon. If the dragon is said to 

rise to Heaven, it implies a dragon spirit, because only a spirit can 

soar on high, this being in fact a characteristic feature of spirits. 

Among the creatures produced by Heaven and Earth man 

being the noblest, the dragon must be inferior. If the noblest are 

not spirits, can the inferior be so? Let us suppose that the nature 

of dragons be such, that some of them are spirits, the others not, 

and that the spirits rise to Heaven, while those that are not spirits, 

cannot: are turtles and snakes likewise partly spirits and partly not, 

and can the turtle spirits and the snake spirits ascend to Heaven? 

Moreover, what essence is the dragon endowed with, that it 

should alone be a spirit? Heaven has the four constellations of 

the Blue Dragon, the White Tiger, the Scarlet Bird, and the Black 

1 This fact is recorded in the Lü Shih ch'un-ch'iu and in Huai Nan Tse VII, 

8v. Vid. also Lum-hêng Bk. V, p. 4 (Yi-hsü). 

2 The Yellow Sea, east of China. 

3 This story is narrated in the Han-shih-wai-chuan 150 B.C. and the Po-wu- 

chih, where the hero is called Tsai Chin Hsin however. 

4 蛟 

On Dragons. 353 

Tortoise. Earth also has dragons, tigers, scarlet birds, and turtles. 

The essence of the four constellations pouring down, produces those 

four animals. The tiger, the scarlet bird, and the turtle not being- 

spirits, wherefore should the dragon alone be a spirit? 

Man ranks first among the naked creatures, as the dragon is 

the foremost of the scaly animals. Both take the first place among 

their kindred. If the dragon is believed to ascend to Heaven, does 

man rise to Heaven likewise? If under the above respect the dragon 

is on the same level with man, but alone credited with the faculty 

of ascending to Heaven, the dragon must be supposed to be a spirit. 

The world also says that the sages being spirits, have the 

gift of prophecy, as they say that the dragon spirits are able to 

soar to Heaven. The divination of the sages thus being accounted 

for, it is but natural that the special talent of the dragon should 

be found in its power to rise to Heaven. 

That which amidst Heaven and Earth is vague and unsubstantial as the vapours of cold and heat, wind and rain, has the 

nature of a spirit. Now the dragon has a body, having a body, 

it moves about, moving about, it eats, and eating, it has the nature 

of other creatures. According to the organisation of Heaven and 

Earth whatever possesses a body, moves about, and eats, cannot 

be a spirit. How so? 

The dragon has a body. One finds in books the statement, 

that out of the three hundred scaly animals the dragon is the first. 

Being the first of the scaly animals, how can it be without a body? 

Confucius said that the dragon fed in limpid places, and lived 

there, that the tortoise fed in limpid places, and lived in the mud, 

and that the fish fed in the mud, and lived in clear water. He 

did not attain to the dragon himself, but was neither equal to 

the fish, he was only to be compared to the tortoise, which takes 

the middle rank. 

The Shan-hai-king 1 relates that beyond the four seas there are 

men riding on dragon snakes. As a rule, dragons are pictorially 

represented with a horse's head and a snake's tail. Hence they 

must be hybrids between the horse and the snake. 

Shen Tse 2 informs us that the flying dragons mount the clouds, 

and that the soaring serpents ramble through the fog. When the 

clouds disperse, and the rain ceases, they are like earthworms and ants. 

1 The " Mountain and Sea Classic," the oldest geographical work of the 4th 

or the 3rd cent. b.c. 

2 The Taoist philosopher Shên Tao of the 5th cent, b.c, of whose works 

only fragments are left. 

354 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

Han Fei Tse 1 teaches that the dragon is a reptile, which obeys 

a call, and allowes itself to be patted and mounted. But under 

its throat it has a protruding scale over a foot long. If a man knocks 

against it, the dragon always kills him. 

In short, the dragon is compared with earthworms and ants, and 

it is further said to be a reptile, which can be patted and mounted. 

It must therefore have something in common with snakes and horses. 

It is reported that when Chou 2 used ivory chopsticks, 3 Chi Tse 4 

burst into tears. He wept, commiserating his excesses. There being 

ivory chopsticks, there must have been jade cups also. These jade 

cups and ivory chopsticks were certainly used to hold and to seize 

dragon liver and unborn leopard.5 Dragon liver was eatable, but 

a dragon hard to be found. This being the case, the emperor would 

frown upon his subordinates. That would bring them into distress, 

therefore Chi Tse's sympathy. 

If the dragon were a spirit, its body could not be killed, and 

its liver not be eaten. The livers and the unborn young of birds 

and animals are not the same. Dragon liver and unborn leopard 

being specially mentioned, man must have eaten them, and thereby 

learned to appreciate their excellent taste. 

During the epoch of Spring and Autumn, 6 a dragon appeared 

in the outskirts of Chiang. 7 Viscount Hsien of Wei 8 interrogated 

T'sai Mê saying, "I heard say that of all creatures none is as 

intelligent as the dragon, which therefore cannot be caught alive. 

Is it true what they say about its cleverness? " The other replied, 

" Those that say so, really do not know. As a fact, the dragon 

is not intelligent. Of old, dragons were domesticated, therefore the 

empire had its families of Dragon Keeper (Huan Lung) and its 

Master of the Dragons (Yu Lung)." 10

1 Cf. p. 170. 

2 Chou Hsin, the last emperor of the Shang dynasty. 

3 Ivory chopsticks are very common in China now, and no luxury. 

4 Viscount Chi, one of the foremost nobles under Chou Hsin, 12th cent. b.c. 

5 Dragon liver and unborn leopard would seem to have been considered great delicacies. 

6 The historical period comprised by the Ch'un-ch'iu (Spring and Autumn) 

between 722 and 481 b.c. 

7 A principality in Shansi. 

8 A feudal ford under Duke Ch'ou of Chin in Shansi, 530-524 b.c, whose 

successors became marquises, and at last kings of Wei. 

9 The grand historiographer. 

10 The family names Huan Lung and Yü Lung, 豢龙, 御龙 which 

literally mean Dragon Keeper and Master of the Dragons, have probably given rise 

to this queer story. 

On Dragons.  355 

Viscount Hsien observed that of these two he had heard also, 

but did not know their origin, and why they were called so. Ts'ai 

Mê said, "In olden time there was Shu Sung 1 of Liao. 2 One of 

his distant descendants, Tung Fu was very fond of dragons. He 

could find out their tastes and likings, so as to be able to supply 

them with food and drink. Many dragons came to him, and were 

thus bred by him. With them he waited upon Shun, who bestowed 

upon him the family name of Tung, and the clan-name of Dragon 

Keeper (Huan Lung), and invested him with Tsung-ch'uan. The 

T'sung-J family were his descendants. Thus dragons were reared 

at the time of the emperor Shun." 

"During the Hsia time K'ung Chia 3 was obedient to God, 

who presented him with a team of dragons from the Yellow River 

and the Han, there being a male and a female from each. K'ung 

Chia was at a loss how to feed them, for no member of the Huan 

Lung family was to be found. But among the remains of the T'ao 

T'ang 4 family, which had perished, was one Liu Lei, who had learned 

the art of rearing dragons from the Huan Lung family. With that 

he served K'ung Chia, and was able to give food and water to the 

dragons. The Hsia ruler was so pleased with him, that he conferred upon him the clan-name of Master of the Dragons (Yü Lung). 

He took the place of the descendants of Shih Wei." 5 

" When one female dragon died, he secretly had it chopped 

up, and offered the meat to the ruling emperor of the house of 

Hsin as food. The emperor had it cooked, and asked for more. 

Then Liu Lei became frightened, because he could not procure 

it, and emigrated to Lu-hsien.6 The Fan family were his descendants." — 

Viscount Hsien asked, why there were no dragons to-day. 

Tsái Mê replied, " Such animals have their officials, who know their 

treatment, and think of them day and night. When they suddenly 

lose their post, the dragons die. The cashiered functionaries do 

not feed them any more. As long as the competent officials do 

their duty, there are always animals coming to them, but, when 

1 The Lun-hêng calls the man Shu Sung. In the Tso-chuan his name is 

Shu An. 

2 A small State. 

3 The emperor K'ung Chia 1879-1848 b.c. 

4 T'ao T'ang was the princedom of the emperor Yao in Shansi, whose descendants took their clan name therefrom. 

5 A noble who flourished under the Shang dynasty. 

6 The modern Lu-shan-hsien in Honan. 

356 Lun-Hêng: C. Physical. 

they are neglected, they lie down listless, and their production is 

stopped." 1 — 

Thus we may say that dragons can be reared and eaten. 

What can be eaten, is certainly not a spirit. When the proper 

officials are not at hand, nor men like Tung Fu and Liu Lei, the 

dragons abscond, and hide themselves, and appear but rarely. When 

they once come out, they also ride on the clouds, a course, man 

can never take, and are then regarded as spirits. As long as there 

are the proper officials, or the proper men, the dragon is like an 

ox. Why should they be spirits? 

Taking into consideration what the Shan-hai-king says, the 

evidence of Shên Tse and Han Fei Tse, the usual pictorial representations, the despair of Chi Tse, and the information given by Ts'ai 

Mê, we see that the dragon cannot be a spirit, nor rise to Heaven, 

and it is evident that Heaven does not fetch it with thunder and 


The common belief that the dragon is a spirit, and rises to 

Heaven, is preposterous. But there is a reason for it. In light 

literature we meet with the statement that without a tree one foot 

high the dragon cannot ascend to Heaven. They speak of ascending 

to Heaven, and of a tree one foot high, implying that the dragon 

rises to Heaven from within the tree. The authors of this sort of 

literature are uncultured people. They have observed that at the 

same time, when the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes up, 

the dragon rises, and when thunder and lightning strike a tree, 

the dragon happens to be close to the tree, just like thunder and 

lightning. When they are gone, the dragon rises on high likewise. 

Therefore they pretend that it ascends to Heaven from within the 

tree. As a matter of fact, the thunder and the dragon are of the 

same kind, and mutually attract one another, when set in motion 

by the forces of nature. 

The Yiking says that the clouds follow the dragon, and the 

wind the tiger. It is further stated that, when the tiger howls, 

the wind passes through the valley, and that the variegated clouds 

rise, when the dragon gambols. 2 There is a certain manner of 

sympathy between the dragon and the clouds, and a mutual attraction between the tiger and the wind. Therefore, when Tung 

1 This conversation between Viscount Hsien and T'sai Mê on the rearing of 

dragons in ancient times is literally culled from the Tso-chuan, Duke Ch'ao 29th year. 

Cf. Legge, Chun-ch'iu Pt. II, p. 731. 

2 Yiking Book I, Ch'ien hexagram (No. 1). See also p. 279 Note 2. 

On Dragons. 357 

Chung Shu 1 offered the rain sacrifice, he put up an earthen dragon 

with a view to attract the rain. 

When the summer is at its height, the sun reigns supreme, 

hut the clouds and the rain oppose it. The sun is fire, clouds and 

rain being water. At the collision with water, fire explodes, and 

gives a sound, which is the thunder. Upon hearing the sound of 

thunder, the dragon rises, when it rises, the clouds appear, and 

when they are there, the dragon mounts them. The clouds and 

the rain are affected by the dragon, and the dragon also rides on 

the clouds to Heaven. Heaven stretches to the farthest distance, 

and the thunder is very high. Upon the clouds dispersing, the 

dragon alights again. Men seeing; it riding on the clouds, believe 

it to ascend to Heaven, and beholding Heaven sending forth thunder 

and lightning, they imagine that Heaven fetches the dragon. 

The scholars of to-day reading the Yiking and the historical 

records, all know that the dragon belongs to the same class as the 

clouds. They adhere to the common gossip without knowing, what 

it means. Besides they look upon the light literature as an authority. Thus they say that Heaven fetches the dragon. 

Heaven does not do that, nor does the dragon rise to Heaven. 

When Lu Chin Hsin slew the two serpents, he dragged them out with 

his hands by the tail, but the moment they were out of the pool, a thunder-bolt fell. Serpents are a species similar to dragons. When serpents 

or dragons make their appearance, clouds and rain arrive, upon their 

arrival there is thunder and lightning. If Heaven really fetched the dragon for its own use, what benefit would it have from dead serpents? 

Fish, though living in the water, yet follow the clouds and 

the rain flying, and riding on them ascend to Heaven. The dragon 

belongs to the class of fish, it rides on thunder and lightning in 

the same way as the fish fly. For following the clouds and the 

rain, fish are not considered to be spirits, the dragons alone are 

called spirits because of their riding on thunder and lightning. This 

common belief is contrary to truth. 

All the creatures in the world have their peculiar vehicles: — 

The water serpents ride on the fog, the dragons on the clouds, 

and birds on the wind. To call the dragon alone a spirit, because 

it is seen riding on the clouds, would not be in accordance with 

its real nature, and would only detract from its skill. 

But the reason why the dragon is looked upon as a spirit is, 

because it can expand and contract its body, and make itself visible 

1 A scholar of the 2nd cent. b.c. See p. 39. 

358 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

or invisible. Yet the expansion and contraction of the body and 

its visibility and invisibility do not constitute a spirit. 

Yü Jang 1 swallowed charcoal and varnished his body, so that 

he got ulcers, and nobody recognised him. Tse Kung 2 burned off 

his beard, and took the semblance of a woman, so that nobody 

knew him. When the dragon transforms itself and absconds, men 

are also unable to perceive it, such is its skill in metamorphosing 

and hiding itself. 

Much in the nature of creatures is spontaneous: — The rhinopithecus 3 knows the past, 4 magpies foresee the future, 5 and parrots 

can talk. These three peculiarities may be compared to the transformations, which are in the nature of dragons. If by astuteness 

one could become a spirit, Yü Jang and Tse Kung would be spirits. 

Confucius said, " The roving animals can be ensnared, the flying

birds be shot with an arrow. As regards the dragon, I do not 

know, whether it can ride on the wind and the clouds, and thus 

rise on high. To-day I saw Lao Tse. Should be perhaps be like 

a dragon? " 6

Provided that the dragon rises, mounted on a cloud, and, 

when the cloud disperses, comes down again, then the class of 

creatures, to which it belongs, might be ascertained, and all about 

its celestial and terrestrial state known. Yet they say that Confucius 

did not know. A sage like Confucius ignored the nature of dragons. 

How much less can common people know, whose learning is deficient, who are biassed in favour of the marvellous, and whose 

minds are unable to decide, what is possible and what not. That 

they should call the dragon a spirit, which rises to Heaven can 

therefore be no matter for surprise. 

1 A native of the Chin State, 5th and (1th cent. b.c. He twice made an attempt upon the life of Viscount Hsiang of Chao to avenge the death of his master, 

the Earl of Chih, whom Hsiang had slain. Both attempts failed. The second time 

he disguised himself in the way described here. 

2 A disciple of Confucius. 

3 A kind of monkey in western China. 

4 This probably means that monkeys have an excellent memory. 

5 Magpies are believed to know, whether the next year will be very stormy, 

for in that case they build their nests near the ground. Moreover, they announce 

future joy, hence their popular name " birds of joy." 

6 A quotation from the Biography of Lao Tse in the Shi-cki chap. G3, p. 2 v.