Explore Emperor Shun's reign filled with celestial events, mysterious visitors, and the legacy of dragon-keeping in ancient China.
During Emperor Shun’s tenth year of reign, five elderly men visited the capital city for leisure. Emperor Shun accorded them the highest respect and treated them with great courtesy. Their discussions revolved around the original conditions of the creation and evolution of the natural world. Later, when Emperor Shun abdicated in favor of Yu, the five elderly men departed, and their destination remained unknown. Consequently, Emperor Shun constructed the Five-Star Shrine to offer sacrifices to them. One night, the sky displayed five long stars, followed by a gentle breeze. The sun and moon aligned, and the five stars connected, manifesting all signs of auspiciousness. People from various nations, despite language barriers, came to the capital city through translations. The citizens of the Great Pin Nation, when they came to pay homage, were questioned by Emperor Shun about the reasons for disasters and blessings. The people of the Great Pin Nation responded, “In the past, beyond the North Pole, there was a Tongs Sea. Its waves surged and roared, so high that they obscured the sun. In the sea, there were enormous fish and sea serpents, whose size no one could fathom. When these creatures exhaled, they darkened the farthest reaches of the eight directions, and a single movement of their dorsal fins caused the five great mountains to tremble. During the reign of Emperor Yao, the deluge surrounded the high mountains, resulting in a flood disaster. A great sea serpent circled the sky, causing the waters of the Three Rivers to break their banks, merging the sea and rivers into one, and flowing downward.”
“The Three Rivers refer to the Tianhe, Dihe, and Zhonghe rivers. These three rivers sometimes flowed smoothly, and at other times, they became blocked. Under the governance of exceptionally wise and virtuous emperors, the waters of these three rivers were tranquil and clear, without any splashing waves. However, during the turbulent times of rebellion led by Emperor Yao’s son Danzhu, the world was in turmoil, and extraordinary phenomena such as giant fish swallowing the sun and serpents winding through the sky occurred. Even the birds, beasts, and insects had to adapt to these bizarre celestial phenomena, causing changes in their behaviors. Billions of years later, all the high mountains sank into plains, and the seas completely dried up. Fish and serpents migrated to the land, where a giant crow-like bird covered them with its wings. The serpents would strike the heavens with their tails, praying for rain, while the giant fish absorbed the light of the sun. As a result, the world became shrouded in darkness, much like a total solar eclipse, with stars falling from the sky along with the rain.” Emperor Shun then prayed to the gods and spirits of the Four Seas and Five Mountains, and people from various nations praised his divine virtue. His virtuous rule spread far and wide, accompanied by various auspicious signs and portents.
Xiao Qilu said, “According to the ‘Spring and Autumn Annals of Left Qi,’ it is said, ‘When stars fall, it is like rain, yet the night sky remains clear and bright.’ The ‘Huainanzi’ states, ‘When qilins fight, there will be a total eclipse of the sun or moon; when whales die, a comet will appear.’ As for the waxing and waning of the sun and moon, as well as solar and lunar eclipses, there are no detailed records in the classics of the sages. However, the appearance of comets heralds strange disasters, and this phenomenon is recorded in historical texts. The notion of qilins fighting and whales dying has never been heard of in the previous classics. If one were to seek these phenomena in official histories and documents, it would likely lead to further confusion. Therefore, the claims about ‘qilins fighting’ and ‘whales dying’ are unfounded and deceptive. Here, it is mentioned that giant fish swallowed the sunlight, and stars and rainwater fell to the earth. Perhaps this, too, is a speculative and unreliable narrative. Consequently, people in later generations have been perplexed by these unfounded claims, and they have selected elements they liked from such baseless statements, recording these extensive, extraordinary, and beautiful stories.”
When Emperor Shun was on an expedition and passed away, he was buried in the wilderness of Cangwu Mountain. At that time, there was a small bird resembling a lark that flew from Danshui and emitted five colors of gases: blue, yellow, red, white, and black. These gases diffused in the sky like clouds, and people called this bird the “Pengxiao Sparrow.” Pengxiao Sparrows could fly in flocks and gather to form mountains. They had the ability to change their shape and color. When perched on trees, they looked like birds, and when on the ground, they resembled wild animals, displaying unpredictable transformations. Pengxiao Sparrows often roamed along the shores of Danshui and also frequented the wilderness of Cangwu. They carried green sand pearls in their beaks, forming small mountains when gathered together. People called these hills “Zhuchiu.” These green sand pearls were extremely small, and when the wind blew, they scattered like dust. People referred to them as “pearl dust.” Even now, in the mountains outside of Cangwu, people gathering herbs sometimes find a type of green stone. This green stone is smooth and clear, resembling pearls. Those who consume it are said to attain immortality, and those who carry it feel light and agile. Hence, the immortal Fang Hui composed a seven-character poem titled “Praising the Southern Yue in Seven Syllables,” which goes: “Pearl dust, round and bright, pure and light. Those who are virtuous and consume it will achieve immortality.”
In a land located twenty thousand miles to the west of Ji Province, there was a country known for filial piety. The people of this country could live up to three hundred years. They crafted clothes from woven thatch, similar to the “minority ethnic groups on the islands of the southeastern sea who wore grass-woven clothing” mentioned in the “Book of Documents.” After the people of the Filial Piety Country passed away, they were buried in the wilderness. Various birds carried soil to form graves, and groups of wild animals dug burial pits for them. Their graves had neither sealed mounds nor trees planted as markers. When a loved one passed away, they carved a wooden figure resembling the deceased and served it just as they did when the person was alive. The people of the Filial Piety Country were known for their valor and strength. They could bite and consume metals and stones, and their tongues were square-shaped with small roots. They could hold objects weighing up to thirty thousand pounds with their hands. By drawing with their fingertips on the ground, they could make huge springs gush forth from underground. The people of the Filial Piety Country excelled in raising birds and animals, capturing sea dragons from the sea, and keeping them in round ponds for use as sacrificial offerings. During the time when the Yellow Emperor subjugated Chi You and eliminated various malicious troublemakers, this place was specially recognized as the land of filial piety. All the other countries admired and respected it. Therefore, Emperor Shun, after receiving the abdication from Yao, designated this region as the “Land of Filial Piety and Courtesy.” When Shun ascended to the throne, envoys from the Filial Piety Country presented jade articles and silk as tribute. Emperor Shun accorded them special guest status, distinct from other minority ethnic groups.
In the country of Nanxun, there is a large mountain cave with a dimly lit water source inside, and this water source leads directly to the earth’s veins below. Within the cave reside furry dragons and furry fish, which regularly shed their scales in the vast lakes. Both furry fish and furry dragons inhabit the waters of the same cave. Envoys from Nanxun country presented two furry dragons, one male and one female, which is why Emperor Shun established the position of Dragon Keeper. Dragon breeding continued until the Xia Dynasty, and their descendants adopted “Huanlong” (meaning dragon keeper) as their family name. During the time of Great Yu’s efforts to control flooding and channel waters, these dragons were ridden upon. It was only after the unification of the realm that people released the dragons back into the winding course of the Yellow River.
Xiao Qilu said: Examining various historical records, from Fu Xi to Xuanyuan Huangdi, Shaohao, Gaoxin, Tang Yao, and Yu Shun, the tradition of passing down the imperial throne through abdication has been followed. In terms of written records, regulations, and systems, none were as richly developed as during the time of Tang Yao. According to the “Yi Wei,” Tang Yao was considered the incarnation of the sun, and his virtuous conduct aligned with the way of Heaven, making him the Supreme Sage. Only the heavens themselves can be considered truly great, and Emperor Yao acted in accordance with the will of Heaven. Later, Yao abdicated the throne to Yu Shun, which was considered a perfect alignment with the will of Heaven, and his wisdom shone like the sun and moon. These records are from ancient times, with long-standing transmission, and descriptions of the virtues of the emperors vary among them. Similarly, the tales of their supernatural feats also differ. When examining ancient legends and exploring the words of people from the medieval period, it’s important to note that various schools of thought in ancient times had diverse beliefs. The virtuous deeds of emperors were passed down through generations, and it’s natural for there to be differing accounts. As for matters related to the supernatural, even the revered sage Confucius refrained from discussing them. How then can we, with limited knowledge, pass judgment on their veracity?
Liu Zizheng said, “Anything heard through hearsay is not as reliable as what one hears with their own ears, and what one hears with their own ears is not as reliable as what one sees with their own eyes.” Why is this so? Because the changes in the divine happen swiftly, and their appearances or disappearances are not enduring. They cannot be easily assessed or calculated with shallow knowledge, nor can they be examined or understood through common reasoning. As for phenomena like dragons spewing fire, birds emitting water, the transformations of creatures like phoenixes and qilin insects, and various supernatural beings with ever-changing forms, they can shift in the blink of an eye. They come to life through the influence of natural elements and transform through the power of precious materials. These phenomena are not extensively documented in the Xia Dingshu, nor are they recorded in geographical texts. However, the legends of the “Guan Yue Cha,” tales of “Chong Ming,” and the phenomenon of bright fire emerging from frozen wood, or ice worms growing in scorching volcanoes, as well as beings with reversed digestive systems and tongues, and the shedding of bone by dragons – all these strange occurrences are reborn and transformed by the influence of natural elements, and they flourish with the nurturing effects of rain and dew. These bizarre phenomena have been documented in various books and are now displayed through various volumes and writings, showcasing their magnificence and peculiarity. In conclusion, based on these distant and elusive stories, as well as long-standing and perplexing texts, the thoughts and actions of different schools do not adhere to reason. They each uphold their own extravagant ideas, rather than conforming to established doctrines.