Discover Emperor Yu's epic journey to tame floods, his encounters with mythical creatures, and the enigmatic story of Gun's transformation.
Emperor Yao ordered Gun to control the floods, but for nine years, he made no progress. Gun chose to drown himself in the Feathered Abyss and transformed into a black fish. This black fish often raised its feelers, shook its scales, and swam amidst the turbulent waters of the Feathered Abyss. People who saw it referred to it as the “River Spirit.” The Feathered Abyss was connected to the sources of the Yellow River and the ocean. People living by the sea built a temple for Gun on Feathered Mountain, and throughout the year, they conducted rituals on the mountain. People frequently witnessed the black fish and dragon leaping out of the water, which both astonished and frightened them. When Shun succeeded to the throne, he appointed Yu to dredge the waterways and perform rituals to the mountain deities. When Great Yu needed to cross the vast ocean, tortoises and turtles served as his bridge, and when he had to traverse towering mountains, a divine dragon pulled his carriage. Great Yu traveled to the ends of the earth, but he never set foot in the region of Feathered Mountain. All of this was attributed to the divine influence of Gun. There are various accounts and exchanges regarding the supernatural transformations of Gun, but in essence, the narratives remain consistent, only differing in the details of color and form. The pronunciations of the characters “玄” (xuan), “鱼” (yu), “黄” (huang), and “能” (neng) became intertwined over time, leading to the character “鲧” (Gun) being sometimes written as “鱼” (fish) alongside a “玄” (xuan) character. Many uncertainties and diverse opinions persist, and they are briefly summarized above.
Xiao Qilu said: The origin of writing can be traced back to Cangjie, the historian of Emperor Yellow Emperor Xuanyuan’s era. During that time, the world was simple, and the people had honest character, which reflected in their simple and unadorned language. This tradition continued through the Tang and Yu dynasties, as well as the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. The practice of ancestral worship had been passed down for generations, leading to a long history of recorded texts. Emperors throughout history and scholars knowledgeable in both ancient and contemporary matters were concerned about the potential loss of the wisdom of sages. They took ancient classics and texts documenting historical events, some of which were hidden in remote mountains and wilderness, while others were concealed within the walls of houses. At times of political turmoil, books were left unattended, and some ancient records and texts would scatter to other regions. Consequently, writing styles evolved differently in various regions, and the pronunciation and meaning of words also changed according to local variations. Through the eras of the Shang, Zhou, and later the Qin and Han dynasties, many bamboo scrolls and silk books were burnt, leading to the destruction of most ancient texts. Only a few deteriorating and worm-eaten books remained, preserving fragments of ancient knowledge and legends that were passed down through the generations.
Therefore, “Jihai” is a correction of previous doubts, and “San Shi” is an analysis of later errors. Wang Jia’s account of the story spans through the ages and aligns perfectly with the words of the sages. His analysis of the text and quest for understanding may provide a basis for some of these statements. The “Shangshu” states, “Yao killed Gun on Yushan,” while the “Chunqiu Zhuan” says, “Gun’s spirit transformed into a yellow bear and entered Yuyuan.” This suggests that Gun’s spirit transformed into a yellow bear on the mountain and turned into a black fish when it entered the water. This transformation reflects how animals adapt to their respective natural habitats in the mountains and rivers. Wang Jia meticulously examined Confucian classics, investigated various accounts, and while many details may seem paradoxical, they are all recorded here.
Yu of the Xia Dynasty cast nine tripods, with five of them representing the laws of heaven and the remaining four symbolizing the fate of mankind. He ordered craftsmen to use yellow bronze to cast the Yin tripods, symbolizing the days of human life, and red copper to cast the Yang tripods, symbolizing the rules of heaven. After the tripods were cast, they were often filled with water and used for divination to determine the auspicious and inauspicious changes in the weather. During the era of Xia Jie, the water inside the tripods suddenly boiled, and during the downfall of the Zhou Dynasty, the nine tripods simultaneously trembled incessantly. These were all omens foretelling the downfall of the respective dynasties. In later generations, virtuous and wise rulers followed in the footsteps of Yu of the Xia Dynasty, and they continued to cast bronze tripods for generations.
Xia Yu spared no effort in controlling the floodwaters, dredging rivers, and leveling high mountains. At that time, a yellow dragon led the way, dragging its tail, while a black turtle, carrying blue clay on its back, built embankments behind. The black turtle was an envoy sent by the River Spirit. The turtle’s jaw bore a seal with inscriptions in ancient seal script, with characters derived from the shapes of the Nine Provinces’ mountains and rivers. Wherever Da Yu opened a passage, it was sealed with blue clay and marked with a seal, and he ordered the Xuan Turtle to affix the seal. Today, people use piled earth to demarcate boundaries, following this tradition passed down from ancient times.
Xia Yu excavated the Dragon Gate Mountain, also known as Longmen Mountain. One day, Xia Yu entered a cavern that stretched for dozens of miles, and the inside was so dark that he couldn’t proceed further. Xia Yu relied on a torch to continue his journey. Inside the cave, he encountered a wild beast resembling a pig, carrying a night pearl in its mouth that emitted a bright candle-like light. There was also a green dog that walked ahead while barking. Xia Yu walked for about ten miles, unable to distinguish whether it was day or night. Soon, he noticed that the cave was gradually becoming brighter, and the pig and dog he had encountered had transformed into human shapes, all dressed in black clothing. He also saw a divine being with the body of a serpent and a human face. Xia Yu engaged in conversation with this divine being, who showed him the Eight Trigrams diagram and placed it on a golden tablet. Eight divine beings stood by the side of the divine being. Xia Yu asked, “Are you the son of Hua Xu, born of virtuous and noble character?” The divine being replied, “Hua Xu is the goddess of the Nine Rivers, and she gave birth to me.” The divine being then handed Xia Yu a jade ruler. The jade ruler was one foot and two inches long, perfectly corresponding to the twelve daily time periods, and he instructed Xia Yu to use it to measure the heavens and the earth. Later, Xia Yu used this jade ruler to pacify the waters and lands of the world. The divine being with the serpent body and human face was none other than the Spring Emperor Fu Xi.
Xiao Qilu said: The miracles of the divine are inscrutable, and the dimly lit world of mortals cannot discern them. In the realm of obscurity and ambiguity, what is seen and heard can be bewildering and confusing. To fathom the profound truths within, there are clear explanations in ancient texts. Therefore, the stories of Gongzi Pengsheng transforming into a pig and manifesting divinity in Beiqiu and Prince Zhao Ruyi transforming into a dog for vengeance, these supernatural events are fully documented in the “Spring and Autumn Annals” and reflected in the histories of Qi and Han. In ancient times, the events are distant and varied, but the transformations of divine and supernatural beings are strikingly similar. Those who carry pearls in their mouths and can emit candlelight, and other magical beings, all exhibit similar changes. As for the remote and obscure deeds of Xia Yu, and the original nature of the distant and elusive divine, they are not within the reach or discernment of ordinary and mediocre individuals. From Fuxi to Xia Yu, the ages are distant, and the records are lengthy. Therefore, the miracles of the sage-kings of various eras can shine as brilliantly as the sun and moon, harmonizing with heaven and earth. Each emperor of the past had unique circumstances, but their achievements were remarkable. They all delved into the reasons behind the changes in things, understood the laws governing the development of things, and compressed millennia into a single day, shortening tens of millions of years into an extremely brief period. So why should we marvel at the existence of spirits and doubt the encounter between Fuxi and Xia Yu!