Emperor Yu of Xia/夏禹

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!

堯命夏鯀治水,九載無績。鯀自沉於羽淵,化為玄魚,時揚須振鱗,橫修波之上,見者謂為“河精”。羽淵與河海通源也。海民於羽山之中,修立鯀廟,四時以致祭祀。常見玄魚與蛟龍跳躍而出,觀者驚而畏矣。至舜命禹疏川奠岳,濟巨海則黿鼉而為梁,逾翠岑則神龍而為馭,行遍日月之墟,惟不踐羽山之地,皆聖德之感也。鯀之靈化,其事互說,神變猶一,而色狀不同。玄魚黃能,四音相亂,傳寫流文,“鯀”字或“魚”邊“玄”也。群疑眾說,並略記焉。

錄曰:書契之作,肇跡軒史,道樸風淳,文用尚質。降及唐、虞,爰迄三代,世祀遐絕,載歷綿遠。列聖通儒,憂乎道缺。故使玉牒金繩之書,蟲章鳥篆之記,或秘諸巖藪,藏於屋壁;或逢喪亂,經籍事寢。前史舊章,或流散異域。故字體與俗訛移,其音旨隨方互改。歷商、周之世,又經嬴、漢,簡帛焚裂,遺墳殘泯。詳其朽蠹之餘,採捃傳聞之說。是以“己亥”正於前疑,“三豕”析於後謬。子年所述,涉乎萬古,與聖葉同,擿文求理,斯言如或可據。《尚書》云:“堯殛鯀於羽山。”《春秋傳》曰:“其神化為黃能,以入羽淵。”是在山變為能,入水化為魚也。獸之依山,魚之附水,各因其性而變化焉。詳之正典,爰訪雜說,若真若似,並略錄焉。禹鑄九鼎,五者以應陽法,四者以象陰數。使工師以雌金為陰鼎,以雄金為陽鼎。鼎中常滿,以占氣象之休否。當夏桀之世,鼎水忽沸。及周將末,九鼎咸震:皆應滅亡之兆。後世聖人,因禹之跡,代代鑄鼎焉。禹盡力溝洫,導川夷岳。黃龍曳尾於前,玄龜負青泥於後。玄龜,河精之使者也。龜頷下有印,文皆古篆,字作九州山川之字。禹所穿鑿之處,皆以青泥封記其所,使玄龜印其上。今人聚土為界,此之遺像也。

禹鑿龍關之山,亦謂之龍門。至一空巖,深數十里,幽暗不可復行,禹乃負火而進。有獸狀如豕,銜夜明之珠,其光如燭。又有青犬,行吠於前。禹計可十里,迷於晝夜。既覺漸明,見向來豕犬變為人形,皆著玄衣。又見一神,蛇身人面。禹因與語,神即示禹八卦之圖,列於金版之上。又有八神侍側。禹曰:“華胥生聖子,是汝耶?”答曰:“華胥是九河神女,以生余也。”乃探玉簡授禹,長一尺二寸,以合十二時之數,使量度天地。禹即執持此簡,以平定水土。蛇身之神,即羲皇也。

錄曰:夫神跡難求,幽暗罔辨,希夷彷彿之間,聞見以之衒惑。若測諸冥理,先墳有所指明。是以彭生假見於貝丘,趙王示形於蒼犬,皆文備魯冊,驗表齊、漢。遠古曠代,事異神同。銜珠吐燭之怪,精靈一其均矣。若夫茫茫禹跡,杳漠神源,非末俗所能推辨矣。觀伏羲至於夏禹,歲歷悠曠,載祀綿邈,故能與日月共輝,陰陽齊契。萬代百王,情異跡至,參機會道,視萬齡如旦暮,促累劫於寸陰。何嗟鬼神之可已,而疑羲、禹之相遇乎!

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