Tuesday, January 28, 2014
The Dragon Emperor: a Chinese Folktale
The Dragon Emperor: a Chinese Folktale retold by Wang Ping, Illus. by Tang Ge, 2008.
This is another offering in the "On My Own Folklore" series and it is divided into four detail-packed short chapters, but is still heavily illustrated. It tells of the Yellow Emperor, A.K.A. the Dragon Emperor, who was born on Mount Tai, home to snake-bodied gods and goddesses. With four faces and a dragon's body, the Yellow Emperor ruled the people, but he also taught them how to survive by cooking food with fire, digging wells and building houses. He was an inventor and encouraged his people to also create, and so written language, laws and a calendar came about. Unfortunately, one of his greatest warriors, the Black Dragon, called Chi You, made war against the Emperor. Chi You had supernatural powers and 81 equally fierce fighting brothers. Ten battles were fought, and then the emperor found help: Ying Long the dragon, who could control the weather, and Ba the Drought Goddess (the Yellow Emperor's daughter). After defeating his foe, the Yellow Emperor was the sole ruler of the Middle Kingdom until he rode away on Ying Long's back, disappearing into the heavenly court, leaving behind people who continued to worship him.
In the book's Afterword, we learn that the Yellow Emperor is seen as China's founder. Chi You is also honored during festivals, and Ying Long is China's most popular dragon, with dragon dances done for him on New Year's Day.
Tang Ge's colorful art captures the odd majesty of the magical animals, unusual appearing deities and terrifying warriors of the story. Chi You has six scaly arms and four green eyes that match his emerald fangs, but also has the body of a mighty man. The emperor, in his human form, has a long white beard and a rich robe, and he casually perches on Ying Long, the dragon with golden wings and antlers and an impressive snaky tale.