Legendary Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Rise of Yu the Great (1)

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Yu is one of the few called “the Great.” To earn this honorable distinction, not only did he quell the devastating floods afflicting the country at the time, but he also established China’s first hereditary dynasty, the Xia.

The course of Chinese history, showing how key figures aided in the creation of China’s divinely inspired culture. This installment introduces Yu the Great, the hero who subdued the Great Flood.

As the Great Flood raged and Emperor Yao prepared his heir Shun for the throne, a third personality emerged: Yu the Great.

Illustrious names and titles are common among Chinese rulers, but Yu is one of the few called “the Great.” To earn this honorable distinction, not only did he quell the devastating floods afflicting the country at the time, but he also established China’s first hereditary dynasty, the Xia.

Yu’s father, Gun (pronounced “gwuhn”), was an artisan skilled in the construction of walls. Emperor Yao placed him in charge of the effort to control the flooding, but they did not get along. Gun was controlling, insubordinate, and stubborn.

Gun set up many dikes, but these proved to be ineffective. People perished en masse as water levels rose and broke the levees time and again.

It is said in the “Classic of Mountains and Seas” that Gun stole the xi rang, a magical expanding soil, from the Celestial Emperor. He intended to use the xi rang as the ultimate dam, but instead incurred the wrath of the divine monarch. In his rage, the Celestial Emperor destroyed Gun’s work and sent even greater torrents. For this failure, Shun, Emperor Yao’s heir, exiled Gun to Mount Yu.

There, Gun encountered and battled the fire god Zhu Rong, who had been dispatched to execute him. Gun perished after he threw himself into the waves. The “Classic of Mountains and Seas” states that his body did not decay for three years, and upon autopsy in the state of Wu, transformed into a yellow dragon.

Despite his father Gun’s performance, Yu, known during his life as Wen Ming, gained the favor of Shun, who would recommend him to the emperor to combat the flood.

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