Storytellers know 'that China has hundreds of dragons. Every pool and river has its own dragon, and there are quite a few more in the Chinese seas.

The dragons are not fierce, and they don't eat people, either-which is just as well.  But why are there so many dragons in China?

        Long ago, in China, there was a flood.  It was a huge flood, like the one in the Bible, when Noah built his big boat.  But in China's flood, people and animals were saved by two great heroes - magic mud and, as you might imagine, a Chinese dragon.

        The Yellow Emperor, supreme god of the heavens, was angry.  "People keep on doing bad, wicked things," he said.  "I'm going to get rid of them! And I'm going to do it now!"  So he ordered the rain god to make endless rain.

        The rain god was more than happy to do this and rushed off across the sky, whipping up big black clouds and throwing down torrents of rain.  He didn't stop for a moment.  He loved his work.

        And so, on earth, it rained endlessly, and of course there was a great flood.  Houses, plants, and even trees were swept away.  People and animals were drowned.  A few families ran up into the mountains, hoping to survive. But even they were afraid, because every day they saw the floodwaters rise.

        Only one god-Kun, grandson of the Yellow Emperor looked down from the heavens and was truly sorry for everyone.  He went to his grandfather's palace and pleaded with him.  "Lord of the Heavens," he said, "stop the endless rain.  Do not let any more people die." 

        But the Yellow Emperor was still angry.  He simply closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath, and turned away.

         As Kun walked out of the palace, sadly shaking his head, an old tortoise came plodding toward him.

         "What's the matter?" asked the tortoise.

         I don't want any more people to drown," said Kun.  "But I don't know how to help them."

         "Magic mud! That's what you need!" said the tortoise.  "Just sprinkle some on the floodwaters and watch what happens next!"

         "Where can I get this mud?" asked Kun.

         "Easy!" answered the tortoise.  "The Yellow Emperor has a big jarful in his treasure - house."

        "But he won't give me any said Kun.  "He doesn't want the flood to end."

        "Then..." said the tortoise, and he dropped his voice to a whisper, "then ... you'll have to steal some!"

        Remember, Kun was a god.  He had special powers.  In a flash, he was inside his grandfather's treasure - house.  There he found a tall jar full of soft greenish clay.  He quickly took a, handful and, in another flash, he was outside again.

        Kun thought, and in an instant he was on earth, standing on a mountain, with the endless rain spattering down on his head.  He broke off a small piece of the mud and sprinkled it on the floodwaters.  It doubled in size, doubled again, and yet again.  It kept on growing, and, at the same time, it soaked up water like a giant sponge.  Before long, the mud had made an island.  Truly, it was magic mud!

        Kun worked fast, traveling from place to place, sprinkling magic mud on the water, making more islands and big land bridges between the mountains.  People crept out from the caves and huts where they were sheltered and watched him.  At last they saw a reason to hope-perhaps the

 flood would not cover everything.

        But still the rain fell.  And besides, before Kun had used up all the mud, the Yellow Emperor looked down at the earth and saw everything.

        "Kun must die!" he said, and he ordered the god of fire to do the deed.

        When Kun saw the fire god coming, he changed himself into a white horse and tried to hide among some boulders at the top of a mountain.  But the fire god hurled a lightning flash, and Kun, the white horse, fell down as if he were dead.

        Time passed. Kun, the white horse, stirred.  Something was growing inside him.  He shuddered, and from out of his body sprang a new life - a golden dragon-young, strong, and splendid. 

        Then Kun, the brave hero, died. But his son, who called himself Yu, flew up to the heavens.  He entered the palace of the Yellow Emperor, bowed his dragon head, and spoke softly and respectfully.

        "Great Lord of the Heavens," he said, I am Yu, the son of Kun, sent into the world to finish his work.  Honored Great - Grandfather, the people have suffered much and are are sad.  Take pity on them and stop the endless rain."

        The Yellow Emperor listened.  His anger cooled.  "Golden Dragon," he said, "from now on you shall be the rain god.  But that is not enough.  I must give you some magic mud to make new land and soak up the extra water."

        The Yellow Emperor pointed to a tortoise standing in a corner, listening.  It was the same old tortoise who had helped Kun!  "You may take as much magic mud as can be piled on top of that tortoise's back," said the Yellow Emperor, smiling.

        Yu, the golden dragon, bowed his head.  "I thank you, Great - Grandfather."

        There was much to do.  Swiftly Yu flew off He broke up the clouds and chased and blew them away.  While he was doing this, he came face-to-face with the old rain god, who was extremely angry.  He had enjoyed making endless rain and didn't want to give up his job.  But the Yellow Emperor had to be obeyed.  All the old rain god could do was grumble and complain.

        When the rain at last stopped falling, Yu piled magic mud on the tortoise's back.  Then the two of them came down to earth. 

         Still there was much to do.  Yu and the tortoise traveled through the land of China, sprinkling magic mud, making new land, and at the same time soaking up the floodwaters.

        When all the magic mud had been used, Yu said to the tortolse, "Only one thing is left!  We must make some riversl"

        Then, with the tortoise leading the way, the golden dragon used his tail to plow deep furrows across the soft muddy soil, from the mountains to the sea.

        In most places, this was quite easy.  There was only one difficult spot. When Yu was plowing the course of the Yellow River, in northern China, he came to a place where some rocky cliffs stood in the way.  Yu thought for a

moment, then turned around and lashed the rocks with his tall, cutting a great chasm through them.

        "This place shall be called Dragon's Gate," he said.  "It will always be sacred to dragons."

        In this way Yu, the golden dragon, made the great rivers that flow across China today.  It is also said that when the cold, sad, hungry people ventured out of the caves and huts where they had fled during the endless rain, they asked Yu to be their emperor.  And so Yu, the golden dragon, became a man - god and lived on earth.

        Yu is stiff honored and remembered, especially at Dragon's Gate on the Yellow River.  There, each spring, the fish swimming upstream must leap over the fast-flowing rapids that cascade down the chasm Yu cut with his tail. The fish that leap through the wild foaming spray and clear the rapids in one

enormous leap - those fish change into dragons and continue leaping  on up into the clouds.  There they frolic and play in the summertime, before returning to the rivers and pools where they sleep during the winter.

    Dragons live a long, long time.  Every year at Dragon's Gate a few more dragons are born.  And now you know why there are so many dragons in China.

From: Mystical Birds And Beasts From Many Lands
By: Margaret Mayo
Illustration: Jay Ray