Episode 4: Dragon Gate

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If I am going to ask you one Chinese mythical animal, what is your first reaction? Of course the dragons. There are so many things and stories to say about dragons. Today I am going to tell two short stories about dragons that are most well-known. But don’t worry. We will get to know more in the future.

In the book TaiPingGuangJi 太平广记, a collection of stories compiled in the early Song dynasty the year 978, it says, the dragon gate was in the region of the east of Yellow River 黄河, Yu the Great , who is a legendary ruler in Xia Dynasty, from the year 2200- 2101 BC, known for his flood control, separated the mountain, and opened the so called dragon gate, a waterfall, which is one li long. Li is a ancient length unit, equls to around 400 ~ 500 meters or 1312 ~ 1640 feet. Yellow River flushed through the gate. Every late spring, there were yellow carps from seas and rivers swimming against the flow. As soon as they jumped over the dragon gate, they became dragons. It wasn’t easy. Only 72 carps out of thousands of thousands of carps could jump over the dragon gate every year. The process is a little dramatic. The moment a carp jumps over the gate, clouds and rains would follow it. Afterwards, fire from the sky would burn its tail and voila a carp is transformed into a dragon. The phrase carps jumping over the dragon gate 鲤鱼跳龙门 is to describe a person get a high ranking in the imperial examination which meant they would get a high position the government and work for the emperor in ancient China. We still use the phrase now when a person get into a famous college or a good job. From the scientific perspective, fish hurtle into the air to confuse a pursuer instead of trying to transform into dragons. In the story those fish were carps. Some people say because carps pronounced as LiYu鲤鱼. Li pronounced the same with the last name of the emperor in Tang Dynasty. Carps was popular pattern on decorations at that time too. For a certain time, carps were forbidden to hunt due to the same reason. You know Japanese art and culture was greatly influenced by China especially from Tang Dynasty. So you can find carp shaped wind socks, or koinobori in Japanese, flown in Japan to celebrate Children’s day and other holidays in the hope that children will grow up healthy and have a good future.


It seems like everyone likes dragons and wants to be dragons in China. People even try to conceive on certain days to have a baby born in the year of the dragon. Lord Ye 叶公 is no exception. In the book XinXuZaShi新序杂事written around year 200 BC, it says there was a person named ShenZhuLian沈诸梁, we call him Lord Ye because of his title and region he was in charge of . He lived in the Spring and Autumn period 春秋时期, which was a period in Chinese history from year 771 to 476 BC. Lord Ye was so found of dragons. You could find dragons on his drinking containers, his decorations and there were carved dragons on the beams, pillars, windows and roofs of his houses too. He was a fan of dragons like today people put posters of Justin Biber everyone on the wall. The real dragon from the sky knew about it and decided to fly down to Lord Ye’s place and visit. When the gaint dragon came, his head was in front of the window while his tail was wagging in the hallway. Lord Ye saw it and guess what? He was scared out of his wits and darted away. Be careful of what you are wishing for! I never understood this story when I was a kid. We were told the moral was Lord Ye doesn’t love the real dragon but things looked like dragons. What does that mean? When I grow up, I just began to realize the philosophy of this story. People always say be yourself and do what you love. It’s not a easy thing to find the thing you really love. There is a simple way to ask a couple quesitons to yourself to find out. First, if you can get all the benefits without doing certain things, will you still do it? Second, if you can do it without telling any body you did it , will you still do it?




Yu the Great

鲤鱼跳龙门 carps jumping over the dragon gate

Song Dynasty

Xia Dynasty

Tang Dynasty



春秋时期Spring and Autumn period

叶公 Lord Ye

2 thoughts on “Episode 4: Dragon Gate

  1. Sergio Werner

    Greetings, I just discovered your blog, and it is really impressive.
    I actually have a particular interest in your blog. I practice Taichichuan and other Chinese Martial arts, and I am always fascinated by the names of the movements and postures – through allegory and myth, they certainly convey meaning that is not necessarily accessible for westerners. Knowing the images and stories behind them is certainly an useful addition to our practice.
    This is true for all the arts I practice, and in particular Sword forms. For example, 鲤鱼跳龙门 is a movement name in the Yang Taijijian routine, that I never actually had a clue for the meaning – in fact my teacher told me that many of the sword form movements are either mythical and astronomical in nature (some examples: 海底捞月, 夜叉探海, 犀牛望月, 白猿献果, 流星赶月, there are many more)
    So, here is an idea for a next series of post, discovering the stories behind these movement names.
    Many thanks for sharing and keep up this great work!


    • chinesemythologypodcast

      Hi Sergio! I am so glad you find something useful in our podcast that related with you interest. That’s why we started this podcast! It is a great idea to talk about those movements in Sword forms or Martial arts in general in the future!


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