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The Great Yu and the terrible Flood

2012-06-14 11:08 ChineseTime

The Great Yu and the terrible Flood

Legend has it that some four or five thousand years ago there occurred once in the Yellow River valley a terrible flood which washed away whole villages with their houses and inundated large areas of cropland. Many people lost their lives in the flood and those who were fortunate enough to survive were forced to abandon their homes and go and live on hillsides or migrate to places far, far away.

At that time, the leader of the confederation of tribes was a man named Yao who at once summoned together the chieftains of all the tribes to discuss how to get the flood under control. At the meeting, a man named Gun was elected by unanimous vote to take charge of the fight against the flood.

Under Gun's leadership, the people spent nine long years building dams and dykes to stop the flow of the rivers. All the efforts however ended only in more disastrous floods. It happened more than once that no sooner was a dam or dyke built than it was destroyed by flood which carried sands and mud downstream until the mouth of the Yellow River was choked up and the afflicted areas became larger and larger while the number of victims increased.

By this time Yao himself was getting very old and so he yielded his place to one named Shun who attached great importance to flood control and went to the work sites for a personal inspection. When he found that Gun had failed in his mission, he first had him incarcerated on Feather Hill and then killed. After that he gave orders that Gun's son Yu should carry on the work of fighting the flood.

There have been many mythical stories about Yu's birth. One is that three years after Gun was killed, his dead body still showed no signs of putrefaction and when someone cut it open, out bounded the boy Yu. Another has it that Yu's mother gave birth to him after eating a kind of wild fruit. Anyway, in ancient times everyone seemed to believe that Yu was the son of a god, an ingenious, capable and peerless hero.

It was barely four days after he got married when Yu received Shun's order. Determined to have the flood under control and remove the menace to the people, he left his wife behind and set off for the work site.

Yu first made a study of the causes that had led to his father's failure. Then he made a careful survey of the afflicted areas and asked for advice from experienced workers. Knowing that water tends to flow from higher to lower regions, he abandoned Gun's method of building dams and dykes to stop the flow of waters. Instead he led his men in digging ditches and canals to divert the flood and also in dredging the river channels so as to provide outlets for the floods into the sea. In those days there was a high mountain, Mount Longmen, in the upper reaches of the Yellow River that blocked the way of the river. When the turbulent waters reached the mountain, it overflowed the banks, causing floods in the vicinity. In order to cut a canal into the mountain, Yu turned himself into a bear and stole into the mountains to do the digging. He also enlisted the help of Ying Long, Huang Di's brave warrior. Eventually, he succeeded in cutting a canal through Mount Longmen and thus made it possible for the floods to flow by way of this canal and the dredged rivers into the sea.

Rain or shine, Yu worked in the midst of his men, digging and taking earth away all through the four seasons of a year. His face became sun-burnt and his body spare and thin. Even the hair on his calves was worn away. But he was so dedicated that it was said that he had three times refrained from entering the door of his home when he was passing by. One story has it that he happened to be passing the door when his wife was giving birth to his son Qi. He heard the baby crying, but in order to get the flood under control as early as he could he turned away from his door.

Thus after thirteen long years of continuous efforts, Yu and his men succeeded in dredging all the rivers, big and small, and in doing away with the evil of flood. Those who had gone to live on hillsides or had migrated to remote places now came back to their native places. Under Yu's leadership, they tilled the land and planted crops and developed agricultural production. As a result, people were beginning to lead a good life.

Yu was held in great reverence by all the tribes who now addressed him as Yu the Great. Shun was convinced that Yu had both fine qualities and great competence and so recommended him as his successor. After the death of Shun, Yu became the head of the tribal confederation. Later his own son Qi set himself as the successor and it was Qi that set up the first slave-owning state in Chinese history - the Xia Dynasty.

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