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Dragon Robe for an Empress of China


Dragon Robe for an Empress of China
Dragon Robe for an Empress of China
1821-50 (Ch'ing dynasty)
Embroidered silk, gold thread
The John R. Van Derlip Fund

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Discussion Questions

A T'ang (tong) dynasty emperor visited the Chinese city of Loyang (low-yang) during a long spell of very hot, dry weather. There, in a temple, lived an Indian priest named Wu Wei (woo way), who knew how to call forth the dragon who brings rain. The emperor begged Wu Wei to bring rain to his scorched land, but the priest refused. The heat was seasonable, he said, and summoning the dragon would do much damage. The emperor said that the people were suffering because of the drought. Any rain, he pleaded, even if accompanied by roaring winds and crashing thunder, would be good. Finally Wu Wei agreed.

Wu Wei ordered the removal of everything from the temple, except for one bowl of water. Stirring the water, he repeated magical words hundreds of times. Presently, a red finger-sized dragon appeared, raising its head slightly above the water's surface. Then it slowly disappeared. Wu wei stirred the water again, chanting a spell three times. From the bowl a white vapor rose several feet into the air and floated toward the temple door.

"Go," Wu Wei ordered the emperor's messenger, "for the rain is coming!" As he fled to alert the emperor, the messenger glanced back to see the vapor roll like white silk out of the temple. Then darkness fell, bringing with it thunder and rain. Gale winds uprooted giant trees along the road as the storm overtook the terrified messenger. At last he reached the emperor, drenched but safe.1

1 This story was first told in Ci Liushi Jiu Wen (Old records of the younger Liu) and written down by Li Deyu, also of the T'ang Dynasty. This version is based on Evangeline D. Edward's translation in Chinese Prose Literature of the T'ang Period (London, 1938) I, p. 93, who took it from Tangshui Congshu, ed. Wang Wenhe (Shanghai, 1806) I, bk. V, 5b-6.. Return to Text

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