Saturday, 30 November 2013

the dragon king

Ao Guang, the dragon king of the east sea, is one of the most enduring figures in Chinese mythology. He is the most powerful of the four dragon kings, each of whom rules one of the four seas. He is a bitter, brooding character who resents what he perceives to be his lowly position in the hierarchy. He controls the waves and tides in his domain and can summon up a tempest at will from his palace on the seabed, where he lives with his eight sons.

He plays a minor role in Journey to the West, in which he is visited by Sun Wukong, the self-proclaimed Great Sage and Equal of Heaven, otherwise known as the Monkey King. Monkey visits Ao Guang because he needs a weapon, and he has been advised that the dragon king can help him. Ao Guang is not impressed and instructs one of his soldiers to bring Monkey a spear. It is Monkey’s turn to be unimpressed, as he contemptuously discards the proffered weapon, saying that he needs something heavier.

“Bring him the 3,600-jin halberd,” orders Ao Guang [a jin is approximately equal to 500 grams].

“Too light!” exclaims Monkey, as he tosses the halberd into the air.

“Bring him the 7,200-jin pike,” Ao Guang instructs his soldiers.

The pike requires an entire platoon of soldiers to carry it, but Monkey is able to use it to perform an astounding demonstration of his martial prowess. However, he still thinks the weapon is too light.

“Then I can’t help you,” says the dragon king.

However, Ao Guang’s chief adviser has a bright idea. Why not offer Monkey the needle that stabilizes the sea? This weighs 36,000 jin, and Ao Guang offers this to Monkey, if he can lift it. He clearly believes that this will be impossible, but Monkey discovers that the needle can be instructed to reduce in size and, presumably, weight. He insists that Ao Guang honour his promise.

Following the loss of such a treasure, Ao Guang petitions the Jade Emperor, the ruler of Heaven, for redress, after which he bows out of the story. Other Chinese myths recount Ao Guang’s humiliation in battles with Prince Nezha, son of Li, the Pagoda King, but I’ve mentioned Ao Guang here mainly to introduce this wonderful ceramic panel in a recently restored temple in Ho Sheung Heung (the ‘village above the river’).

There are no captions or other information, so my identification of its central figure as Ao Guang may not be correct, but there are eight other dragons in the picture. Note the stylized waves and clouds. I do not know the identity of the mounted figure in the top centre of the picture, although it is unlikely to be Prince Nezha, who is usually portrayed as a child.


  1. Good stuff! Maybe you can research significance of 9 dragons. See you on 11th

    1. I don’t think nine dragons is significant Peter, although the fact that Ao Guang has eight sons obviously is.


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