The Tale of the Four Dragons


As we celebrate the New Lunar Year and the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, we thought it a nice opportunity to share one of our favourite Chinese folk tales. We hope you enjoy the read:


(All the Dragons featured in the below photographs are from our online inventory of antique Chinese porcelain. You can click on any of the images to take a closer look at the collection.)



Once upon a time, many years ago, there were no rivers or lakes on Earth. The only source of water was the Eastern Sea, in which lived four Dragons; the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon.

One day while the four Dragons were flying and playing in the sky they looked down and observed the people of earth. The people were burning incense sticks and on their knees praying “Please send rain quickly, to give our children rice to eat”.



There had been no rain for a long time and the crops had dried out and failed.

“How poor the people are!” the Yellow Dragon said. “They will surely die soon if we do not help!” and the Long Dragon agreed, “We must go and beg the Jade Emperor for help.”


The Dragons leapt up into the clouds to the Heavenly Palace. The Jade Emperor reigned over all affairs of the earth and sea and as such was very powerful and demanded the correct respect. Such was the urgency of the dragons they disregarded this and rushed in!



“Why do you come here instead of staying in the sea and behaving!?” demanded the Emperor. The dragons stepped forward, “Please your Majesty. The crops on earth are withering and dying, please send rain quickly!”

“Very well” the Emperor replied. “I shall send some tomorrow”.

The Dragons thanked the Emperor and returned to the sea. Ten days passed and not a drop fell and the people suffered terribly. The Dragons could not bear it and they knew the Jade Emperor cared only for himself and his own pleasures so they decided to take things into their own claws.



Seeing the vast Eastern Sea, the Pearl dragon had an idea, “Is there not plenty of water in the Sea where we live? Could we not scoop it up and spray it into the sky? Then it will fall like rain and water the crops!”


“But…” said the Long Dragon, “We will be blamed if the Jade Emperor learns of this. He will punish us.”

“I will do anything to save the people.” said the noble Yellow Dragon. “Then let’s begin. We will never regret it!” cheered the Black Dragon.



They flew to sea and scooped up the water in their mouths and flew back to the sky where they sprayed it all over the earth.

“It’s raining, we are saved!” The people cried and leapt with joy! The Jade Emperor saw what had happened and was enraged! “How dare those Dragons bring rain without my permission!” he bellowed. He sent his heavenly Generals and their troops to arrest the four Dragons and bring them to the Palace where he decreed that four mountains would be laid upon them so they could never escape.




Though they were imprisoned the four Dragons never regretted their decision to help the people. They were determined to help the men and women forever and so they turned themselves into four rivers: In the North, The Heilongjian (Black Dragon), In the Centre, The Huanghe (Yellow River), In the South The Changjiang (Yangtze or Long River) and in the far South The Zhujiang (Pearl).




We hope you enjoyed this article. You can browse through over 50 stories and blogs inspired by our collection of Chinese and Japanese Fine Art and Antiques by clicking here.