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The Great Flood: What Was China’s Story?

We are all well aware of the biblical story of Noah and how he built the gigantic ark to prepare for the great flood. But did you know China had their own version of the myth?

Unlike Noah’s story, in Chinese Mythology humans fought the Great Flood. This battle was lead by mythical heroes; Prince Gun and his son Yu. They went against the evil demons and had dragons to build a massive drain and mighty dams to end the flood.

What was the Story of the Great Flood of Gun-Yu?

The so-called great flood began during Emperor Yao’s reign. Both the Yellow and the Yangtze rivers overflowed, no land was spared. The flooding was continuous and unending. (Source: The Handbook of Chinese Mythology)

Like endless boiling water, the flood is pouring forth destruction. Boundless and overwhelming, it overtops hills and mountains. Rising and ever rising, it threatens the very heavens. How the people must be groaning and suffering!

Emperor Yao from the Book of History

The emperor felt helpless that he sought the counsel of his special advisors; the Four Mountains. After much deliberation, they gave him instructions he was not too fond of. They told him to appoint someone to be in charge of the flood. When he finally consented, he picked a distance relative: Gun. (Source: The Handbook of Chinese Mythology)

What Did Gun Do to Ease the Flood?

Based on the myth, Gun resorted to using a self-expanding soil called Xirang. He chose to steal the Xirang from the Supreme Divinity. He used the magical soil to build dams, dikes, and other structures to block the water. But this did not provide a long term solution, every year he would need to make more barricades.

This went on for nine years, and the flood was not managed. Yao offered to resign from his position as emperor due to this failure. But the Four Mountains recommended to seek the help of Shun. He was appointed co-emperor. He reorganized the empire and made sure the palace dealt with the flood and its effects. Even with the reorganization and efforts from Shun, the rivers still overflowed to the islands. (Source: The Handbook of Chinese Mythology)

Did Gun and Shun Work Together?

When Shun was appointed, Gun still insisted on using dikes despite his failure in managing the flood. Gun also questioned Shun’s legitimacy as a ruler. Because of this, he was banished to Feather Mountain, where his existence as a human would end. (Source: The Handbook of Chinese Mythology)

Who is Yu?

Gun, somehow had a son and his name was Yu. He was also involved in the containment of the flood waters. He used a different approach which eventually solved the problem. The key was creating a drain rather than containing the water. Myth says that Yu sought the help digging dragons and a giant mud-hauling tortoise. (Source: The Handbook of Chinese Mythology)

How True is This Story?

While we are fully aware that there are no such things as digging dragons and giant tortoises, geologists have found evidence of a mega-flood happening in China. The Chinese-led team of researchers estimate that the flood happened some time around 1900 BC.

But contrary to the myth, it is said that the flood was caused by a landslide across the Jishi Gorge which blocked the Yellow River for about six to nine months. (Source: BBC)

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