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The Cult 01 the Dragon and the Invocation lor Rain Michael Loewe Chinese historical sources frequently mention the occurrence of drought and the measures that were adopted to relieve the population from such calamities. Some of the methods reflect the early belief in a connection between the appearance of dragons and the downfall of rain, and it is with this subject that the present paper is concerned. For a variety of reasons the connection drawn between dragons and rainfall bears an intrinsic interest. First, it is an example of sympathetic magic of an imitative type, which seeks to bring about material results by a display of phenomena similar to those that are desired.1 Secondly, a blend of faith and reason may be observed in the practices which derived from this belief. Finally, both the theory and the practice demonstrate a process that is seen in other aspects of China's cultural development: a comparatively late rationalisation and standardisation, based on philosophical principle, becomes imposed on an original act of faith that could well have been of a very early mythological origin. Fortunately, sources which spring from different intellectual attitudes provide evidence for this study. In addition to a few straightforward statements of historical fact and records of formal institutions, there are references in the writings of several types of philosophy. The subject is mentioned in the Huai-nan-tzu 准南子, which was presented to the throne in 139 B.C. and which sets out to describe the workings of the universe as a regular process of nature. In the chapters of this collection the writers are highly sympathetic to a belief that the appearance of dragons can bring about a fall of rain. In addition the rationalist critic For the distinction drawn between imitative and contagious magic, see J. G. Frazer, The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings (London, 1911) 1, S2 ff. 195 Michael Loe7.ρe Wang Ch'ung 王先 (A.D. 27 to c. 100) seems, despite his own principles, to have been unable to refute the existence of uneχplained phenomena within this conte肘, as may be seen in the Lun-heng 論衡. Finally, a detailed description of a whole ritual that was designed to bring about a fall of rain is included in the Ch'un-ch'Íu fan-Iu 春秋繁露. Traditionally this work has been ascribed to Tung Chung-shu 董仲舒 (c. 179-c. 104), but doubts have been raised regarding the authenticity of all or some parts of the text, which may possibly be dated up to four centuries or so after his time.2 The origins of the legend The evidence for the invocation of dragons to procure rainfall comes fromp呵-Buddhist China and may be traced back to the early centuries of recorded history.3 Nevertheless the subject may perhaps best be introduced by reference to a much later passage. This occurs in a famous essay of Han Yü (768-824), the great eχponent of Confucian rectitude and antagonist of Buddhist beHef. The passage shows how, by the time of Han Yü 韓傘, the beHef in the dragon's powers had so far become encapsulated in the Chinese tradition that an essayist could exploit it as an allegory so as to illustrate and add force to his own cause. By puffing out his breath with a roar, the dragon forms the clouds; and the clouds are of course not possessed of greater spiritual power than the dragon. However, it is by mounting his own breath that the dragon journeys to all corners of the empyrean. He presses close to the sun and the moon and he crouches within their effulgence. He gives rise to thunder and to lightning; he brings about transformations of nature such that water pours down upon the earth beneath, submerging the hills and the valleys. In writing this essay, Han Yü was putting forward the case of a disappointed and disgraced official, who was anxious to point out that his talents lay obscured and unrecognised. In his allegory, the dragon naturally enough stood for the sovereign, or the emperor, and the clouds for his servants and officials. Just as the dragon relies on the clouds to enact his purposes, so does the emperor no less require officials to carry 2 In addition to the doubts voiced by Professor Malmqvist, and yet to be published, see Chang Hsin-cheng 張心徵 Wei-shu t'ung-k'ao 偽者通考 (Shanghai, 1957), 1 , 475 ff. 3 Whatever the date of the Ch'un-ch'iu fan-lu...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9789882200692
Related ISBN
9789622091894
MARC Record
OCLC
642685731
Pages
360
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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