The Legend of the Scholar and the Dragon Princess

Evan Mantyk, Contributing Editor

A long time ago, when people all believed in gods or heavenly beings, it was sometimes the case that such beings would walk among ordinary men. They could change their appearance and look just like ordinary people. They also had supernatural powers. Among these heavenly beings, there was a certain class known as dragons and there were many of them. Each body of water was looked over by a local dragon king, who had his own underwater palace, a queen, servants, and subjects.

It so happened that one winter day the scholar Liu Yi and his servant were on their way to the capital on an especially cold day and in a desolate land where the winds whipped along unimpeded by trees or mountains. Suddenly the Scholar heard sobbing and discovered a miserable young lady tending sheep. After questioning her, the Scholar found out that she was a dragon princess who had been sent far away from her watery home to marry the Dragon King of the Jing River. However, her new husband had completely ignored her and her in-laws had treated her roughly and unkindly. She had been forced to live out the rest of her life tending sheep out on the cold and desolate plain. Fearing her own death, she had often begged the birds to send a message to her father, but none would cooperate. 

Being a righteous scholar who followed the teachings of Confucius, Liu Yi decided that he would be her messenger. The Dragon Princess gave the Scholar a special scepter that would allow him to enter her father’s palace under the water and deliver the message to her father. 

After a successful journey, the Scholar told the Princess’s father what had happened. The princess’s father was a dragon king himself and had a palace complete with trusted advisors and courtiers around him—among them was the princess’s warlike uncle. Once the Princess’s uncle heard what had happened, he was furious. He immediately called up an army and led it on a mission to kill the Dragon King of Jing River and rescue his niece. 

The mission was a complete success and a big and marvelous celebration was held at the palace under the sea. The Princess was joyously reunited with her father and all seemed well. During the celebration, the Princess’s uncle approached the Scholar and invited him to take the Princess to be his wife. However, back then, a person’s reputation was everything and one stain could be the difference between being chosen for an important and powerful position and simply being looked over. More importantly back then, people had a sense of what was right and what was wrong—and if they thought something was right they were not easily swayed. Breaking apart a marriage and waging a war to take someone else’s wife as your own would be a severe violation of what was right. Thus, the Scholar declined the offer.  

The Princess bid farewell to the Scholar and accompanied him on his return journey to the capital. When the moment to say goodbye came, neither one was happy as they both did not want to part with each other. Eventually, the Scholar knew he could delay no longer; he politely bowed and left.

Once in the capital, the Scholar became listless and dissatisfied. Nothing was the same anymore. His widowed mother, Madame Liu, longed for him to marry and give her grandchildren. She employed the services of a matchmaker who presented her with a girl who was pretty and educated and could write decent poetry. But the Scholar was not interested. Over the years, the Scholar married twice and both of his wives passed away, unable to penetrate his heart and consequently consumed in sadness. 

The Princess’s uncle always felt deep respect for the Scholar for informing them about his niece and he could see that the Princess was still very much in love with the Scholar even after a number of years. Finally, he hatched a plan. He came up to dryland with his niece and pretended to be a fisherman. As a fisherman, the uncle sold fish to the Scholar and made sure to undercharge him and to give him the most exceptional fish, so that the Scholar always came back. When the Scholar tried to give him more money or gifts, the fisherman acted insulted and refused. Finally, the fisherman told the Scholar about his big problem: his niece was of marriageable age but no suitable partner could be found. In this way the domineering uncle made sure that the Scholar and the Princess were engaged to be married. 

On the wedding night, the Scholar reluctantly showed up. The Princess knew who the groom was but the Scholar didn’t know who the bride was. 

“My heart is sunk beneath the sea,” he said,
“Forever lost and better not to wed.”

But she replied, “I’ll find it in the sea
And hold your sunken heart up close to me.”

“You’ll drowned beneath the waves as others drowned,”
He said, “It’s dark and cold on that wet ground.”

But she replied, “I’ll make a home down there
And light it up with smiles and royal care.”

“With royal care? Who do you think you are?”
He asked, “A princess? Oh, from that you’re far!”

But she replied, “And if I were would you,
A scholar, recognize a heart that’s true?”

And so the Dragon Princess and the Scholar Liu Yi went back and forth and back and forth until the Scholar finally realized that she was the Dragon Princess he had been waiting for, and they were happily married.

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