Once no rivers or lakes existed on earth, only a single sea where four Dragons lived.
The four Dragons–Long, Yellow, Eastern, and Pearl served the Jade Emperor, who lived high in the heavens. The Jade Emperor was especially fond of the people on earth as they were a joyful bunch and quick to offer up songs of praise when he sent rain to water their crops. It was the job of the four Dragons to watch over the people as they sailed and gathered fish from the sea. The Dragons enjoyed their work and took it very seriously.
All was good in the land until the Emperor married a new wife, the Fairy Queen. The Queen was jealous of the time the Emperor took caring for the people of the Earth, so she put him into a trance with her beautiful song so he would only pay attention to her.
Many days passed and the Emperor began to forget to send rain, preferring to listen to the songs of his wife. The land became withered and dry. The People became fearful they had angered the Emperor in some way. They sang to him, and shouted out praise but he could not hear over the enchanting songs of his wife.
A young boy came to the sea and called out, “Oh Dragons great, can you not save us? Our crops are failing and soon we will all starve.”
The four great Dragons of the sea listened to the cries of the boy and wondered why the Emperor no longer sent down the rain.
“Let us go ask for rain for the people,” spoke Long as he leapt towards the clouds. The other Dragons followed him towards the heavenly palace.
The Dragons entered into the court of the Jade Emperor, and found him listening to the Fairies. The Emperor leapt to his feet at the intrusion, “What is the meaning of this? Should you not be in the sea taking care of the waters?”
Long Dragon spoke, “Your Majesty, the crops are dying. We beg you to send rain before it is too late!”
“Oh, very well,” responded the Emperor. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the Dragons. “Go back to the sea, and I’ll send rain tomorrow.”
The four Dragons bowed and replied, “Thank you, your Majesty,” and flew from the court.
Ten days passed and still no rain fell upon the ground. The people had eaten all the grass in the fields, and the roots and bark from the trees, and now lived only on white clay. Soon they would have nothing to eat and would die if water was not delivered soon.
The Dragons felt sad, for no more did the people sing out in joy. Only the sounds of suffering reached their ears. The Dragons decided they had to do something to cover for the Emperor’s forgetfulness.
Long Dragon looked out across the sea, an idea showing in his wise eyes.
“I see you have an idea. Out with it!” Yellow Dragon urged, “Quickly, time is scarce.”
“Do we not have lots of water here in the sea?” Long Dragon questioned. “We can scoop it up and spray it towards the sky and let it fall upon the land.”
The other Dragons danced with joy at the idea. They could save the people!
Long Dragon thought for a moment and continued, “We will be punished if the Jade Emperor finds out what we have done.”
“I will do anything to bring joy and song back to the people and silence the sounds of sorrow,” Yellow Dragon replied.
Black Dragon and Pearl Dragon leapt into the sea, gathered the water in their mighty jaws, and sprayed it into the clouds. Long Dragon and Yellow Dragon seeing the plan worked, joined them. The seawater soon filled the clouds and, before long, rain began to fall upon the land.
The people rejoiced and shouts of “It is raining! We are saved!” rang out across the land.
High above the earth, the Jade Emperor also heard them and came out of his trance. “WHAT IS THIS?” yelled the Emperor. “How dare the Dragons make it rain without my permission.”
In his fury, the Emperor sent forth his guards to capture the four Dragons and bring them to him. The guards surrounded the Dragons and they surrendered. They were taken to the Emperor’s palace to receive their punishment.
The Emperor, still in a fury and not back in his senses, would not hear the Dragons’ pleas and commanded the god of the mountains, “Bring me four mountains, and place them upon each one of the Dragons so they will never escape and disobey me again.”
The mountain god summoned his four largest mountains, which flew through the air from afar. He then set them atop the four Dragons, imprisoning them.
The four Dragons, wanting only to do good for the people forever, decided that they must always uphold their duties to keep the people safe and well even if the Emperor failed to hear their reasons why they had caused the rain. They transformed themselves into four rivers. The rivers flowed down from the mountains and into the deep valleys in the west, and across the plains into the sea at the edge of the eastern delta.
The rivers not only helped seed the clouds with rain but each had a special purpose.
In the far north, Black Dragon became the Heilongjian (Black River), which served as a border between China and Russia, keeping the people safe from invaders.
Yellow Dragon’s water flowed across the middle of the country and became the Huanghe (Yellow River). The river brought many minerals down from the mountain enriching the soil for the growing of rice and many spices.
In the lands to the South, Long Dragon became the Changjiang (Yangtze or Long River). The river was used as a quick way to travel, allowing the people to share crops and goods with those once too far away.
In the South, Pearl Dragon flowed to the sea as the Zhujiang (Pearl River.) The River supplied water to the people in the south of the country.
Now when the song of the fairies entrances the Jade Emperor, the people no longer suffer, for water from the rivers of the four dragons help supply the needs of the people.