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Chinese Mythological Stories: Gun and Yu Harness Floods

Chinese myths have endured for centuries. That is for a good reason. Not only are they captivating, but they also provide a valuable lesson we can apply in our lives. While it is common in Chinese literature to have someone with phenomenal strength and intellect, it remains grounded in reality. The protagonists of their stories show their humanity despite being special. They also move toward the better good and harness their potency to preserve peace, harmony, and balance. 

That is the theme of today’s story. It is a usual battle of man against nature but also man against divinity. It shows how genuine resolve can overcome the biggest hurdles and break the sturdiest walls. Additionally, our story today is also a story of commitment and legacy. It shows the nature of humans to do everything in their power when driven into a corner. However, not as an act of desperation but of resolute defiance. Today, we will examine the story of self-sacrifice: Gun and Yu Harness Floods 鲧禹治水 (Gǔn Yǔ zhì shuǐ).

gun yu harness floods
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Why We Should Learn This Story?

The Gun and Yu Harness Floods 鲧禹治 (Gǔn Yǔ zhì shuǐ) is a story of self-sacrifice. In the story, humanity is facing a catastrophic flood. To mitigate the disaster and loss of lives, Gun stole the Heavenly Emperor’s treasure, Xirang (a kind of earth that could grow by itself). However, his act of valor was all in vain. All his efforts amounted to nothing. Under his dying breath, he vowed to leave a legacy. Thus, someone was born. A savior that inherited his power. Someone who eventually saved the world from extinction. 

We must learn about this story because of two inherent reasons: (1) the theme is vastly different from other Chinese mythological stories. Thus it provides a fresh perspective on Chinese literature. (2) The elements and virtues have a rare representation in Chinese literature. Learning this will open your minds to the different perspectives of the ancients regarding perseverance, valor, and resolve. 

The Related Story with More Details

A long time ago, there was a big flood in ancient China. The land became a vast ocean. It devastated houses, livelihood, and living. Everyone opted to abandon the place they once called home. Everyone helped the old and the young (扶老携幼 fú lǎo xié yòu) to flee up the mountains. However, this was also a lost cause. Some people could not stand the wind, rain, and famine (饥饿 jī è). Many have starved to death. The fortunate ones who quickly adapted to life in the mountains still died. Some because of the lack of food, others because of the prolific presence of predators (野兽 yě shòu) in the mountains. The living begged the Heavenly Emperor (天帝 tiān dì) for help, hoping to get out of the sea of misery as soon as possible, but the Heavenly Emperor ignored them.

Gun (鲧gǔn) heard the people’s clamor and sorrow. He took pity on the people’s suffering. Consequently, he stole the “Xirang (息壤 xī rǎng) – the Emperor’s treasure. It was the only way to stop the flood. Unfortunately, he angered the Heavenly Emperor, who not only took back the “Xilang” but also took Gun’s life.

Three years after Gun’s death, one day, his belly split, and Yu ( yǔ) was born. When he knew about his father’s experience, he decided to harness floods (治理洪水zhì lǐ hóng shuǐ) just like his father Gun did. Unlike his father, Yu decided to channel floods into the sea.

In this way, Yu ( yǔ) and his subordinates spent several years digging (凿záo) out a gap, leading the flood into the ditch (沟渠 gōu qú), and then into the river and sea through the ditch.

Yu’s wife gave birth to a son named Qi (启qǐ), and Yu didn’t even go in when he passed by (路过lù guò) the house. Moreover, during harnessing the floods, Yu passed through his house three times but never entered.

As time passed by, Yu traveled from the south to the north, regardless (不顾 bú gù) of the wind, rain, and hardships, he led the people in the arduous labor of harnessing floods. After thirteen years, Yu finally managed the flood and fulfilled (完成 wán chéng) Gun’s last wish.

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