The Legend of Da Yu and Yi Que
A picture of Da Yu and his people taming the rivers and lakes during an epic flood
Many people have attributed the formation of Longmen (Dragon Gate) Mountain and the Yihe River to Da Yu, or Yu the Great. The legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty is best remembered for taming rivers and lakes during an epic flood. Was our ancestor so mighty? Did Da Yu construct Longmen Mountain along the Yellow River? How was the landscape of Longmen formed?
There are many legends behind these two important landmarks of ancient and modern China.
Humans lived in the Longmen Mountain area as far back as 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, as evidenced by the large numbers of stone tools and pottery excavated north of Weiwan village, the south tip of Xishan (West Hill) of Longmen, where Fengxian Temple of the Tang Dynasty was located.
Luoyang was the center of Xia Dynasty 4,000 years ago. Da Yu, the first emperor of the Xia Dynasty, spent much time dredging river ways together with his people. It is said that the area south of Longmen Mountain was flooded at that time, and many people died in the flood. Da Yu knew how devastating the flood was. Gun, his father, was accused of obstructing efforts to deal with the floods and executed by Emperor Yao at Yuyuan. The emperor appointed Da Yu to flood relief. Da Yu continued the work of his father and led people in the effort to dredge canals that would allow the rivers to flow into the ocean, rather than flooding the villages. Then people there could live happily. Yi Que, which means the Gate of the Yihe River, was built at that time, too, according to the legends.
Once upon a time, according to legends, there was a boy who grazed the cattle on Longmen Mountain. He napped on a large black stone when he was tired. One day, he was awakened by noise. He heard someone keep asking, "Will it open?" He was amazed and told his mother after he went home. His mother realized that it was God who was asking the question. She told the boy to answer yes the next time he heard the question. He followed what he was told and answered the question. All of a sudden, there was a big bang and the mountain cracked. Waters of the Yihe River accumulated in the south of the mountain surged to the north. That is how Yi Que, the Gate of the Yihe River at Longmen, was formed.
This story portrayed Da Yu as a mighty god who could shake the earth and break the ground by swinging his arms. This story about the formation of Yi Que reflected the longing for beautiful things at a time when there was no advanced technology. Da Yu was regarded as a hero who protected his people from the flood. People told other stories crediting Da Yu with the excavation of Longmen Mountain along the Yellow River in Hejin, Shanxi province. This would have been impossible for Da Yu to travel from Luoyang to Hejin and dredge up the Yellow River, given the technology and work skills then available. But the stories reflected the people's love of this ancient leader.
At the beginning of the 7th century, Emperor Yangguang of the Sui Dynasty changed the name of Yi Que to Longmen (Dragon Gate). Since then, there have been many new legends, including the story of the carp that jumped the Dragon Gate.
It was said that the water flew fast after Da Yu made Yi Que. The carp in the Yellow River were swimming against the water. The waves were monstrous at Yi Que, now called Dragon Gate. And they tried to jump through it. Those who jumped over became dragons, and those who did not suffered black scars on their foreheads. Thus, the Yellow River story was replanted in Yihe River. People referred to the story as "Carp Jumping the Dragon Gate." They had no idea that the famous fish in the Yihe River are Fang Fish, which look like boats and taste delicious.
Did Da Yu really create Yi Que? This is a question people asked during the Song Dynasty. Sima Guang once wrote that Yi Que was formed naturally. The mountain did not block the floods to the north, but Da Yu dredged it up to make the river flow smoothly. It makes sense in that people mainly used stone tools 4,000 years ago. How could they have made a gate from a mountain?
Modern geology tells us that Longmen Mountain was formed in the late Pleistocene to early Holocene period about 200,000 years ago. The rocks are mainly composed of dolomite and limestone from the middle to late Cambrian period. There are many karst caves in the area. These caves were eroded by flowing water, creating canyons. The Yihe River could pass through the mountain, although some obstructions remained. After the dredging led by Da Yu, Yi Que eventually came into being. This logical explanation does not deny the accomplishments of Da Yu and is generally accepted by residents of the area.
The karst geological structure of Longmen has given birth to many springs, waterfalls and streams. The different types of springs attracted many tourists and won praise by writers from the Tang and Song dynasties who wrote poems about them. The gurgling spring waters have endowed Longmen with fascinating views and tremendous vitality.
The water in Yuwang Pond is a beautiful spring popular among tourists. Walking south from Longmen Bridge through the gate of Longmen Grottoes, visitors can see a spring flowing from the mouth of a rock formation resembling a toad on the west side of the mountain. The spring waters are about two meters wide and flow straight down like a waterfall. The water falls down and forms a semi-circular pool. Tourists often stop here, watch the waterfall and listen to the gurgling sounds. In the autumn of 1972, Premier Zhou Enlai came here with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
How did the waterfall come into being? A curious visitor will find two passages along two sides of the pool. Walking up steps, he will find a secluded are with fresh breezes and blooming plants. In the middle lies Yuwang Pond. The pond is shaped like a rectangle, about 8.2 meters long and 6.6 meters in wide. The water is clear, the temperature of this spring range between 24 degrees Celsius and 26 degrees Celsius year-round.
A stalagmite made of Taihu stone has been erected in the pond. It is said to be a memento left by Bai Juyi, the poet, when he was staying in Luoyang. The poet loved the pond so much that he traveled a thousand miles to bring the stalagmite from Suzhou to Luoyang.
According to the folk legend, the stalagmite is the tool that Da Yu used to make the Dragon Gate. The stalagmite in the pond was 2.66 meters tall. How could Da Yu lift it and also break a mountain? It doesn't really matter to the people who love to retell the legends of Longmen Mountain.