Chinese Version of the Legend of St. George and the Dragon

W. F. Mayers

[Extracted from Notes and Queries on China and Japan, vol. 1 (1867), p. 148.]

It is a curious fact and seems worth noting that the Chinese have a very close approximation to the legend of St. George. In the huge thesaurus of excerpts entitled Kwang Po Wu Chih, compiled toward the end of the sixteenth century, in Section xi, under the heading of Historical Extracts, a quotation is given from the work entitled Sow Shen Ki or Researches respecting the Supernatural Beings [the reputed author of which was [glyphs] of the Tsin dynasty, A.D. 265-419] in which the story is narrated as follows:

"In the eastern regions of Yueh Min [the present Fukien] there exists a range of mountains called the Yung Ling, many tens of li in height, in the north-western recesses of which there abode a mighty serpent, seven or eight chang [seventy or eighty feet] in length and ten feet in circumference, which was held in great awe by the people of the country. At a certain time it signified either to some person in a dream or to those versed in the act of divination that it lusted to devour a maiden of the age of twelve or thirteen; and the governors and men in authority of that region, equally alarmed respecting the monster, sought out female bond-servants and the daughters of criminals to satisfy the serpent's appetite. In the morning of a day in the 8th month, after offering sacrifices, the victim was taken to the mouth of the serpent's cavern; and at night the serpent suddenly issued forth and devoured its prey. Year after year this happened, until at length nine maidens in all had been offered up; and a fresh demand was being made, but no victim could be obtained. At this time Li Tan, Magistrate of Tsing Lo, had six daughters and no sons. His youngest daughter, named K'i responded to the call and was ready to proceed (to the cavern) but her parents refused consent. She urged, however, that she was unable to be of use to her parents, as was T'i Ying [the faithful daughter of olden times], and being a mere source of useless expense might as well bring her life to a speedy close; and only requested to be supplied with a good sword and a dog that would bite at snakes. In the morning of the day of the eighth month, she visited the Temple, with the sword beside her and the dog provided. She had also previously prepared several measures of boiled rice mixed with honey, which she placed at the mouth of the cavern. At night the serpent came forth,—its head as large as a rice-stack and its eyes like mirrors two feet across—when, perceiving the aroma of the mess of rice, it began to devour it. K'i forthwith let loose her dog, which seized the serpent in its teeth, and the maiden hereupon hacked the monster from behind, so that after dragging itself to the mouth of its cave it died. The maiden entered the cavern and recovered the skeletons of the nine previous victims, whose untimely fate she bewailed. After this she leisurely returned home, and the Prince of Yueh, hearing of her exploit, raised her to be his Queen."

Other versions of this history may exist, but the above is the only one I have met with. The occurrence of a female as the hero is somewhat remarkable, but in other respects the fact that filial piety and dexterity in stratagems replace in the Chinese legend the masculine purity and dauntless courage with which our own traditions invest St. George, as also the minuteness in. detail of the events recorded, are highly characteristic of the Chinese turn of mind. In any case, this is probably the earliest existing version of the famous legend.

Canton.            W. F. M.