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Yuqiang: A Minor God Does Good
Yuqiang's story starts as follows:
Earthquakes rocked the region; tsunamis drowned the land. China and the five islands of the immortals were constantly on a collision course. The islands floated on turbulent waters which forced it to smash into the mainland, creating turmoil and chaos on these land masses.
The all-powerful immortal known as the Jade Emperor wanted this matter resolved, but he couldn’t find anyone – immortal or mortal – to rectify this situation. That is until he called upon Yuqiang (pronounced Yoo-Chee-yang), for some sound advice.
As the god of the sea and ocean breeze, this shape-shifting deity looked into the matter and knew immediately how to resolve this issue. This ruler of the watery realm sought out his most massive and powerful subjects. They had the strength to stand against the tides and to stabilize the five islands.
He conjured 16 giant tortoises from the depths and tethered the islands to them. These turtles anchored the five islands of the immortals, and kept them stable in the oceans for the next 60,000 years. Most importantly, he kept them away from China and satisfied the Jade Emperor, for the time being.
This was just one of several accounts of Yuqiang found in the text and oral traditions of ancient Chinese mythology. He was considered a minor god; however, he possessed the power to control one of the Earth’s most powerful natural forces.
He would not have the type of distinction or prominence in the respective religion and culture that he came from -- when compared to other popular sea gods such as the ancient Greek’s Poseidon or the Roman’s Neptune. However, he has had some longevity and renewed interests in modern times.
There are no churches or temples dedicated to him nowadays. But, video-gamers, comic book fans, and RPG (role-playing gamers) may have revived him. The modern media has taken Yuqiang from the murky depths of mythology and resurrected him in a new realm.
The Origin and Role in Chinese Mythology
Yuqiang’s origin is uncertain. The ancient compilation, Shanhaijing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) gives an account of him in chapters 8 and 17. This particular book contains stories of geography and myth that date as far back as the 4th century BC. It’s not known if the stories of Yuqiang stretch that far.
What is certain --for the book -- is that he is described as the descendant of Huang Di, the “yellow emperor” and was the son of another sea god, Yuhao.
Much of what is known about him can be found through references of another mythological character, Jade Emperor. The Emperor can be traced to the days before Emperor Hui Zong (1101-1126). Jade Emperor was a supreme ruler of Heaven as well as an important figure in Daoism.
Whether Yuqiang was a key player in the Daoist religion can only be speculated. However in the past, there were temples built in his honor. Often, this is an indication that Yuqiang may have been more than just a “minor” god as many Internet encyclopedias have suggested.
The Many Spellings of Yuqiang
Often, when referring to any Chinese names, the English spelling may differ, considering that the written languages are radically different. Most often, the translation into English will be based on the Roman style graphemes (letters) and their phonemes (sound). As a result, there are several variations of spelling.
Here are three examples:
Interestingly, Yuqiang can transform himself into three distinct beasts. Many illustrations from the era he was worshipped represented him as a fish riding on the back of two dragons. Other accounts describe him turning into a whale. Another metamorphous was grotesque; he took on the shape of a bird with a human face and appendages.
These transformations were often triggered by the role he was playing in a particular story. When he took on the task of being the “God of the Sea Breeze” he became the winged deity as was described.
In other cases, an emotion would bring about the changes. When he got mad he turned into the giant bird. In one account, he transformed into the bird for the purpose of keeping the islands of the immortals afloat. He did this by taking a tethered line and pulling it above the waves while in flight.
Still, Yuqiang, it seemed, played a vital role in Chinese mythology. As many myths goes, they are often used to describe the way the physical world looks or operates. Yuqiang’s purpose would most likely be a way to describe the destructive and beneficial power of the ocean. However, the most popular story that centers on him had a different ending.
How Minor is Yuqiang
Yuqiang is not an easy god to find on the Internet. There's practically no illustrations of him or the temples he inspired. Also, many of the websites that list him have only a few sentences describing him.
Incidentally, I typed in "fish on a dragon" to see if there was an image that would actually be Yuqiang. Surprisingly I did find a fish riding a dragon, but it was from a copyright site.
How Yuqiang was Defeated and Effect It Had on the Ocean
The story continues as follows:
Yuqiang believed he found a permanent solution to keep the floating islands from colliding with China. The immortals on the island and mainland were happy. Most importantly, the Jade Emperor could relax.
But, the peace wouldn’t last long. Giants, hungry and reckless, were scouring the Earth looking for something to quell their appetite.
The giants spotted the tortoise and ate several of them. As a result, three islands floated away and sank, leaving no trace of it or its occupants. The other two managed to survive.
Yuqiang’s prestige took a dive. The surviving immortals lost trust in the sea god, for this disaster happened on his watch.
Some scholars speculated this tale was meant to explain the creation of Taiwan and the other islands off the Chinese coast. Other interpretations suggested that it was a way to describe the unpredictable and destructive forces of nature such as earthquakes and tsunamis and storms.
Yuqiang’s New Realm
Yuqiang might have been a minor god, but he’s managed to survive throughout the years. One such indication can be found in his name. To date – or if anyone glances at a telephone book in China – “Yuqiang” is one of the most popular name in the heavily populated nation.
Also, Yuqiang’s resurgence continues in new media and games. As mentioned, countless video games, and graphic novels contain stories of his exploits (Not bad for a god who essentially lost his battle with the giants).
Yuqiang may have been a minor god, but he did a lot despite the title bestowed upon him. In many respects, he’s still something of a mystery, considering that much of the written accounts and stories are not readily available (either contained in missing documents or never fully written down in the first place).
Still, Yuqiang is significant enough to be reborn in a new role in a world that’s still affected by the oceans he once “controlled.”
© 2014 Dean Traylor