A legendary Chinese emperor, Yu the Great was a hero who controlled the devastating floods that ravaged China in the past. Yu is also credited with founding the Hsia dynasty, China's oldest ruling family. Some of the earliest legends about Yu describe him as a dragon or as a half-dragon, half-human creature. Later myths portray him as wholly human but say that he could take the form of various creatures.

dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

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Yu's father, Kun, was placed in charge of keeping China's floods under control. After nine years of unsuccessful effort, Kun stole some magic soil from heaven to dam the waters. The theft angered the supreme god, who ordered Kun's execution. Three years later, Kun's miraculously preserved body was split open with a sword and Yu sprang forth.

Yu continued his father's work. According to some stories, he went to heaven and asked the supreme god for some earth, which he used to dam rivers and make channels. In other tales Yu discovered that the floods were caused by evil water monsters. He traveled the world, changing shape as necessary and battling the monsters. Meanwhile a winged dragon helped him drain the land by dragging its tail where channels were needed.

After 13 years of strenuous labor, Yu succeeded in controlling the floods. The channels he dug let water flow safely to the sea, and the drained marshlands became fit for farming. During all those years he never saw his wife and children, and he became worn out and lame from the hard labor. As a reward for his services, the ruler of China gave up the throne to Yu, who became the first emperor of the Hsia dynasty. According to Chinese tradition, Yu ruled from 2205 to 2197 B.C.

See also Chinese Mythology ; Dragons ; Floods ; Heroes .

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