Dragons are pretty common in Chinese mythology, serving as the protectors of various aspects of nature. Four of them are regarded as the rulers of the seas, and are known as the Long Wang, implying that they know how to please women.
Picture by Dan H.
No, seriously, I believe that simply means “dragon kings,” and can refer to other sets of monarchs as well. The marine rulers are brothers, all sharing the surname Ao, which apparently means “proud.” In addition to having their own splendid undersea palaces staffed by sea creatures and resplendent with treasure, they are also in charge of rain, and it was common to pray to the dragons during a drought.
So what are these four seas that the Long Wang rule? Well, according to Wikipedia, that was a name given to the traditional boundaries of China, and it was never entirely clear what the seas actually were. The East and South China Seas were two of them, but the other two only later came to be associated with Qinghai Lake in the west and Lake Baikal in the north. Ao Guang, King of the East Sea, is the most prominent of these dragons in the sources we have, and perhaps the most powerful. The others are Ao Qin in the south, Ao Run in the west, and Ao Shun in the north.
As I mentioned last week, Li No-Cha had an ongoing feud with Ao Guang, which included No-Cha killing his son Ao Bing and then defeating the king himself in battle. In Journey to the West, Sun Wukong travels to Ao Guang’s palace in search of a weapon, and after the Monkey King rejects several of them, Guang’s wife suggests that he use a giant gold-ringed rod that Emperor Da Yu had used way back in the twenty-third century BC to subdue the flooding of the Yellow River. It was also said to have been used to measure the depth of the sea. Regardless, despite the fact that it weighed eight tons, Wukong was able to lift it with ease, and used his magic to shrink it down to a portable size. The monkey’s taking the rod led to the sea becoming wilder, and Wukong also used it to threaten Guang into giving him several other magical treasures. This led to bad blood between the two of them, although they later made up and worked together.
The third legendary personage to interact with Ao Guang was the great carpenter Lu-Ban, who asked to borrow the dragon’s entire palace so that he could use it as a model for other buildings. The king agreed to this request, but only let him have it for three days. When Lu-Ban refused to return it, Guang sent his dragons and crabs to retrieve it, but the builder tricked them by nailing it to the ground. I’m not quite sure how nails would hold down a palace big enough to house a dragon. They must have been either really strong nails or a really light palace. Regardless, it was really hot out that day, and the dragons and sea monsters dried out around the pillars of the palace. Lu-Ban liked the way they looked, so he modeled pillars in other buildings after them. I assume Ao Guang was able to get his palace back, but I don’t know that the legends specify. Really, I can’t help feeling bad for Ao Guang, since it seems like everyone took advantage of him despite his power. Then again, anyone who lived in a place with too little or too much rain probably had reason to get pissed off at him.
Perhaps it’s a stretch, but I have to wonder if the four dragons who rule the seas were the inspiration for the sea serpents who ruled the three oceans in L. Frank Baum’s The Sea Fairies. The thing is, King Anko is depicted as having a human-like head and a serpentine body, while the Long Wang were sometimes shown to have dragon heads on human bodies.
Anko does take on sea dragon form in The Royal Explorers of Oz, however.