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The Story of China by  R. Van Bergen

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[112] THERE is no distinct account of the creation in Chinese history, but the Shu-King  (shoo-king), a history written so long ago that nobody is able to say exactly when, tells of events which happened before the Deluge. A number of people who, after learning the Chinese language, studied and translated this old book, were surprised to find that there is a difference of only fifty-seven years between the date usually assigned to the Deluge told of in the Bible and that given in the Chinese account. But the Bible says that only Noah and his family were saved; and the Shu-King has it that a great many people escaped. The story is somewhat as follows:

At the time of the flood the Emperor of China was named Yau (yah-oo). After the waters had gone down somewhat, he called a meeting of his ministers, and said to them:

"A great many people are ruined because of this flood. What can we do to help them?"

The ministers answered: "Ask Kwan!"

"No," replied the Emperor, "I can not do so. Why, that man would not obey my orders, but would do just as he pleased."

[113] The ministers shook their heads, and looked wise; but as they did not know any better advice to give, they all repeated:

"Try him. Perhaps he may succeed."

So Emperor Yau gave his consent and told his ministers to engage Kwan, but to be careful not to let him have things all his own way. Kwan worked hard for nine years, but did not succeed in bringing help to the people. The Emperor grew tired of waiting, and poor Kwan was put to death.

Emperor Yau thereupon sent for Kwan's son, Yu, and asked him if he would try and do the work. Yu agreed, and worked so hard that he really succeeded. He drained the land, and so restored order in the empire.

When the Emperor heard of it, he sent for Yu, who, of course, went as quickly as he could. When he came before him the Emperor began with a joke, perhaps to make Yu feel at ease:

"You need not stand so far off!" he said to Yu. "By your looks I should not be surprised if you had something interesting to tell me."

"Well, Your Majesty," replied Yu, "perhaps I have. The flood was very high, and the water was well up on the high mountains, and the foothills could not be seen at all. Whenever the people made a misstep, slipped, and fell in, they were wet, and lost their temper. (The Chinese never did like cold water or a bath!) When I could see the way, I took a boat; but the worst of it was when I had to climb on foot, on account of the brush. It was lucky that I had spiked shoes.

"I traveled from one mountain to another, and made the [114] people cut down trees. Sometimes I had a shot at some game, and I let them eat the meat raw, for there was no way to make a fire to cook it.

"Then, to make a passage for the water, I had pipes laid, and cut nine ditches. As soon as the ground was dry, I set the people plowing and sowing, and then they had an opportunity to cook their food. Sometimes a man would come and ask me for something, but when I found that he had anything that he did not need, I told him to trade it. So now, everybody is happy."

Yau was well pleased, and was going to speak, when he saw that Yu had not quite finished; so he smiled at him to go on.

"With Your Majesty's permission," said bold Yu, "you, too, have some work to do. Think how much mightier an Emperor you would be, if you would look after your ministers, and see what schemes they have to defraud the people. Then the people would believe in you; they would admire and praise you."

Many emperors of whom we have heard would not have liked this sort of speech, but Yau was not a bad-hearted man. I suspect that is why the Chinese are so proud of him. He showed that he was not offended, by calling a meeting of his ministers. When they had arrived, and the roll had been called, he said:

"Gentlemen, do you know that you ought to be my legs and arms, my eyes and ears? Attend to your duties, and help the people if they need any assistance. The first thing I want you to do is to advertise in every paper, that I am the Master. When you have done that, send for an artist, for I wish to have groups painted of the sun, moon, and [115] stars; of the mountains, the dragons, the insects, and the flowers. Also, I need some new clothes. I do not care for gaudy colors: some embroidered cloth will do, with a neat mixture of blue, red, yellow, white and black. Then the courts of law must be attended to, and don't forget the band, for I am fond of music. Pay the greatest attention to all these things. If I make a mistake, let me know it. Don't smile before my face, and blame me when my back is turned! Now about the common people; you know what blockheads they are. If they do not attend to their business, give them a gentle reminder. Use the lash occasionally, and make them learn their lessons, and see to it that they are kept at work. If any come and ask for work, let them have it; but if they are idle, stir them up."

When Yu heard of this speech to the ministers he was pleased, and said to the monarch:

"The Emperor is like a great light. Every man of this country may see it if he is not blind, and even the people near the Big Pond. But Your Majesty should hear what your ministers have to say. If you wish to promote them, let them show by their language that they are fit for the position, and set a good example to the people. Have plenty of mounted police, and who will dare to raise any objection? Whenever a new law is made, have it published at once, and keep a record of the criminals."

Yau died at the ripe age of one hundred and two. He did not leave the empire to his son, but to a stranger named Shun (shoon).

Before I go on with my translation of the Shu-King, I shall tell you something about this Shun. His mother died when he was very young, and after some time his father [116] married again. Then the boy had a hard time of it. When his stepmother had children, his lather loved them better than he did his oldest son. He began to beat poor Shun, and at last tried to kill him. In China a father can do what he pleases. His children must not only obey him, but dare not even talk to him. This is called filial piety, and the child who neglects it is severely punished. So Shun suffered in silence, more so because his stepmother was sly and his younger brother proud. But he bore it all, and never once showed how much it hurt him. He was always obedient to his parents, and kind to his brother. He made up his mind to be respectful and quiet, and at last his parents began to love him, and then he had his reward. But the neighbors had noticed all this, and they admired him so much for his conduct, that they would have elected him to any position, if only they had known what elections were.

This is what the Shu-King says of him:

"If you study the old Emperor Shun you will find that he was like the emperors before him. He was wise, polite, kind, true, and honest. When the Emperor Yau first heard about him, he sent for him, and put him into office, so that he might see for himself. When he found Shun always the same,—kind, just, polite, wise and honest,—he made him a general superintendent, and afterwards promoted him to be Master of Ceremonies, whose duty it was to introduce all the nobles who came to pay their respects to the Emperor. Once he was ordered to explore the deepest parts of a vast forest, and to find out what caused a flood. He had gone about this work, when a terrible thunder and rain storm overtook him, so that people were afraid that he might be killed. But he showed how brave he was, by keep- [117] ing cool, and so escaped from dangers which would have overwhelmed other men. Therefore, the Emperor could not help admiring Shun, and thought of how to reward him."

You must know that in China the Emperor need not leave the throne to his oldest son, as in Europe. He is supposed to study all his sons, and to make the best one his heir. In former times he could appoint anyone, and this is exactly what Yau did. Not only did he make Shun his heir, but he insisted that he should be Emperor from that day. Shun obeyed, and was another ruler of whom the Chinese are very proud. Yu, who restored order after the Deluge, was made prime minister. After reigning thirty-three years, Shun resigned and made Yu his successor.

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