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The Dragon’s Pearl - A Chinese Folklore Legend

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Last Updated: 2019-4-1

The story of the dragon's pearl is one of the oldest and most well known tales in Chinese folklore. It is set in a rural province of central China, called Sze Chuan. Under the rule of a greedy and corrupt emperor, the people of this province were desolate with hunger and thirst. There was barely sign of life, let alone vegetation. Of this despairing population, lived a peasant boy, named Nie Lang, and his mother.

Each day, the boy ventured collecting as much grass he can in order to sell as fodder. This way, he was able to bring home a bowl of rice for him and his mother. As the days grew hotter, foliage grew scarce, and Nie Lang’s mother became ill due to malnutrition. He thought to himself, "There must be a part of this land that I have missed."

Determined to save his mother, he sets out far afoot, eventually reaching a mountain. Climbing to the top of the mountain, he looks from the summit and is disappointed by the sight of the same nothingness mirroring the land from whence he came. As he readies himself to return back, he notices movement from the corner of his eye: a healthy, plump looking hare. He sneakily follows the hare, preparing to catch it. As he squeezes by a small crevice of rocks, he is greeted with a lush flowing patch of grass! Tears in his eyes, he thanks the rabbit as he plows through the generous overture of vegetation.

Patina Bronze Prosperity Dragon

In Chinese artistic representations, the dragon
is often depicted holding or hovering around a pearl

Able to support his mother with a fantastic meal, he is determined to set out to find more the next day. He follows his tracks to the mountain and over the summit, into the crevice. To his astonishment, the patch of grass which he eagerly plowed the day before is there, seemingly untouched. Without a second thought, he takes his scythe and plows away. Again, he is successfully able to exchange it for a fulfilling meal. Several days pass as this becomes a routine.

One morning, Nie Lang thinks to himself of how far the journey to the patch of grass is and comes up with an idea: “If I were to dig up the grass, I could plant it near our home. This way I will not have to travel so much every day.”

As he digs carefully around the grass, he begins to see something large, round, and brilliant. Enchanted by its beauty, he puts it in his sack and carries it home. After planting the lush grass near their home, he shows his mother the pearl, suggesting selling it for a hefty price. She disagrees and says that it is a blessing to have something so beautiful enter their lives. She places it safely in their rice sack. That night, Nie Lang drifts to sleep, hungry one last time, dreaming of how he and his mother will never have to suffer again.

The next morning, Nie Lang runs with excitement to his little garden, only to be met with wilted grass. Falling down to his knees, he cries to himself, "If only had I not been so lazy!" At this moment, his mother runs out to him yelling, "come, quickly!" They are greeted with an overflowing supply of rice. Too much to consume between the two of them, they decide to share their prosperity with their neighbors. As time passes, they realize that this magic orb has the power to increase the quantity of anything that it graces.

One day, word of their riches spread to people with poor intentions. Greedy people (in some versions of this tale, they were under the emperor’s orders) came to force the secret out of the mother and her son. After nearly destroying what little they owned, the mother finally caves in and tells them of the pearl. Hearing this, Nie Lang instinctively puts the pearl in his mouth. After some abuse, the boy inevitably swallows the pearl. He cries desperately for water as he experiences a thirst he never has before. He yells that he feels heat and burning sensations inside of him. He breaks free of the bad men and hurries to the nearest riverbank, consuming what little water was left in it.

Suddenly, black storm clouds appeared and loud bursts of lightning surrounded the scene. Rain poured, coating the land. The river gushed with a flood of water. Nie Lang’s mother weeps, for where her son stood is now a giant serpentine creature. Gracefully, he begins to ascend into the sky. She bids him farewell and thanks him for being the protector of their land.

Blue and White Porcelain Jingdezhen Vase with Imperial Dragon

A vase showing a powerful dragon
hovering around the magical pearl


Date Published:

Publisher: China Furniture and Arts Enterprises Inc.