In the entry, “Kinh Dương Vương as a Medieval Invented Tradition,” we saw that the story of Kinh Dương Vương, which first appeared in the Lĩnh Nam trích quái liệt truyện, resembles a Tang Dynasty short story, the “Biography of Liu Yi,” and that it did not occur to Ngô Sĩ Liên that this story in the Lĩnh Nam trích quái liệt truyện might not be real.
Let us now continue with the story in the Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư. In that earlier entry we saw that Kinh Dương Vương married Thần Long, the daughter of Lord Dongting, who gave birth to Lord Lạc Long. This is what the Đại Việt Sử Ký Toàn Thư then has to say about Lord Lạc Long:
“Lord [Lạc Long] married Dilai’s daughter, named Âu Cơ, who gave birth to 100 sons, or as is commonly told, 100 eggs. These were the ancestors of the Hundred Yue. One day [Lord Lạc Long] said to Âu Cơ “I am of dragon stock and you are of immortal stock. Just as water and fire annul each other, so would it be truly difficult for us to be together.” He thereupon parted with her. 50 sons were divided off to follow their mother and return to the mountains, while 50 followed their father to dwell in the south. (“Dwell in the south” is also recorded as “return to the Southern Sea.”) He invested his eldest son as the Hùng King, and passed the sovereign throne on to him.”
In the “Biography of Liu Yi,” Liu Yi delivers a letter to the underwater palace of the dragon lord of lake Dongting. When he arrives there, the text records the following information (With the exception of a few small changes of my own, this translation is by Russell E. McLeod and can be found in Traditional Chinese Stories: Themes and Variations, 347-48):
[Liu] Yi asked [the man who had showed him the way to the palace], “Where is Lord Dongting?”
“My lord is presently at the Dark Pearl Pavilion. He is discussing the Fire Cannon with the Sun Priest. They should be concluding shortly.”
“What is the Fire Cannon about?”
“My lord is a dragon. The spiritual power of the dragon relates to water; with a single droplet he can cover mountains and valleys. The priest, however, is a man. The spiritual power of man relates to fire; with a single torch he can burn down Epang Palace [a palace built by the first emperor of Qin]. Since these two types of spiritual genius are different in their functions, the mystic transformations are also distinctly different. The Sun Priest is clever about the ordinances of mankind and my lord has invited him and is listening to him.”
After reading this passage, I came to see Lord Lạc Long’s statement – “I am of dragon stock and you are of immortal stock. Just as water and fire annul each other, so would it be truly difficult for us to be together” – in a new light.
Many scholars in the modern era have written about the deep meaning of the interaction between someone of the water realm with someone from the earthly realm that we find in the information about early Vietnamese history. In particular, scholars have seen this as symbolizing the interaction of maritime and continental cultures at some distant point in Vietnamese history.
There are tons of stories of dragons and immortals in Chinese literature from the areas to the south of the Yangzi River, and obviously there has to be some connection between the beliefs in these stories and the historical experiences of the people who lived in that region. However, given all of the clear parallels between the stories of Kinh Dương Vương, Lord Lạc Long, Âu Cơ, and the information in the Tang Dynasty story, the “Biography of Liu Yi,” I find it very hard to believe that this “Vietnamese” tale is deep with historical meaning. Again, I see many signs here of a medieval invented tradition.