Towards the end of the eighth century, during the reign of Emperor Dezong of the Tang Dynasty, there was a scholar named Ren Xu in Le’an. He preferred studying in solitude in the mountain to dealing with worldly matters in the mundane world.
One day, he was at home alone when there was a knock on the door. It was an unusual-looking old man wearing yellow clothes and holding a walking stick.
Ren Xu invited him into the house and had a chat with him. The old man looked distressed and troubled. Ren Xu said to him: “You look sad. Is something troubling you? Is someone in your family sick and you’re very worried about him?”
The old man said: “I was waiting for you to ask me that. Indeed, I’m filled with anxiety. I’m a yellow dragon who has been living in a huge pond one Chinese mile west of this place for a few hundred years. But disaster is about to befall me, and you’re the only one who can save me. That’s why I’m here to plead with you.”
Ren Xu said: “I’m a secular man who studies the classics of Confucianism. I don’t know any magic or spell. How can I save you from danger?”
The old man said: “You don’t have to know any magic or spell. All you need to do is say a few words.”
Ren Xu replied, “Please tell me the words, then.”
The old man said, “Please make a trip to the pond in the morning two days from now. A Taoist priest will come from the west at noon to drain the pond to kill me. When the pond is drained, you’ll cry out, ‘Heaven decrees that whoever kills the yellow dragon shall die!’ The pond will be filled with water again. The priest will continue to chant spells, and you’ll shout out the same words again. Do that three times and my life will be saved. I’ll repay your kindness generously. Please do not have any doubt about this.”
Ren Xu promised to help the old man. The latter thanked him sincerely before leaving.
The rescue by the pond
Two days later, Ren Xu headed west. He walked for about one Chinese mile and came to a huge pond. It was not noon yet, so he waited. At noon, a patch of clouds came drifting from the west and slowly descended onto the bank of the pond. A tall Taoist priest emerged from it.
He stood by the pond, took out a few amulets from his sleeve, and threw them into the pond. All the water was drained instantly, revealing a yellow dragon lying on its stomach at the bottom of the pond.
Ren Xu cried out, “Heaven decrees that whoever kills the yellow dragon shall die!” As soon as he did that, the pond was filled with water again.
The priest was angry. He took out more amulets with red characters written on them and threw them into the pond. The pond was drained again, but upon Ren Xu’s cry, it was filled with water again.
The priest was furious. He took out over ten red amulets and threw them into the sky. The red amulets turned into red clouds, descended on the pond, and drained it. Again Ren Xu shouted the same words to refill the pond.
“It took me ten years to catch this dragon to eat,” the priest admonished Ren Xu. “You’re a scholar. Why did you have to save a non-human creature?” Then he stomped off.
Ren Xu returned home, and he dreamt of the old man in yellow clothes that very night. The old man said to him: “Thank you for saving my life from that priest. No words can express my gratitude. I’ll repay your kindness by giving you a pearl. You’ll find it by the pond.”
There was indeed a pearl with a diameter of an inch in the bushes by the pond. The pearl glowed with radiance. Nobody knew its value.
Ren Xu took it to the market to see if he could get a buyer. A Hun (a nomadic pastoral man) recognized the pearl instantly. “This is a genuine dragon pearl, and nobody could get his hands on it,” he said. He paid a hefty sum for it.
This story comes from “Xuanshizhi” (Stories from the Chamber of Dissemination), a collection of stories about deities and spirits compiled by Zhang Du (834–882) during the Tang Dynasty. The name Xuanshi is derived from the Chamber of Dissemination, where Emperor Wen (202–157 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty asked his minister Jia Yi about immortals and ghosts.