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The Dragon’s Robe

Origin: Chinese

Theme: Overcoming abandonment, poverty, danger and adversity through the creation of beauty.

the-dragons-robeThere was a young woman in China named Kwan Yin. Her parents had died and they were very poor, but they had made sure that Kwan Yin had learned a skill when she was very young. They had sent her to a weaver to apprentice, and she had become an excellent weaver. When they died she had inherited a little loom. Now she would travel from village to village and plead with rich people to give her food and a place to put her sleeping mat. Sometimes she wove practical things like towels, but other times she was given colors of silk, vermilion, emerald green, and bright yellow to weave beautiful robes.

There was a great famine in China and there came a time when there was very little food, and no one would feed Kwan Yin to do their weaving. Kwan Yin had not eaten for many days and decided that she must do something to save herself. She had heard that the Emperor’s palace beyond the mountains was a safe haven.

Kwan Yin was a hopeful person. Even though terrible things had happened to her, she always hoped things would work out better.

“I am going to climb the mountain and make my fortune at the Emperor’s palace,” Kwan Yin said as she strapped her loom on her back.

She started off with a spring in her step, ready to make her fortune. She found a path going into the mountains. She was singing as she started climbing the steep and rocky trail. As the path got steeper and steeper, Kwan Yin’s breathing became strained, and she realized how weak she was from hunger. She came to a stream and sat down. After splashing her face with water, she looked up to see a roofline in the mountain pine trees. Realizing she couldn’t go on, she decided to see if the resident might want some weaving. She walked over to the small house, and saw an old man who was very sick. He was barely moving and had difficulty breathing.

Seeing a cup near his bed, she grabbed it and ran back to the stream. Returning she knelt by his bedside and held his head up so that he could drink.

“Thank you, you are so kind young maiden. I am the keeper of the dragon shrine. But I am too sick to take care of the shrine anymore. If the shrine is not attended, the dragon will become angry and terrible things will happen here in China,” said the old man.

“I am a poor weaver with no home and no family. I am on my way to the Emperor’s palace because I have heard that he will give a great reward to the weaver that weaves the most beautiful dragon robe. I have only three days to get there, but I could stop here for a day to help you.”

“Stay here a day. I already feel better with you around. You need to stay and rest and eat, so that you can be strong to go on to the Emperor,” the old man responded.

Kwan Yin decided to stay since no one had ever offered her free food before. By the next morning the old man could sit up. Kwan Yin saw a stranger coming by the stream.

“Who is it?” said the old man.

“I am Lord Phoenix, Overseer of the Emperor’s rice fields,” the stranger said as he entered the house.

“Will you help me with my duties and lay these golden rice seedlings on the altar for me? The dragon spirit will reward you with great crops,” the old man said.

“Sure, I will do that for you,” Lord Phoenix said as he put the rice in his great coat.

After the man left, the old man said to Kwan Yin, “Follow him and see what he does.”

Kwan Yin followed him to the altar and heard him say,

“It would be silly to leave this golden rice to this foolish dragon spirit. He’ll never know.”

He slipped the seedlings in his pocket and left by the stream to take the path up the mountain.

Kwan Yin came back to the old man’s hut to report, but was unable to speak, since a wind emanated from the shrine and moved out from the mountain burning all the rice fields in its path.

Kwan Yin decided to stay another day. The old man was so much better, he could get up and walk around. Another stranger came that day.

“I am Lord Tiger,” he said in an official voice. “I am the General of the Emperor’s army on the Great Wall. I must have a drink and this terrible wind has dried up your creek.”

“Great Lord,” said the old man. “I am the guardian of the Emperor’s dragon shrine but I have been so sick I have not been able to complete my duties. If you lay this golden knife on the altar, the spirit of the rain dragon will reward your army with victory in battle.”

Lord Tiger put the knife in his cloak and left.

“Follow him and see what he is doing,” the old man said to Kwan Yin after Lord Tiger left the door.

Kwan Yin followed him to the shrine, and just as before the Lord did not follow the old man’s wishes. He pulled the knife out of his cloak and looked at it very carefully.

“Why should I leave such a magnificent knife when I can keep it for myself,” Lord Tiger said as he put the knife back in his cloak.

Kwan Yin returned to tell the old man the bad news, but before she could say anything she heard the distant cry of warriors and horses’ hooves that came from the Great Wall.

“Oh no,” the old man yelled. “Phoenix and Lord Tiger have defiled the shrine. They have dishonored the dragon shrine. The rice crops are ruined and now the Khan rides over the Great Wall to attack us.”

“What can I do to help?” Kwan Yin said, upset that the Old Man was yelling. “I am not a farmer or a soldier. I can’t fight the Khan’s warriors, but I can weave a robe fit for the Emperor and put it at the altar of the dragon’s spirit.”

“Then go,” said the old man. “Go weave, don’t let anything stop you. Weave a great gift to the dragon spirit.”

Kwan Yin took out her loom and began to weave.

Suddenly Lord Phoenix came up to her and said, “Get out of the way, the crops are ruined, the people are running to the mountains.”

But Kwan Yin would not stop. She kept on weaving.

“I command you to stop,” Lord Phoenix yelled as he reached down to push her out of the way.

As he said this, the golden rice seeds fell out of his greatcoat. The seed exploded and created a ring of flame around Lord Phoenix. The fire raged around him, and in an instant he exploded. Just then, a brilliant phoenix emerged from the flames and flew away.

Kwan Yin would not stop weaving, even with this amazing transformation. She kept on weaving.

Lord Tiger and his men then arrived on horse back.

“Get out of the way, you dirty little urchin. You are nothing. Get out of the path, we must all retreat since the Khan has scaled the Great Wall,” Lord Tiger yelled at her.

Kwan Yin would not stop weaving. She kept on weaving.

“Stop!” shouted Lord Tiger, reaching out to push her aside.

As he reached for Kwan Yin, the golden knife slipped from his coat. Where it landed great trees grew, engulfing the Lord and his men. Soon a tiger jumped from the jungle of trees and ran down the mountain, gone forever.

Kwan Yin would not stop weaving even with the tiger leaping from the jungle. She kept on weaving. The robe was almost finished, she only needed four more rows of silk.

The Khan rode up to her and screamed at her.

“Stand in my presence,” the Khan commanded.

She pushed the shuttle furiously, one, two, three times. The Khan reached out to grab her, and just as he did, she threw the shuttle for the last row. The robe was finished.

“Give me that robe, I will be the most powerful in the land,” the Khan said as he reached for the robe. As he grabbed it, the robe took on a life of its own. It filled with air and created a great wind. Soon the wind blew water from all the mountain streams down on the Khan. A great flood engulfed the Khan and his men. They were washed away.

Kwan Yin stood there untouched. She looked down at her fingers and they had been healed of the cuts from weaving. She looked down at her dress and it was no longer tattered but now a golden robe of silk.

She looked up, and the old man was standing before her. No longer sick, but now clothed in the fine robes of an Emperor.

“Thank you Kwan Yin. You have taught me to trust a poor weaver over my selfish Lord. Come lie in my palace and help me remember what I have learned.” Said the Emperor.

Kwan Yin smiled and thanked the dragon for helping her make her fortune.

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