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Fall/Winter 2003, Issue #45: The Dragon's Gate, a story

Download the article: The Dragon's Gate

A traditional Chinese story.

In this story, the image of the dragon represents something that is valued, something that is the object of striving. The story itself presents a picture of courage, wisdom and perseverance being the means of selfdevelopment. This version is adapted from Tales from a Taiwan Kitchen.

In the heart of a deep forest far from any towns and villages is a high waterfall called the Dragon’s Gate where the waters plunge more swiftly than an arrow shot by a bow. Many carp gather at the bottom hoping to ascend the huge waterfall for those that make it to the top and through the Dragon’s Gate will turn into a dragon. Many have tried and few, if any, have ever succeeded.

Day and night, the dragons guard the Gate, swishing their tails and splashing in the water to make waves, snorting out clouds to make rain and roaring thunder. Not only dragons, but many dangers await those who attempt to climb the waterfall. Some are swept away by the swift waters, some are caught by eagles, hawks, owls and ospreys. Others are caught by fishermen. Such is the difficulty of a carp becoming a dragon.

Once upon a time, there was a carp who lived in a small pond hidden in a deep forest far from any predators. There was always enough to eat. The little carp thought his pond was the whole world. At one end of his pond was bubbling, foaming water that led into a rushing stream. He never went by the bubbling waters. Occasionally, he saw other carp disappear into the foam, but he never went close. He was curious and afraid. As he grew, so did his curiosity. He swam near the spot and watched. He asked other carp what lay beyond the pond, “What is the world outside our pond like?” Most told him not to wonder about what lay beyond. He longed to know.

One day, as he was watching the foaming bubbles, his grandfather swam up to him and said, “Exciting sight, isn’t it? What lies beyond the pond is also exciting and interesting.” “What is beyond this pond,” said the young carp. Grandfather carp smiled and said, “There is a stream outside this rushing water. In this stream are many small waterfalls. If you swim upstream and climb these small waterfalls, you will come to a waterfall called the Dragon’s Gate. The waters of the Dragon’s Gate plunge a hundred feet with tremendous force. At the bottom of the falls you will find a great many brothers and sisters—all the carp who are hoping to climb the Dragon’s Gate. If a carp ever succeeds in climbing the falls, that fish will turn into a dragon. However, not one carp out of a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand will climb the falls. Most fail, swept away by the rushing current, or caught by birds of prey or foxes and bears and fishermen. All of these and more are the dangers that await one on this journey. But one who meets their fear and overcomes these challenges shall turn into a dragon.”

The young carp listened closely to his grandfather. When grandfather was done speaking, he smiled warmly at the young carp and slowly swam away. The young carp then swam straight into the foaming waters, never to return to his protected pond again. He swam upstream through the many small waterfalls, avoiding the banks where hungry foxes and bears awaited. He swam in the shadows and under leaves and branches where he would not be seen by birds of prey. He rested when he needed, but went a great pace. At length he reached the pool at the bottom of the Dragon’s Gate. He looked up at the mighty waterfall. He saw hawks and other birds soaring overhead, waiting to snatch any foolhardy fish. He watched other carp as they attempted the falls, only to be swept away by the rushing water and dashed upon the rocks, or get caught by the talons of the hungry birds. He thought about what to do. He felt his own fears rise up, but he managed to still himself, and, little by little, he made a plan.

He leaped to a small ledge near the bottom of the falls and began to make his way from ledge to ledge, always keeping close to the rocks and rushing water, out of reach of the soaring birds. After a long time, he reached the top where a large dragon awaited him. “Go away,” said the dragon. “You are a little fish. You should be scared of me. What makes you think you can be a dragon?”

The little carp answered, “I am afraid, but still I am here. I dedicated myself to this effort of becoming a dragon, and I am persistent. I can wait. There is plenty of time.” The dragon laughed heartily and kept one eye on the carp. No fish would get through the gate while he was guarding it. “I thought dragons could fly,” said the little carp. “Why don’t you?” “I can fly,” said the dragon. “I can fly better than birds.” “I don’t believe you,” said the carp.

The dragon began to grow angry, and the carp swam into a deep pool beneath the dragon’s feet. When the carp surfaced, he said, “I don’t believe you can fly. I never saw you. Maybe you are not a real dragon at all.” The dragon bellowed, “I’ll show you little fish.” And the dragon leaped into the air and flapped his huge wings.

The little carp quickly darted through the now unguarded dragon’s gate and waited. Soon the dragon returned. “So you can fly after all,” said the carp. He began to feel himself growing and his fish scales changing into dragon’s scales. The dragon gave a thundering bellow, but soon stopped, and a smile came over his face. “I wanted you to be a dragon all the time. You have the courage and dedication and cleverness to be a dragon. So I have let you pass because you are truly worthy.”

The little carp who had now turned into a dragon that was still increasing in size, looked at the large dragon and smiled. It rained that day, and when the sun came out, a double rainbow glowed over the land.