The dragon princess, third daughter of the Dong Ting Lake Dragon King, was married to the dragon prince of the Jinghe River, a ruthless, cruel, unfeeling and obstinate dragon that mistreated the princess and exiled her from the palace.
Liu Yi, a young scholar, heard the princess’s sorrowful cry and took pity on the damsel in distress. He listened to her tale of woe and realized that he was the only person around that could take a message from the princess to her father, the Dong Ting Lake Dragon King.
Being a compassionate person, he neglected his own interests—he had been on his way to take the civil service exam in Beijing—and out of his pure heart set out on a journey to deliver the message, written in blood on a piece of cloth torn from her clothes.
After her letter was delivered, a great battle was fought and the princess was returned safely into the fold of her family.
Reward not Coveted
A large banquet was prepared to celebrate the return of the princess and to thank Liu for making the rescue possible. The delivery of the letter was made into a song and story to be sung and retold many times far into the future.
The princess kept thanking Liu for delivering her from her misery over and over again. But, Liu was happy to have been of help and asked for no reward.
Now, in all her regalia, she looked so different from the way the downtrodden girl had looked—she was beautiful and looked so regal with the coronet in her hair.
After having downed three drinks, Qiantang offered Liu the hand of his niece in marriage. He said that she was happy to do so in return for his good deed.
Liu was flabbergasted and kept shaking his head. He finally got some words out of his mouth.
“No, No, the world would get the impression that I have done this just for her beauty and had another purpose in mind. I’m a true gentleman and as such I’m always ready to help anyone in need.”
Still in a slight daze he said, “As the saying goes, ‘a true gentleman will not seek a return for a good deed. He does it for the benefit of those in need.’ Please forgive me for not accepting your proposal. But, please feel assured, I’m a great admirer of the princess.”
After saying this, Liu left the palace, just as a true gentleman would, without taking the gifts and presents he was offered.
A Suitable Match
After returning home, Liu told his mother all that happened. His mother looked at him in amazement and said, “There are truly gods on this earth.” She was proud of him for what he had done and that he had acted like a true gentleman.
Time flies, and in no time one year had gone by. Liu’s mother wanted to see her son married and told him that men and women need to get married when they reach adulthood.
“I have chosen a suitable match for you. She is the daughter of the Lu family from Jieyang County, not far from us. The family is good and the girl has all traits of a good wife. She is kind and smart and hard working. You will have respect for her. So, please choose the day when the marriage can take place.”
On his wedding night, Liu could not believe his eyes. His bride was the mirror image of the Dong Ting third dragon princess. Liu told his bride his story and that he still thought about the Dong Ting dragon princess. But, he would always be a gentleman in word and deed and he would always honor and treasure his bride.
The young lady’s heart was deeply touched. She confessed that she was really the Dong Ting third princess. She couldn’t forget her benefactor Liu. Her heart was governed by the old saying: One who has received a drop of water as a kindness will give to the benefactor a spring full of water in return. And so her family thought long and hard of a way to make her hopes come true.
Uncle Qiantang Jun had her live with him in Jieyang County. They found a way to get the two young people in love together and the match was made just as if made by heaven.
The Moral of the Story
This story is one of China’s beloved legends and in the past was retold in fiction, drama and film. Everyone has heard the story and everyone can tell it.
Liu Yi stands as an example for the old, traditional Chinese saying that a gentleman does not look for a return when giving help or benefits to others. This saying provides a standard for those who do good deeds to live up to.
At the same time, the story also tells of how one behaves when receiving a benefaction: The one who has received a drop of water as a kindness will give the benefactor an entire spring full of water in return.
These principles are simple, universal principles of morality. They were kept alive in the hearts of Chinese throughout the centuries with stories such as this one, but now they have been abandoned and forgotten.
In their place is the saying common in China today, “Everyone should act for himself. If he doesn’t, the heavens will destroy him.”
This saying turns the ancient wisdom on its head. Human beings are losing touch with what makes them human. How dangerous this is for the world!