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Divine Husbandman revered as god of rains

Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan early last month, leaving in its wake more than 600 people dead and a third of Taiwan under floodwaters and mudslides. Cyclones that hit Taiwan annually were, of course, unknown to the ancient Han Chinese who created a myth of how rains which were very much wanted for growing crops – when agriculture started in China, the farmers had no idea of irrigation and relied solely on timely precipitation and the Yellow River which overflowed its banks regularly every year to fertilize nearby farmland – were made to fall on earth.

The Chinese believed Shen Nung (神農) or Divine Husbandman made the rains fall in time to help farmers grow enough grain to feed an ever-increasing population. He didn't and couldn't create tropical rainstorms to hurt his people.

The myth tells of the divine rule of China by many an inventive emperor. We hear of Yu Cao (有巢) who is reputed to have taught men to build houses; of Sui Ren (燧人), who is said to have discovered a way of producing fire by boring one piece of wood with another; and of Fu Xi (伏羲), who is reported to have taught the people to fish with nets and rear domestic animals, to have made musical instruments, to have devised writing by knots in strings, and to have invented the eight trigrams or ba gua (八卦), which is still used in divination today. To Nu Kua (女媧), often associated closely to Fu Xi – is attributed the regulation of marriage. But Divine Husbandman is the great emperor who is reported to have taught the people agriculture and to have been the father of medicine.

As such, Divine Husbandman is also known as Yu Shi (雨師) or Rainmaking Master. The Chinese used to believe he was capable of making rains at will, while he was reigning over China for hundreds of years. As a result, crop after bumper crop of grain was harvested each year during his long reign. In imperial China, local magistrates or prefects never failed to pray before Divine Husbandman for rain when districts under their jurisdiction suffered a long drought.

But the pantheistic Chinese didn't want Divine Husbandman as the sole god of rains. They created quite a number of deities who would bestow much needed rainfall in time of drought. One of them is the dragon.

A Chinese dragon, unlike the fire-spitting one St. George is said to have slain, isn't a dreadful monster. He is associated with waters, the friend alike of men, animals, and plants. Moreover, he is a rainmaker who, when angry, can cause storms and floods like those a typhoon can bring to Taiwan.

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