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Dragon’s backbone

Dragon Dormant

Commissioner Qu, of Wuling County, was reading in an upper room when a heavy rain began to fall. In the deepening gloom he caught sight of a little creature, bright as a glow-worm, wriggling its way on to his desk. It meandered across his scroll, scorching the paper as it went and leaving a trail behind it, like a slug. Somehow he found the notion that it must be a dragon and, lifting up the scroll in both his hands, carried it outside. There he stood in the doorway for some time holding it solemnly aloft, but the creature simply coiled in on itself like a caterpillar and refused to budge.

‘Have I caused you some offence?’ pondered Qu aloud. He returned with the scroll and replaced it on the table. Donning full mandarin hat and girdle this time, he made a deep bow and carried it once more to the door. He stood beneath the eaves waiting, and finally the creature reared its head, stretched and took off into the air above the scroll, whirring and emitting a great stream of light. It flew a few yards, then wheeled round towards the Commissioner, its head now the size of a large earthenware jar, its huge trunk twenty or thirty hands in circumference. Round again it spun, and this time, with a rumbling roar, soared up into the heavens.

Qu returned to his desk and retraced its winding trail to one of the bamboo boxes in which he stored his books.

From Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
Pu Songling
Translated by John Minford

Longji Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces are located in the northeastern part of Guilin Province, China.