'Ten Suns' Editor's note: The story of the 'Ten Suns' is one of the oldest Chinese myths, going as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1500 B.C.).


July 22, 1998|By Retold by Eric. A. Kimmel

Long ago, when the world was new, a giant mulberry tree grew on the far side of the sea, on the edge of the eastern horizon. Its roots plunged deep into the earth. Its branches scraped the sky.

Nestled in the topmost branches of this tree stood a jade palace. This was the palace of Di Jun, the eastern emperor, the god who ruled the regions of the sky where the sun arises. In those days there were ten suns: the children of Di Jun and his wife, Xi He. They never walked across the sky together. That would produce too much heat for the world to bear. Instead, every morning before dawn, Xi He would awaken one of her sons. They would climb into her dragon chariot and drive to a point on the eastern horizon where Xi He's son would begin his walk.

But the gratitude of the earth's people and the importance of their work meant nothing to the boys. They found their task boring. Day after day, year after year, century after century, they followed the same path across the sky. There was no one to talk to, nothing new to see, nothing to do except follow that same weary track over and over again.

One night, as Di Jun's boys lay in bed, they began talking.

"Tomorrow, let's do something different."

In the dark of night, while their parents slept, the boys arose, put on their brightest garments, hitched the dragon to their mother's chariot, and rode across the star-swept sky to the eastern horizon. Laughing, chattering, with their arms around one another's shoulders, they began their walk.

When dawn came, the people who lived on earth were astonished to see ten suns appear above the horizon. The blazing heat of ten suns shining down at once was more than the world could bear. Crops withered in the fields. Forests caught fire. Lakes and rivers dried up. The great emperor Shun, who ruled the nations of the world, cried to eastern god Di Jun.

"Why are you punishing us? What have the creatures of earth done to deserve this terrible fate?"

The great emperor's cries woke Di Jun and Xi He. They looked out the window of the jade palace. In the distance, they saw their ten sons marching together across the sky. Di Jun and Xi He called to them, "Come back at once! Go no further!"

But the boys did not listen.

Di Jun could not allow the world to be destroyed. The existence of all living things depended on him. If his sons would not abandon their reckless walk, he would have to stop them. Di Jun summoned Hu Yi, the Archer of Heaven.

Di Jun presented Hu Yi with a magic bow and ten magic arrows. With tears filling his eyes, he told Hu Yi, "Shoot down the ten suns -- my sons -- who are burning up the earth."

"I must protect them," Di Jun told Hu Yi. "Do not be afraid. You will not hurt the boys. My sons will not be hurt, but they will be changed."

One by one, Hu Yi's arrows found their mark. Each sun exploded, filling the sky with blinding light. The boys fell to earth, but they did not die. Instead, they turned into black-featherd birds. They became crows.

Since that day only one sun shines overhead. Every morning, the crows gather on White Mountain to greet the dawn. "Gua! Gua!" they call to their brother, the sun, as he begins his lonely walk across the sky.

For they remember that once they too were gods and hope for the day when their parents, Di Jun and Xi He, will forgive them.

Text copyright 1998 by Eric A. Kimmel. Illustration copyright 1998 by YongSheng Xuan. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Holiday House, Inc.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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