Friday, November 25, 2011

Shang Yang, the Bird that Makes the Rain

Shang Yang the Bird that Makes the Rain

This linocut shows how I imagine Shang Yang, 'The Bird that Makes the Rain'. I found a description of this marvellous creature in Jorge Luis Borges' (and poor, forgotten Margarita Guerrero's) 'The Book of Imaginary Beings'. It explains that Chinese farmers called upon Shang Yang to bring the rain:

It had but a single leg; in ancient times children would hop on one leg, wrinkle their foreheads, and shout, "It will soon rain, for Shang Yang is frolicking in the yard!" It was said that the bird drank water from the rivers and dropped it on the land.

In ancient times, a wise man domesticated this fowl, and he would walk about with it on upon his sleeve. Historians say that one day the Shang Yang, flapping its wings and hoping on its one leg, passed before the throne of Prince Ch'i, who, alarmed, send one of his ministers to the court of Lu, to consult with Confucius about the event. Confucius predicted that the Shang Yang would cause floods in the principality and in the lands nearby, and he advised that dikes and canals be built. The prince followed Confucius' advice, and thereby avoided great disasters.

Shang Yang the Bird that Makes the Raindetail

Interesting, isn't it, that even the lengend explains that water rose from rivers, to the sky, to produce rain, as it does according to more modern understanding of the water cycle. Apart from hopping about on his single leg, and bringing the rain, Borges provides little clue as to Shang Yang's appearance, so I was free to imagine this strange creature myself. RJH says he looks like a cross between a stork and a turkey; perhaps he's right. I wanted to make sure the single leg looked sturdy; it is much to thick for a stork, with a solid knee and strong thigh for more springy and comical bouncing. I couldn't resist the the stylized, Chinese Buddhist sort of swirling cloud.

Shang Yang is printed in Payne's gray, a bluish, dark gray like rain, on Japanese kozo, or mulberry paper. Each sheet is 6 inches by 12.5 inches (15.2 cm by 31.8 cm). There are 12 prints in this edition.


Green Martha said...

I love your linocut, and I love the idea of illustrating a legend. Thanks for this little ray of light in my day !

minouette said...

Thanks very much for your comment! You made me smile.