The Dragon of Kinabalu

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The Dragon of Kinabalu

A Chinese Story by Lisa Conway


Towards the end of the fourteenth century, China had begun to trade with many surrounding countries. Large fleets of ships set sail and brought back treasures from all over the globe.

Laden with gifts from the Ming Emperor, the Chinese made a powerful and favourable impression upon the rulers of surrounding countries.

Between 1405 and 1431, Admiral Cheng Ho made several voyages between China and the Indian Ocean. It was during one such voyage that Cheng Ho visited Borneo and learned of the fierce dragon that lived on top of a high mountain. The dragon was said to be the guardian of a very precious pink pearl.

When he returned to China, Cheng Ho told the Emperor about the Dragon of Kinabalu and the precious pink pearl.  It was said that the dragon was very clever, and that many people had tried to steal the pearl but none had succeeded.  The mountain itself was very high, and the dragon lived right at the top way above the clouds.

The Emperor met with all of his courtiers to discuss how they might solve the problem of obtaining the pink pearl. They studied all of the information supplied by Admiral Cheng Ho and eventually a fleet of more than 10 ships set sail on the dangerous quest.

On board one of the ships were the Emperor’s two sons, Wee Ping and his younger brother Wee San. The brothers waved goodbye to their homeland and made for Borneo.

When the ships finally anchored off the coast of Sabah, the soldiers headed for shore using smaller boats.

They looked splendid in their uniforms of reddish-brown baggy trousers, brown boots and dark green shirts with frilly collars.  Around their waists they wore bright green sashes, and each carried a heavy metal spear and wore a protective metal hat with a large brim.

There were also foot soldiers with bows and arrows who wore special armour to protect the upper part of their body.  All of the soldiers marched up the long, winding road to the summit of Mount Kinabalu on their quest to steal the pink pearl from the dragon.

From his lair atop the mountain, the dragon watched as the soldiers made their way towards him. ‘What a strange sight,’ he thought. ‘These men think that they can simply march up the mountain and take my precious pink pearl!’

Just as the soldiers marched over the final crest towards the summit of the mountain, the dragon drew in a very deep breath. The soldiers could not believe their eyes when the creature appeared before them. It had a huge purple and blue and green body, huge red and black eyes, and deep maroon talons as long as swords!

Before the soldiers knew what was happening, a great wall of fire shot out from the dragon’s mouth and threatened to burn them all! They turned immediately and ran back down the mountainside, not wanting to be consumed by the flames.

The following day, Wee Ping and Wee San decided to accompany the soldiers to the top of the mountain, but the same thing happened once again: the fierce dragon appeared from out of nowhere, breathing a wall of fire that forced the soldiers back towards the small boats waiting in the harbour below.

Upon seeing the soldiers retreat is such haste, the dragon sat comfortably in his lair on top of the mountain and smiled to himself.

That evening, Wee Ping and Wee San tried to think of a way to outwit the dragon. ‘Surely’, thought Wee San, ‘there must be a time when the dragon leaves his mountaintop home in search of food?’

Wee San spent a very long time observing the surrounding countryside, and the following day he decided to climb a nearby mountain to see if he might get a better look at the dragon.

After climbing for some time, Wee San found himself walking through misty clouds that whirled about him.  Eventually the clouds parted and he could see a large group of trees at the summit. The trees were very old with thick trunks and good sturdy branches. Their leaves protected Wee San from being seen by the Dragon who was sitting in his lair on top of Mount Kinabalu.  The Dragon was looking below to see if any soldiers dared to approach his lair and try to steal his pearl.

After many hours, the dragon seemed to get restless. He got up from his vantage point and stretched his powerful legs. When he was satisfied there was no one around, he strolled away in search of food, leaving the pink pearl unguarded.

Wee San looked at the position of the sun in the sky so that he might be able to tell how long the dragon was away from his lair.  He hoped that it would be enough time for the soldiers to march up the mountain the following day and steal the precious pearl while the dragon was searching for food once more.

This idea was quashed very quickly, when suddenly the dragon appeared on the opposite mountaintop.

‘He could not have been away from his lair for more that a couple of hours,’ thought Wee San.

Disappointed, he climbed down from his position in the tree and made his way back to the soldiers in the harbour. But he decided to return the following day to check if the dragon always went in search of food at the same time.

Wee San climbed the same mountain for the next two days, always hiding in the trees so that he might spy on the dragon.  In this way he learned that the dragon did indeed go in search of food at the same time, and that he was always away from his lair for a few hours each time. But this information did not bring any solace to Wee San who knew that his soldiers could not climb Mount Kinabalu in just a few hours.

At that moment, a leaf from a nearby branch floated past Wee San and was carried on a gentle breeze towards the dragon sitting on top of Mount Kinabalu. This gave Wee San an idea, and so the young prince hurried back down the mountainside to talk to the kite-makers who lived in the village below.

He asked them to make a very large kite with sails and a small platform at its base. He also instructed the kite makers to attach a long rope so that the kite might be guided from the ground once launched.   

The following day, Wee San and a small group of soldiers climbed the mountain towards the trees above, there they hid themselves and spied on the dragon atop Mount Kinabalu. 

As soon as the dragon left his lair in search of food, Wee San stepped aboard the small platform fixed to the kite and the soldiers launched him into the air above.

The gentle winds carried Wee San and the kite towards the dragon’s lair on top of the neighbouring mountain, while the soldiers, far below, helped to guide the kite with the rope.

Wee San was soon floating above the dragon’s lair. When he was close enough, he reached down and took the pink pearl, replacing it with a pink Chinese lantern in the hopes of fooling the fierce dragon.

The soldiers pulled on the rope and the kite sailed back across the skies towards the safety of the trees. 

As soon as he landed back on the mountaintop, Wee San and his soldiers returned to the boats in the harbour. Together with his older brother Wee Ping, they rowed out to their great ships and set sail for home.

The fleet was not far from shore when they heard the most terrible, thundering roar!

The dragon had not been fooled by the Chinese lantern and was crashing down the mountainside towards the sea.  He was very angry; his eyes flared red and his long talons sliced through the trees at his feet.  His teeth flashed in his huge mouth; his scales flashed in the sunlight all blues and angry purples.  The dragon wanted to burn the ships and sink them to the bottom of the sea.

The fleet of ships were some distance from the shore but the dragon leapt into the water in pursuit.

Wee San was ready for such an attack and ordered his soldiers to load the ship’s cannon. A single shot was fired towards the dragon just as he reared up from the waves, ready to unleash his deadly flames upon the fleet of ships.

The dragon saw the round, fiery object coming towards him and mistook it for his precious pink pearl. He thought the soldiers had relented and were returning what they had stolen from him, so he opened his mouth to catch it.

The dragon caught the red-hot cannonball in his mouth and was killed immediately, sinking below the waves to the bottom of the ocean without a trace.  The soldiers cheered for Wee San who had saved them all and obtained for the emperor the precious pink pearl.

During the voyage back to China, Wee Ping grew jealous of his younger brother’s victory.  Although he did not show it, he did not like how the soldiers admired his brother, or how they talked of his bravery and cunning. It was during these long nights hiding in his cabin, Wee Ping decided he would like to keep the pearl for himself and not share the victory with his brave younger brother. Wee Ping knew that his father would be unlikely to let him have the pearl once he heard about his brother’s bravery and cunning, so he hatched a plan to claim the victory for himself. 

Eventually the fleet arrived back home and Wee Ping and Wee San visited their father in order to present him with the precious pink pearl.

Just as Wee San was about to offer his father the pearl, Wee Ping stepped forward and claimed that it was he who had the idea to build a kite, and that it was he who had outwitted and killed the fierce dragon.

Wee San was very disappointed in his older brother, but he did not reveal the truth to his father as he did not wish to cause any trouble for the emperor.  Instead, he returned to his ship in the harbour and set sail during the north-east monsoon.

Wee San allowed his ship to follow the winds because he did not care where they took him.  So once again the winds returned Wee San’s ship to the island where it came to rest at the mouth of the river Brunei.

When the Sultan learned of Wee San’s arrival, he sent his brother to welcome him. Gifts were exchanged, as was the custom of the time, and Wee San was made to feel very much at home.

Wee San became great friends with the Sultan and eventually asked permission to marry his daughter. The Sultan quickly consented because he had grown to love and respect Wee San.

The wedding day was a great celebration with much music and feasting.

Over the years, the Sultan became more and more aware of his son-in-law’s wisdom and courage. He felt that he could trust him with the future of the country and so he decided that when he died, Wee San – The Slayer of the Dragon of Kinabalu – would become the next Sultan of Brunei.

Wee San was honest in all of his dealings, and this honesty brought him happiness and respect. But his brother, Wee Ping, only brought sadness upon himself because of his lies and deceit.