I recently came upon what I think may be the root metaphor for one of the lines in the Taiji Saber Formula
translated above in this thread by Audi Peal. This is the line that Audi translates:
“Leftward, rightward cleaving streams, the Dragon gate to crest.”
It was something Barbara Davis brought to my attention in an email that rekindled my interest in this line. She pointed out the name of a sequence in the sword form with very similar wording—“Carp Jumps the Dragon Gate” (liyu tiao longmen)—and notes that the phrase was traditionally used to refer to successfully passing civil service examinations in Imperial China. See her translation (North Atlantic Books: _Chen Weiming: Taiji Sword and Other Writings_, p. 65). I think the “passing exams” is an entailment of a more general metaphor that originated in observance of natural phenomena. Dragon Gate (Longmen) is a famous site of giant fifth century Buddhist cave carvings in Loyang, Henan, along a tributary of the Huang He (Yellow River). There, evidently, the carp swim upstream over a natural dam.
The CD-ROM Chinese dictionary, Hanyu Da Cidian, cites an ancient tradition that if a carp is able to jump over the Dragon Gate, it will transform into a dragon. Later, the phrase “liyu tiao longmen” became a metaphor for zhongju (hitting the mark in civil service exams), or advancing rapidly in office. But the core metaphor is one of advancing against the current, only then to make a rapid ascent.
I think, though, that the Saber Formula
line refers to some related mythological imagery. Anne Birrell's _Chinese Mythology_ (1993, John Hopkins Univ. Press, p. 242) has the following, under the heading, “Carp Leap Over the Dragon Gate”:
“The myth of carp turning into dragons at Dragon Gate Mountain, which another narrative relates had been forged open by Yu, has enduring appeal because it illustrates the concepts of equal opportunity for all and success through individual effort. The myth acquired the cachet of social acceptance in the elite establishment of traditional society when the success of candidates in the awesomely difficult civil service examinations became known as the divine feat of carp that had lept the river heights and turned into dragons.”
Birrell then translates the following passage from a Song Dynasty encyclopedia, the Taiping guang ji:
“Dragon Gate Mountain is in the east region of the river. When Yu melted the mountain and hewed a gateway a league or more wide, the Yellow River flowed down the middle and a horse and carriage could not pass between the two sides of the river. Every year at the end of spring, yellow carp fight their way upstream. Those which reach it [Dragon Gate] turn into dragons. Also, Lin Teng says, 'Every year below Dragon Gate in late spring, yellow carp fishes leave the sea and come to the rivers and fight to leap over Dragon Gate. In one year the carp that scale Dragon Gate number no more than seventy-two. As soon as they scale Dragon Gate, cloudy rain follows in their wake and heavenly fire ignites their tails and they turn into dragons.”
Here’s a link to a Chinese travel website about Longmen, which begins with some interesting narrative on some of the attendant legends:http://china.9c9c.com/Geography/travel_china/topic_1177.html