The “Crouching Dragon” Under the Shanghai Subway

City of Shanghai
The bright lights of Shanghai at night

Known as one of the million concrete jungles of modern age, Shanghai has become nearly the Chinese equivalent to New York City. Almost every year, I see new lines added onto the subway maps. Although the subway has taken on quite a new look, older generations who have lived in Shanghai as long as I can remember, have told me that they have never forgotten the subway lines’ original shape – a shape similar to the character “Shen” – an abbreviated term for “Shanghai,” the city.

In the center of “Shen” lies the transition center for the vertical line and horizontal line. Every day, many commuters pass by the big central pillar that is decorated with nine golden plated dragons on its surface. As a commuter myself, I never took notice of or appreciated the structure and construction of the subway until, one day, my friend told me about the story of the mythical dragon underneath the subway line. This was something I found fascinating.

My friend told me that when the government was first constructing the subway, the already-built two highways were supposed to meet at the center with an especially strong pile for support. Yet they faced significant obstacles because the digging machines, for some reason, could not get through one particular spot. Statistically, everything was just fine: the ground structure of that area was perfect for exploitation, the machines were functioning well at other places, etc. There should not have been any problem simply digging a few more meters. They tried it again, and this time, not only did they fail but also dug up a completely unknown water source.

If the task was thought to be okay, then why did it not work? At this time, someone suggested to the team leader something he never thought; he proposed there might be some non-technical reasons behind their difficulties.

View of Shanghai
Twilight at the Huangpu River

They turned to Fengshui for help. The earlier construction of the four most eminent shopping malls of Shanghai had all followed Fengshui suggestion, and all of them became very popular. Maybe an underlying mythical issue did exist as to why the progress was so hindered.

A master of Fengshui from a Buddhist Temple was invited to the group to make a thorough observation of the construction area. Having thought for a while, he gave his explanation to the team leader, an explanation that shocked all. Right at the crossing spot of the highways dwelled a gigantic dragon, with its head pushing up to the ground. This was why, according to him, they couldn’t dig into the ground, no matter what method was used. When asked how to solve this problem, the master hesitated. The construction involved the efforts of thousands of workers and engineers, not to mention how significantly helpful the highway would be for the development of the whole city. The master knew something, but wasn’t sure if he should tell them.

Several weeks passed. The master, under both the pressure of the government and his own wish of building a better hometown, finally revealed the way to resolve the problem. He said at a certain time on a certain day, the dragon would “hang out” for a while. During his time outside, they could dig into his dwelling area and place the pile atop, except that the pile must be of special quality. It must be larger than the other piles and covered in silver. Also, it must be surrounded by nine golden plated dragons, which were designated for telling the original dragon that his friends had taken over his place, and that he must abandon it. Finally, on that specific day, the construction team tried digging the ground again, and this time, they succeeded. Unfortunately, the Fengshui master that shared the mythical secret died a few months later. Before he died, he had said repeatedly that those who reveal the uttermost divine secrets, would die.

Nighttime in Shanghai
A nighttime view of the beautiful Shanghai skyline

After hearing the story, sometimes on the crowded subway I would ponder about how thousands of passengers pass by this dragon pile every hour without even knowing its existence. How many of them understood what happened? Was it just superstition, or did the master sacrifice for a real mythological reason? If so, is the dragon maybe already settled in a new home or is it still drifting above the city? Now that the master is gone, no one will know.

Story by Shiyu Huo and Photos by Lu Li

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