Xiao Sheng

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Character Profile[edit]

Name: Xiao Sheng
Date of Birth: Legendary
Service: Chinese ministry
Nationality: Chinese


Xiao Sheng was a minister to the Emperor of China who swallowed a pearl from a dragon's treasury and became a dragon himself. The tale was included in Sir Edward Howe's book on oriental dragon myths and legends.

There are several versions of the story. The gist of it was that Xiao Sheng noticed a particular patch of grass that was always green, even during a time of drought. He dug beneath it and found a wonderful pearl, which he hid in an empty rice jar. The next day, he discovered that the jar was brimming over with rice. Xiao Sheng realized then that he had found a dragon's pearl, as it is a virtue of such pearls that they will multiply whatever they are kept with, be it grass, rice or money.

With the help of the dragon's pearl, Xiao Sheng became extremely prosperous, and being a generous man, he shared his wealth with his neighbours. Alas, this meant that soon many people had heard about the pearl. Men came to take the pearl away from Xiao Sheng. Some versions of the story say these men were sent by the owner of the land where the pearl was found; others say that they were jealous neighbours, and still others that they were robbers.

In order to protect his treasure, Xiao Sheng swallowed it. Immediately his stomach felt as if it were full of fire. He ran to a nearby river and drank and drank and drank. As he drank, his body changed, growing in size, his skin becoming scaly and wings sprouting from his back. It was not a man who turned from the river, but a dragon. The men who would have taken the pearl tried to run, but the dragon unleashed a flood of water from his jaws, drowning them.

Temeraire was particularly interested in the story of Xiao Sheng because he thought it would be nice to be able to become human occasionally and to read and write for himself. He also would have liked for Laurence to be able to become a dragon and fly beside him. Laurence, however, pointed out that from the description in the story, the transformation process was both painful and irreversible.

The association of dragons and pearls in Chinese legend may have had some basis in the tastes of Imperial and Celestial dragons, whose jewellery often includes pearls. Temeraire was quite taken with the gold and pearl necklace Laurence presented him with when he was only a few weeks out of the shell and treasured it affectionately even after it had become absurdly small for his size. Later on, when Laurence bought him a larger and grander platinum pendant, set with sapphires around a single large pearl, Temeraire commented on his own love of pearls.