All Chinese idioms have an elaborate origin story with an important moral imbedded within the heart of it and “Lord Ye Loves Dragons” is no exception.
This Chinese idiom story in particular was told by 颛孙师 Zhuān sūn shī, also known as 子张 Zi Zhɑng. He was a prominent disciple of Confucius, who accompanied Confucius in his travels abroad, and later started his own sect of Confucianism. He had heard about how the duke of the state of Lu was fond of highly talented people and decided to take a trip to pay him a visit. Upon his arrival he was not greeted. Instead, he was rather disappointed after being completely neglected by the duke for seven days. After this point he was very upset and decide to leave without meeting the duke.
有才华的人 ( yǒu cái huá de rén )talented people
zhè xiē nián，wǒ jiē chù guo hěn duō yǒu cái huá de rén.
这 些 年， 我 接 触 过 很 多 有 才 华 的 人。
I have met many talented people over the years.
wǒ men yì zhí zài xún zhǎo yǒu cái huá de rén, xī wànɡ tā men kě yǐ jiā rù wǒ men, gòng tóng chuàng zào měi hǎo de shì wù!
我 们 一 直 在 寻 找 有 才 华 的 人， 希 望 他 们 可 以 加 入 我 们， 共 同 创 造 美 好 的 事 物！
We are always looking for talented people who will join us in order to do great things together!
Before 子张 Zi Zhɑng took his leave he had his attendant deliver a message to the duke. In this message contained a story about a man who was obsessed with dragons.
This is how the story goes:
Lord Ye was an enthusiast of dragons, and it was said that he painted and carved the fantastic creatures everywhere he could. The walls of his house had dragons painted on them, while the beams, pillars, doors, and windows had intricate carvings of dragons. The love he had for dragons was known throughout the land.
Word spread and one day a real dragon within the Heavenly Kingdom heard of Lord Ye’s sincere adoration of his kind. The dragon was deeply moved and thus decided to fly down to Lord Ye’s home for a visit.
真心 ( zhēn xīn )sincere
tā zhēn xīn xǐ huān nǐ .
他 真 心 喜 欢 你 。
He really likes you.
wǒ xiānɡ xìn zhè shì tā de zhēn xīn huà.
我 相 信 这 是 她 的 真 心 话。
I believe this is her true word.
The scene that accompanied the dragon’s descent to earth was magnificent: dark clouds rolled across the sky, lightning flashed and thunder boomed. The earth shook and a heavy downpour nearly devastated the city.
When the dragon landed, his huge body overtook Lord Ye’s land. His stately head occupied the front of the parlor, nodding at the host, while his tail lay across the backyard, wagging up against the wall. At first sight Lord Ye was terrified and fled the situation as fast as he could.
It seemed that what Lord Ye loved afterall was not the real dragon, but things that looked like dragons.
子张 Zi Zhɑng made sure his story mocked the duke for being unable to realize true talents and said at the end, “Now I hear you prefer the company of talented people, so I came a long way to visit you. But you haven’t made an effort to see me after I’ve waited for seven days. This tells me, you don’t care to surround yourself with talent, but those who only seem excellent.”
This story contains a rather elaborate metaphor that bitterly satirizes those like Lord Ye and the duke as hypocritical people.
We can extract the moral of this story is that often the supposed ‘love’ is a disguise for fear. So Lord Ye’s love of dragons is a confession of what one actually fears meaning that someone loves a certain thing outwardly, but not sincerely.