The Great Yu: A Cosmology that Anticipates Nature-Based Solutions?

by Rachel Nisbet | 29 May 2019
Image The Great Yu: A Cosmology that Anticipates Nature-Based Solutions?

One example of a cosmology that anticipates nature-based solutions in the context of DRR is the mythical narrative of the Great Yu. This story tells how Yu rejected the engineered, grey solution of dike building to prevent China's recurrent flooding. This was the (unsuccessful) flood prevention approach developed by Yu’s father, before Yu was born. Changing tack, Yu decided not to battle against nature, but to invest time in understanding fluvial processes. Working with the rivers, he guided them into paths from which the only periodically overflowed, thus irrigating the land.

In his analysis of The Flood Myths of Early China (2013), Dr Mark Lewis notes how Yu’s father is dramatized as a mad, pharonic engineer in some flood-myth texts. Gun’s techniques of blocking the flood using a magical expanding earth that he steals from the gods threatens the safety of the Chinese people. The accumulated floodwaters that build up behind Gun’s dikes cause even greater damage once they overflow his flood protection. In contrast, Yu works to dredge rivers, guide the stagnated waters, amass waters to enrich crops and animals health, create mounds with the expanding earth that become mountain divides, nourish the low lands, and open nine springs.Lewis points out that this myth has been used to justify the differing hydrological engineering projects undertaken by political rivals. However, he notes it can also be read as a moral philosophy, encouraging good flows of behaviour via ordered channels.

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