Legend of General Yang Yanzhao and the Ma Bao Spring

Artist's illustration of the Legend of General Yang Yanzhao with his white horse and the discovery of Ma Bao Spring.

General Yang Yanzhao's horse miraculously uncovers the Ma Bao Spring, providing a much-needed source of water for his troops and the local community during a time of dire need. (Image: Xia Qiongfen via The Epoch Times)

Renowned for his valiant stand against the Liao Dynasty, Yang Yanzhao is a well-known general in the annals of the Northern Song Dynasty, as chronicled in The History of the Song. Stationed on the frontier for over two decades, Yang commanded respect and fear among the Liao people. They believed him to be the Sixth Son of the Star and an incarnation of the heavenly deity that was their nemesis.

Unearthing a spring

There are many folk tales in China about horses being able to perceive springs, as horses are considered to be highly spiritual animals. Throughout history, there have been various stories about “Ma Bao Spring” in different regions, such as Liyuan in Shanxi Province, and from Hubei to Changping in Beijing.

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One story of Ma Bao Spring involving Yang Yanzhao takes place in the vicinity of the present-day Changping District in Beijing. This area marked the border of the frontline conflict between the Song Dynasty and the Liao Dynasty.

One story of Ma Bao Spring involving Yang Yanzhao takes place in the area that marked the border of the frontline conflict between the Song Dynasty and the Liao Dynasty.
One story of Ma Bao Spring involving Yang Yanzhao takes place in the area that marked the border of the frontline conflict between the Song Dynasty and the Liao Dynasty. (Image: Lin Gang via Dreamstime)

On one occasion, Yang Yanzhao and his soldiers encountered an enemy force that outnumbered them tenfold. Yet after three days of intense fighting, Yang Yanzhao’s troops emerged victorious. However, his soldiers had depleted their supplies and were left with only a few dry rations. Thirsty and in search of water, they went to a nearby village called Dagong Village, but to their surprise, the area had suffered from drought for some time, and the villagers couldn’t provide sufficient water for them. Not wanting to trouble the local villagers, Yang Yanzhao led his troops to an old, dilapidated temple on the outskirts of the village to rest. He then sent people to search for a water source.

Divine intervention in a time of need

After three days and nights without finding water, they were close to desperation. On the fourth day, an old woman riding a donkey visited the temple. Recognizing Yang Yanzhao, she said: “You, general, are the embodiment of the Star General, the guardian deity of the people. We have been praying for your success in reclaiming the Yan-Yun territories. Please accept this jar of water as a token of our gratitude.” With that, she handed over a jar of water.

Yang received the jar of water and expressed his gratitude. Although he was very thirsty, he brought the precious water to the temple and prioritized giving it to his soldiers over himself. As he turned around to offer a token of gratitude to the older woman, he discovered that she had vanished.

Puzzled, Yang Yanzhao returned to the main hall of the temple where he was astounded to find that the deity enshrined there bore an uncanny resemblance to the old woman. Deeply moved, he led his men in paying their respects to the deity, thanking her for her divine favor. They then cleaned and tidied the entire temple, both inside and out.

A miraculous event

Shortly after, Yang Yanzhao heard his steed, a white horse, neigh loudly from the temple’s backyard. To his surprise, the horse was frantically pawing the ground with its hooves. 

White horse rearing up on the sand with the sunset in the background.
The horse was frantically pawing the ground with its hooves. (Image: Callipso88 via Dreamstime)

Initially, the horse only uncovered a bit of damp mud and sand, but as it continued to dig deeper, a small stream of water slowly began to emerge. Yang quickly urged his soldiers to join in the excavation at the place where the horse’s hooves had struck the ground. After digging several feet, a clear spring gushed forth, bringing great joy to the soldiers. Finally, they found a water source that provided sufficient drinking water! They also informed the villagers in the area. Everyone came to collect water from the spring, bringing relief to the entire drought-stricken village.

In gratitude for the divine gift of the spring, the local villagers funded the reconstruction of the dilapidated temple. They also renamed the village “Ma Bao Spring Village” to commemorate the story of Yang’s warhorse unearthing the spring. 

The amazing tale of Yang Yanzhao, his white horse, and the spring has been passed down through generations to this day, and remains a famous story.

Translated by Joseph Wu

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