Why you could not be the Son of Heaven

Late last night I found myself watching TV, and there was the World’s Strongest Man competition, taped in Chengdu last October. Apparently the competition consists of very large men carrying very large things around and puffing a lot. As it was in China they added a special event, the “ding carry” I can’t find a picture of the one they used on the web, but they had a large bronze ding (the three-legged kind) and the contestants had to see how far they could carry it.

A man with no neck explained to the audience that a ding () is an ancient symbol of China. Actually, it is much more than that. It is one of the forms of bronze ritual vessels that were used to make sacrifices to the ancestors. Yu the Great made a set called the Nine Bronze Tripods which had the names of all the dangerous creatures in the world on them, and thus gave the owner, the Son of Heaven, the ability to control nature. They became a symbol of the authority of the Son of Heaven, and both the Shang and Zhou kings held on to them as symbols of their position. As the authority of the Zhou kings declined various feudal lords tried to get their mitts on them. On one occasion the Tripods ran away from an evil usurper (hey, they have legs.) When the First Emperor tried to drag them out of the Yellow River a dragon cut the rope and they fell back in, never to be recovered. Chiang Kai-shek put them on his currency.

One interesting aspect of this is that the weight of these ding were a topic of some importance in the Warring States period. There was a story (In the Zuo, I think. 20 minutes of searching did not find it) about one of the feudal rulers asking how much the Nine Tripods weighed and how hard it would be to move them. He was told they were too heavy for him to move. The answer, it turns out, is that a ding weighs 175 kg. And to be the Son of Heaven you need muscles like this.


This is Manusz Pudzoanow of Poland the eventual champion. He carried the ding 90 meters, and I think he could have gone further.

The other interesting thing, of course, was that the event was in China. Apparently the assimilation of China to the modern world of sport and spectacle is proceeding apace. If China had managed to get an event like this 15 years ago they would have held it in Beijing and lots of bigwigs would have turned up. Now it only rates Chengdu.


  1. The “question about the ding” story you mentioned sounded almost familiar, despite my limited knowledge. I have found something like it in Burton Watson’s “The Tso Chuan: Selections from China’s Oldest Narrative History” Section 18, “King Chuang of Ch’u Asks About the Cauldrons,” Duke Hsuan 3d Year (606 B.C.), pages 81-83.

    The royal inquirer is told that it is too soon to ask “whether the cauldrons were large or small, light or heavy,” because the Chou Dynasty’s time was not yet up.

    This may not be exactly the passage you are thinking of. I mention it mainly because Watson reports that “From the episode presented here, the phrase wen-ting, ‘to ask about the cauldrons,’ has come to mean to aspire to, or plot to seize, imperial power.” Which suggests that the passage is well-known.

    Of course, for all I know, there may well be a parallel in which the weight, not the time, is emphasized. I either never reached that point in Legge’s version, or have long ago forgotten it — or it appears elsewhere.

  2. Hello, I’m new to Frog in a Well – was introduced at today’s AHA blog session.

    Reading your comments and the article about sports in China, I couldn’t help but think about my own experience this summer. I often watched Star TV while running on the treadmill at the Fusion Fitness gym located on the campus of Beijing Language and Culture University. I noticed that Star TV covered many sporting events, from more popularly Chinese ones, such as badminton and swimming, to less popular ones, including an ITU triathlon world cup held in Edmonton, Canada. As a triathlete myself, I found it amusing and both useful when this particular event was broadcast – I had been trying to explain the nature of the sport to the Chinese personal trainers at the gym for days (“我游泳, 然后骑自行车, 最后跑不“). Although they seemed to be vaguely familiar with the sport, there is not much recognition of multisport there yet. It was amusing when they looked at me in a funny way as I often ran fairly fast for (sometimes) long periods of time — I was training for a fall marathon back in the U.S. — and confusing when I tried to explain that I wanted to buy a bike trainer to ride a bike indoors. But when this event came on TV , I called the trainers over and said something to the effect of “look! This is the sport I do!” They told me I must have very good health. 🙂

    Anyways, I’m not too familiar with Star TV itself, but I would be very interested if anyone knows more about how the station started or what other kinds of programs it has covered. I would further be interested if people can point me to other stations, websites, or media that I could find that heavily covers sports in China.

    Thanks — and I’ll post a self-introduction next.

  3. TO:Alien Daunmler ! You are ignorant! His name is Mariusz Pudzianowski not ‘Manusz Pudzoanow’ and He is the stongest guy on the planet. Shame on You!

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