Chinese Mythology Essay, Research Paper
At the start of every civilization many stories are told to explain life and how things began. Each culture portrays the beginning of life in a different way but are similar in many ways. The themes and gods may differ by name and physical features, but the part they play in creation are all too familiar in every myth. In Chinese mythology, the basic themes of revolve around the order from chaos theme of myths.
Order from chaos can be defined as giving a basic explanation to how and why things are the way they are. To deal with the more complex aspect of things, mythological creatures and characters are used to provide meaning. In Chinese myths, there is no exception. The many stories and gods within them all tie together to provide meaning. In Chinese myths there is no exception. The majority of the stories and gods within them all tie together to provide meaning. The names of the gods differ in different regions of China, but their roles are usually the same.
The first story existed during the Han dynasty which lasted from 206 BC- 220 AD (Rosenberg 359). Although religious beliefs taught by Confucius banned any religions that had to do with worshiping nature, scholars sought ways in which they could change them around to fit the religion at the time (Rosenberg 259). In the majority of the myths there is a divine pair that exists, meaning a balance between good and evil. The Chinese believed that for every object that existed, there was a complete and total opposite.
In this particular, “The Creation of the Universe”, the earth starts off as an egg that contained the whole universe (Rosenberg 360). The first being named Pangu, dwelled within this “Cosmic Egg”.
After some time, Pangu decided it was time to come out from within and broke the egg open and began to bring order to the world. Since the sky and heavens were lying on top of each other, there was no way for things to separate. So Pangu lifted the top part (heaven and sky) which came to be none as Yang. The piece below became known as Yin (earth).
Since he couldn’t let go of the sky for it would fall back onto the earth, Pangu became the pillar of the world (object that separate heaven and earth or Yin and Yang). As Pangu aged he grew taller and taller which caused a greater separation between Yin and Yang. He began to grow tired and felt that the distance between the two was great enough to allow him to lay down and rest. He than fell asleep and died in his sleep (Rosenberg 361). His body then formed various parts of the earth.
For instance, his head, torso, and arms formed mountains in all directions (north, south, east, and west) to hold up the heavens. His eyes formed both sun and moon, his flesh formed soil, and his blood formed all bodies of water. Rocks, minerals, and gems were formed from his teeth and from his breath came clouds and wind. Pangu’s very voice became thunder and lightning and the sweat from his body created rain and dew. Finally, hair from his body created all that grows (plants, trees, and flowers) and the little creatures that lived amongst his body created all animals. The other myth, which Pangu was called Panku, everything was exactly the same besides the name of the mythological characters.
In another tale, which was told during another time period, Pangu starts off as a pet dog of a King named Gao Xin (www.sh.com 1-2). The king had a rival by the name of King Fang. He offered anyone who could kill King Fang and bring back his head, his daughter’s hand in marriage. Pangu was the only brave soul to take this challenge. After his master fell asleep, Pangu sought after King Fang.
When he showed up to the castle of the king, he thought that Pangu had turned on his master and came to join him. Pangu then waited until King Fang was drunk and bit his head off. Pangu then returned to his master with the head of King Fang. He offered Pangu meat but he refused to take that as payment. The king had to keep his word and allowed Pangu to marry his daughter but he transformed the dog into a human using a golden bell. But the process was completed and he was left with the head of a dog.
Besides the existence of Pangu, there was also a mother goddess named Nu Gua / Nu Kua who was dubbed the mother of all men (Chooey 1). The goddess created man out of clay by hand crafting them because she was lonely on the vacant earth. To conserve time, she began to dip a cord into the mud and let it drip down to form humans. But, she later found out all that were made by this process were imperfect unlike the ones she crafted by hand. This explains the cause of flaws in some human beings.
In both tales there were villians which cause damage to the existing world. In “The Creation of the Universe” this supernatural villain was named Gong-Gong (Rosenberg 3). When he rammed his head into one of the mountains that supported the earth, he caused fires, flooding, and earthquakes and many of earth’s people to die. In “From out of Mud” the villians names were Kung-Kung and Chuan Tsu (Chooey 2).
The two would come to earth and cause destruction and even eat the humans that Nu Kua created. Mass destruction to the earth was caused when the two began to fight over who was going to eat the next human as they began wrestling, knocking into a pillar causing a big hole in the sky to rip open.
Another creation myth series existed also. Other stories told of other beginnings. In a story called “The Ten Chinese Suns” a different approach is taken to give the order from chaos. In this particular tale, which was told during the Chou dynasty (1027 BC-221 BC), it was said that earth already existed but ten suns existed which would take turns riding across the sky on a chariot with their mother (Internet Sight www.windows.umich.edu). After doing this for many, many years, the suns all agreed to ride across together. By doing this, they caused many plants and animals and other living things to die out because the heat was too much for life to exist. An archer named Yi was then sent down from the heavens with a magic bow to kill off the suns so that life can continue to prosper. Yi then shot down nine suns, leaving one sun, the sun that still exist today.
The Chinese had another way of explaining how things came to be. The Yin/Yang theory is the most popular out of all that explains creation. It was believed that there was a single cosmic being but soon after the cosmic being grew a part forming Yin and Yang (Cavendish 393-394). Yin represents earth, dark, female, and heavy while Yang represents heaven, bright, male, and light. By combining the two, you get the five elements water, fire, wood, earth, and metal. It also was said that various combinations of the two halves, created things.
The religion known as Confucianism, was the first religion to really use the Yin and Yang concept in their religious beliefs (Ehmen 1). With this belief, all life and existence forms from yin and yang. The two forces are said to be “interdependent partners”. Many religions came to follow the beliefs of the Yin and Yang as the Ching and Taoism religions followed the yin yang theory along with those who followed the beliefs of Confucius.
The basic point of the Yin/Yang concept was to explain that every object has another object that is total opposite of it. The Chinese classified everything into the two categories. They believed that one couldn’t exist without the other. The balance of good/evil came from this concept also. With this concept being a big part of the Chinese beliefs, many myths were created with tales of bad vs. evil during the creation process.
In a particular story “ The Legend of the Demon Chaser”, there was an emperor who was having trouble with demons (Glubok 16-17). They had came into his palace and stole a flute and began to dance while playing the flute. He called upon a man by the name of Chung K’uci who captured the demons. The King then named him the “Great
Spiritual Demon Chaser of the Whole Empire”. The man would then go around from place to place capturing the evil demons that caused havoc throughout the world.
As you see, the Chinese had great respect for the earth they lived on. They felt everything was there for a reason and without one thing existing, the other thing might not exist. Their strong interest in supernatural beings was seen throughout all the stories that I read. As all culture have their own stories, I feel that Chinese myths are the most consistent when comparing stories from different dynasties and time period.
So the next time you read a Chinese myth think about how your culture believed the world began, it might just be similar to theirs.
1. Rosenberg, Donna “World Mythology an Anthology of the Great Myths and Epics.” NTC Publishing Group ILL. 1986
2. Cavendish, Richard, et. al Man, Myth, & Magic
Marshall Cavendish Corporation New York 1995
3. Glubok, Shirley “The Art of China”
The McMillan Company New York, 1968
4. Chooey, Colette “From out of Mud”
Available: Http://www.firehorseportfolio.com/tea/frommud.html, 1998
5. “Pan Ku”
6. Ehmen, Bonnnie “Yin and Yang” The Janus Institute, Inc., 1996 Available: