Chinese Mythology: China Gods and Story of Creation

In Life Trends

The mythology of China is wealthy and advanced. Myths have been orally handed down from one era to the following and they didn’t seem in written kind till a lot later. One of the earliest Chinese texts is the Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shan Hai jing, 山海经), which is a unbelievable geography of historical China.

The text preserves a lot historical Chinese fantasy and folklore and was written by quite a few authors in the course of the Warring States interval and then edited a quantity of instances in the course of the Han dynasty, c. fifth to 1st centuries BC to 1st century AD. Compared to Greek mythology, the myths preserved within the Shan Hai jing are very brief and fragmentary, which signifies that they don’t seem to be full. In truth, legendary passages have been usually intertwined by classical authors with their very own writings. Sometimes historical myths have been handled as historic truths.

Throughout the historical past of Chinese mythology, the most typical recurring themes have been the creation of the cosmos and human beings, nature, ethical points and ancestor worship. For instance, the creation of the cosmos is often attributed to a god named Pangu who was the primary residing being and from whose dying physique the world was created, whereas Nüwa is claimed to be the creator of the human beings having fashioned them from yellow clay. Nature can be a subject of myths that cope with spirits and pure disasters.

Existing myths or shenhua, ‘sacred narratives’, have been included into the Daoist perception system, which itself added additional myths. Gods, legendary rulers, ghosts or spirits in Chinese legendary tales are sometimes related to ethical points and ancestor worship. One such instance are the Three August Ones and Five Emperors (sanhuang wudi), which have been legendary sage-rulers allegedly primarily lively all through the third millennium BC. These heroic and ethical rulers are typically credited with the invention of agriculture, irrigation and flood management amongst different issues, which have been so vital to the livelihood in lots of components of jap China. They turned the fashions to be adopted by later kings and emperors. Their excessive ethical character was glorified in Confucian teachings about humanity and righteousness.

P’an Ku The Fashioner of the Universe

The most conspicuous determine in Chinese cosmogony is P’an Ku. He it was who chiselled the universe out of Chaos. According to Chinese concepts, he was the offspring of the unique twin powers of Nature, the yin and the yang (to be thought of presently), which, having in some incomprehensible manner produced him, set him the duty of giving kind to Chaos and “making the heavens and the earth.” Some accounts describe him because the precise creator of the universe–“the ancestor of Heaven and earth and all that live and move and have their being.” ‘P’an’ means ‘the shell of an egg,’ and ‘Ku‘ ‘to safe,’ ‘stable,’ referring to P’an Ku being hatched from out of Chaos and to his settling the association of the causes to which his origin was due.

The characters themselves could, nevertheless, imply nothing greater than ‘Researches into antiquity,’ although some bolder translators have assigned to them the importance if not the literal sense of ‘aboriginal abyss,’ or the Babylonian Tiamat, ‘the Deep.’ P’an Ku is pictured as a man of dwarfish stature clothed in bearskin, or merely in leaves or with an apron of leaves. He has two horns on his head. In his proper hand he holds a hammer and in his left a chisel (generally these are reversed), the one implements he utilized in finishing up his nice activity.

Other footage present him attended in his labours by the 4 supernatural creatures–the unicorn, phoenix, tortoise, and dragon; others once more with the solar in a single hand and the moon within the different, some of the primary fruits of his stupendous labours. (The cause for these being there shall be obvious presently.) His activity occupied eighteen thousand years, throughout which he fashioned the solar, moon, and stars, the heavens and the earth, himself rising in stature day-to-day, being each day six toes taller than the day earlier than, till, his labours ended, he died that his works may dwell. His head turned the mountains, his breath the wind and clouds, his voice the thunder, his limbs the 4 quarters of the earth, his blood the rivers, his flesh the soil, his beard the constellations, his pores and skin and hair the herbs and timber, his tooth, bones, and marrow the metals, rocks, and treasured stones, his sweat the rain, and the bugs creeping over his physique human beings, who thus had a lowlier origin even than the tears of Khepera in Egyptian cosmology.

This account of P’an Ku and his achievements is of Taoist origin. The Buddhists have given a considerably totally different account of him, which is a late adaptation from the Taoist fantasy, and should not be mistaken for Buddhist cosmogony correct.

P’an Ku, the Sun and the Moon

In some of the images of P’an Ku he’s represented, as already famous, as holding the solar in a single hand and the moon within the different. Sometimes they’re within the kind of these our bodies, generally within the basic character. The legend says that when P’an Ku put issues so as within the decrease world, he didn’t put these two luminaries of their correct programs, so that they retired into the Han Sea, and the people dwelt in darkness.

The Terrestrial Emperor despatched an officer, Terrestrial Time, with orders that they need to come forth and take their locations within the heavens and give the world day and night time. They refused to obey the order. They have been reported to Ju Lai; P’an Ku was referred to as, and, on the divine path of Buddha, wrote the character for ‘solar’ in his left hand, and that for ‘moon’ in his proper hand; and went to the Han Sea, and stretched forth his left hand and referred to as the solar, and then stretched forth his proper hand and referred to as the moon, on the similar time repeating a attraction devoutly seven instances; and they forthwith ascended on excessive, and separated time into day and night time.

Other legends recount that P’an Ku had the pinnacle of a dragon and the physique of a serpent; and that by respiratory he triggered the wind, by opening his eyes he created day, his voice made the thunder, and so forth.

P’an Ku and Ymer

Thus now we have the heavens and the earth common by this glorious being in eighteen thousand years. And it’s fascinating to word, in passing, the similarity between this Chinese artificer of the universe and Ymer, the enormous, who discharges the identical capabilities in Scandinavian mythology.

Though P’an Ku didn’t have the identical type of delivery nor meet with the violent dying of the latter, the outcomes as regards the origin of the universe appear to have been just about the identical.

P’an Ku a Late Creation

But although the Chinese creation fantasy offers with primeval issues it doesn’t itself belong to a primitive time. According to some writers whose views are entitled to respect, it was invented in the course of the fourth century A.D. by the Taoist recluse, Magistrate Ko Hung, creator of the Shên hsien chuan (Biographies of the Gods).

The picturesque particular person of P’an Ku is claimed to have been a concession to {the popular} dislike of, or incapability to comprehend, the summary. He was conceived, some Chinese writers say, as a result of the philosophical explanations of the Cosmos have been too recondite for the atypical thoughts to grasp. That he did fulfil the aim of furnishing the atypical thoughts with a reasonably simply understandable image of the creation could also be admitted; however, as will presently be seen, it’s over-stating the case to say that he was conceived with the set objective of furnishing the atypical thoughts with a concrete resolution or illustration of this nice Challenge.

There isn’t any proof that P’an Ku had existed as a practice earlier than the time once we meet with the written account of him; and, what’s extra, there is no such thing as a proof that there existed any demand on the half of {the popular} thoughts for any such resolution or illustration. The atypical thoughts would appear to have been both detached to or glad with the abstruse cosmogonical and cosmological theories of the early sages for a minimum of a thousand years. The cosmogonies of the I ching, of Lao Tzu, Confucius (such because it was), Kuan Tzu, Mencius, Chuang Tzu, have been impersonal. P’an Ku and his fantasy should be regarded fairly as an accident than as a creation ensuing from any sudden movement of psychological forces or wind of discontent ruffling the placid Chinese thoughts. If the Chinese introduced with them from Babylon or wherever else the weather of a cosmogony, whether or not of a kind of abstruse scientific nature or a private mythological narrative, it should have been subsequently forgotten or a minimum of has not survived in China. But for Ko Hung’s eccentricity and his want to experiment with cinnabar from Cochin-China so as to discover the elixir of life, P’an Ku would in all probability by no means have been invented, and the Chinese thoughts would have been content material to go on ignoring the Challenge or would have quietly acquiesced within the summary philosophical explanations of the realized which it didn’t perceive.

Chinese cosmogony would then have consisted completely of the recondite impersonal metaphysics which the Chinese thoughts had entertained or been consumed for the 9 hundred or extra years previous the invention of the P’an Ku fantasy.

Nü Kua Shih, the Repairer of the Heavens

It is true that there exist one or two different explanations of the origin of issues which introduce a private creator. There is, as an illustration, the legend–first talked about by Lieh Tzu (to whom we will revert later)–which represents Nü Kua Shih (additionally referred to as Nü Wa and Nü Hsi), stated to have been the sister and successor of Fu Hsi, the legendary sovereign whose reign is ascribed to the years 2953-2838 B.C., as having been the creator of human beings when the earth first emerged from Chaos. She (or he, for the intercourse appears unsure), who had the “body of a serpent and head of an ox” (or a human head and horns of an ox, in accordance to some writers), “moulded yellow earth and made man.” Ssu-ma Chêng, of the eighth century A.D., creator of the Historical Records and of one other work on the three nice legendary emperors, Fu Hsi, Shên Nung, and Huang Ti, offers the next account of her: “Fu Hsi was succeeded by Nü Kua, who like him had the surname Fêng.

Nü Kua had the physique of a serpent and a human head, with the virtuous endowments of a divine sage. Toward the tip of her reign there was among the many feudatory princes Kung Kung, whose capabilities have been the administration of punishment. Violent and bold, he turned a insurgent, and sought by the affect of water to overcome that of wooden [under which Nü Kua reigned]. He did battle with Chu Jung [said to have been one of the ministers of Huang Ti, and later the God of Fire], however was not victorious; whereupon he struck his head in opposition to the Imperfect Mountain, Pu Chou Shan, and introduced it down.

The pillars of Heaven have been damaged and the corners of the earth gave manner. Hereupon Nü Kua melted stones of the 5 colors to restore the heavens, and minimize off the toes of the tortoise to set upright the 4 extremities of the earth. Gathering the ashes of reeds she stopped the flooding waters, and thus rescued the land of Chi, Chi Chou [the early seat of the Chinese sovereignty].”

Another account separates the title and makes Nü and Kua brother and sister, describing them as the one two human beings in existence. At the creation they have been placed on the foot of the K’un-lun Mountains. Then they prayed, saying, “If thou, O God, hast sent us to be man and wife, the smoke of our sacrifice will stay in one place; but if not, it will be scattered.” The smoke remained stationary. But although Nü Kua is claimed to have moulded the primary man (or the primary human beings) out of clay, it’s to be famous that, being solely the successor of Fu Hsi, lengthy traces of rulers had preceded her of whom no account is given, and additionally that, as regards the heavens and the earth a minimum of, she is thought to be the repairer and not the creator of them.

Heaven-deaf (T’ien-lung) and Earth-dumb (Ti-ya), the 2 attendants of Wên Ch’ang, the God of Literature, have additionally been drawn into the cosmogonical internet. From their union got here the heavens and the earth, mankind, and all residing issues.

These and different temporary and unelaborated private cosmogonies, even when not to be thought to be spurious imitations, actually haven’t grow to be established within the Chinese thoughts as the reason of the way in which during which the universe got here to be: on this sphere the P’an Ku legend reigns supreme; and, owing to its concrete, simply apprehensible nature, has in all probability performed so ever because the time of its invention.

Early Cosmogony Dualistic

The interval earlier than the looks of the P’an Ku fantasy could also be divided into two components; that from some early unknown date up to in regards to the center of the Confucian epoch, say 500 B.C., and that from 500 B.C. to A.D. 400. We know that in the course of the latter interval the minds of Chinese students have been often occupied with speculations as to the origin of the universe.

Before 500 B.C. now we have no documentary stays telling us what the Chinese believed in regards to the origin of issues; however it’s exceedingly unlikely that no theories or speculations in any respect regarding the origin of themselves and their environment have been fashioned by this clever people in the course of the eighteen centuries or extra which preceded the date at which we discover the views held by them put into written kind. It is protected to assume that the dualism which later occupied their philosophical ideas to so nice an extent as nearly to appear inseparable from them, and exercised so highly effective an affect all through the course of their historical past, was not solely formulating itself throughout that lengthy interval, however had steadily reached a sophisticated stage.

We could even go as far as to say that dualism, or its beginnings, existed within the very earliest instances, for the idea within the second self or ghost or double of the lifeless is in actuality nothing else. And we discover it working with apparently undiminished power after the Chinese thoughts had reached its maturity within the Sung dynasty.

The Canon of Changes

The Bible of Chinese dualism is the I ching, the Canon of Changes (or Permutations). It is held in nice veneration each on account of its antiquity and additionally as a result of of the “unfathomable wisdom which is supposed to lie concealed under its mysterious symbols.” It is placed first within the checklist of the classics, or Sacred Books, although it’s not the oldest of them. When precisely the work itself on which the following gildings have been based was composed will not be now recognized.

Its origin is attributed to the legendary emperor Fu Hsi (2953-2838 B.C.). It doesn’t furnish a cosmogony correct, however merely a dualistic system as a proof, or tried clarification, and even maybe orly a document, of the fixed adjustments (in trendy philosophical language the “redistribution of matter and motion”) occurring in every single place. That clarification or document was used for functions of divination. This dualistic system, by a easy addition, turned a monism, and on the similar time furnished the Chinese with a cosmogony.

The Five Elements

The Five Elements or Forces (wu hsing)–which, in accordance to the Chinese, are steel, air, hearth, water, and wood–are first talked about in Chinese literature in a chapter of the basic Book of History. They play a vital half in Chinese thought: ‘components’ which means typically not a lot the precise substances because the forces important to human, life.

They have to be seen in passing, as a result of they have been concerned within the growth of the cosmogonical concepts which passed off within the eleventh and twelfth centuries A.D.


As their creativeness grew, it was pure that the Chinese ought to start to ask themselves what, if the yang and the yin by their permutations produced, or gave form to, all issues, was it that produced the yang and the yin. When we see traces of this inquisitive tendency we discover ourselves on the borderland of dualism the place the transition is happening into the realm of monism.

But although there could have been a bent towards monism in early instances, it was solely within the Sung dynasty that the philosophers undoubtedly placed behind the yang and the yin a First Cause–the Grand Origin, Grand Extreme, Grand Terminus, or Ultimate Ground of Existence. They gave to it the title t’ai chi, and represented it by a concrete signal, the image of a circle. The full scheme exhibits the evolution of the Sixty-four Diagrams (kua) from the t’ai chi by the yang and the yin, the Four, Eight, Sixteen, and Thirty-two Diagrams successively.

This conception was the work of the Sung thinker Chou Tun-i (A.D. 1017-73), generally often known as Chou Tzu, and his disciple Chu Hsi (A.D. 1130-1200), often known as Chu Tzu or Chu Fu Tzu, the well-known historian and Confucian commentator–two of the best names in Chinese philosophy. It was right now that the tide of constructive creativeness in China, tinged although it at all times was with classical Confucianism, rose to its best peak. There is the thinker’s in search of for causes. Yet on this matter of the First Cause we detect, within the full flood of Confucianism, the potent affect of Taoist and Buddhist speculations. It has even been stated that the Sung philosophy, which grew, not from the I ching itself, however from the appendixes to it, is extra Taoistic than Confucian.

As it was with the P’an Ku legend, so was it with this extra philosophical cosmogony. The extra fertile Taoist and Buddhist imaginations led to the preservation of what the Confucianists, distrusting the marvellous, would have allowed to die a pure dying. It was, in any case, the magical overseas components which gave level to–we could rightly say rounded off–the early dualism by changing it into monism, carrying philosophical hypothesis from the Knowable to the Unknowable, and furnishing the Chinese with their first scientific idea of the origin, not of the adjustments occurring within the universe (on which that they had already fashioned their opinions), however of the universe itself.

Chou Tzu’s “T’ai Chi T’u”

Chou Tun-i, appropriately apotheosized as ‘Prince within the Empire of Reason,’ accomplished and systematized the philosophical world-conception which had hitherto obtained within the Chinese thoughts. He didn’t ask his fellow-countrymen to discard any half of what that they had lengthy held in excessive esteem: he raised the outdated theories from the sphere of science to that of philosophy by unifying them and bringing them to a spotlight. And he made this unification intelligible to the Chinese thoughts by his well-known T’ai chi t’u, or Diagram of the Great Origin (or Grand Terminus), displaying that the Grand Original Cause, itself uncaused, produces the yang and the yin, these the Five Elements, and so on, by the male and feminine norms (tao), to the manufacturing of all issues.

Chu Hsi’s Monistic Philosophy

The writings of Chu Hsi, particularly his treatise on The Immaterial Principle [li] and Primary Matter [ch’i], depart little doubt as to the monism of his philosophy. In this work happens the passage: “In the universe there exists no primary matter devoid of the immaterial principle; and no immaterial principle apart from primary matter”; and though the 2 are by no means separated “the immaterial principle [as Chou Tzu explains] is what is previous to form, while primary matter is what is subsequent to form,” the concept being that the 2 are totally different manifestations of the identical mysterious pressure from which all issues proceed. It is pointless to comply with this philosophy alongside all of the totally different branches which grew out of it, for we’re right here involved solely with the seed.

We have noticed how Chinese dualism turned a monism, and how whereas the monism was established the dualism was retained. It is that this mono-dualistic idea, combining the older and newer philosophy, which in China, then as now, constitutes the accepted clarification of the origin of issues, of the universe itself and all that it comprises.

Lao Tzu’s “Tao”

There are different cosmogonies in Chinese philosophy, however they needn’t detain us lengthy. Lao Tzu (sixth century B.C.), in his Tao-tê ching, The Canon of Reason and Virtue (at first entitled merely Lao Tzu), gave to the then current scattered sporadic conceptions of the universe a literary kind. His tao, or ‘Way,’ is the originator of Heaven and earth, it’s “the mother of all things.” His Way, which was “before God,” is however a metaphorical expression for the style during which issues got here at first into being out of the primal nothingness, and how the phenomena of nature proceed to go on, “in stillness and quietness, without striving or crying.” Lao Tzu is thus to date monistic, however he’s additionally mystical, transcendental, even pantheistic. The manner that may be walked will not be the Eternal Way; the title that may be named will not be the Eternal Name. The Unnameable is the originator of Heaven and earth; manifesting itself because the Nameable, it’s “the mom of all issues.” “In Eternal Non-Being I see the Spirituality of Things; in Eternal Being their limitation. Though different under these two aspects, they are the same in origin; it is when development takes place that different names have to be used. It is while they are in the condition of sameness that the mystery concerning them exists. This mystery is indeed the mystery of mysteries. It is the door of all spirituality.” This tao, indefinable and in its essence unknowable, is “the fountain-head of all beings, and the norm of all actions. But it is not only the formative principle of the universe; it also seems to be primordial matter: chaotic in its composition, born prior to Heaven and earth, noiseless, formless, standing alone in its solitude, and not changing, universal in its activity, and unrelaxing, without being exhausted, it is capable of becoming the mother of the universe.” And there we could depart it. There isn’t any scheme of creation, correctly so referred to as. The Unwalkable Way leads us to nothing additional in the way in which of a cosmogony.

Confucius’s Agnosticism

Confucius (551-479 B.C.) didn’t throw any mild on the Challenge of origin. He didn’t speculate on the creation of issues nor the tip of them. He was not troubled to account for the origin of man, nor did he search to learn about his hereafter. He meddled neither with physics nor metaphysics.

There may, he thought, be one thing on the opposite facet of life, for he admitted the existence of religious beings. They had an affect on the residing, as a result of they triggered them to dress themselves in ceremonious costume and attend to the sacrificial ceremonies. But we should always not hassle ourselves about them, any greater than about supernatural issues, or bodily prowess, or monstrosities. How can we serve religious beings whereas we have no idea how to serve males? We really feel the existence of one thing invisible and mysterious, however its nature and which means are too deep for the human understanding to grasp.

The most secure, certainly the one cheap, course is that of the agnostic–to depart alone the unknowable, whereas acknowledging its existence and its thriller, and to attempt to perceive knowable phenomena and information our actions accordingly. Between the monism of Lao Tzu and the positivism of Confucius on the one hand, and the landmark of the Taoistic transcendentalism of Chuang Tzu (fourth and third centuries B.C.) on the opposite, we discover a number of “betes at the riddle of existence” which should be briefly famous as hyperlinks within the chain of Chinese speculative thought on this vital topic.

Mo Tzu and Creation

In the philosophy of Mo Ti (fifth and fourth centuries B.C.), generally called Mo Tzu or Mu Tzu, the thinker of humanism and utilitarianism, we discover the concept of creation. It was, he says, Heaven (which was anthropomorphically regarded by him as a private Supreme Being) who “created the sun, moon, and innumerable stars.” His system intently resembles Christianity, however the nice energy of Confucianism as a weapon wielded in opposition to all opponents by its doughty defender Mencius (372-289 B.C.) is proven by the whole suppression of the affect of Mo Tzuism at his palms. He even went as far as to describe Mo Tzu and those that thought with him as “wild animals.”

Mencius and the First Cause

Mencius himself regarded Heaven because the First Cause, or Cause of Causes, nevertheless it was not the identical private Heaven as that of Mo Tzu. Nor does he hold any cosmogony upon it. His chief concern was to eulogize the doctrines of the good Confucius, and like him he most well-liked to let the origin of the universe take care of itself.

Lieh Tzu’s Absolute

Lieh Tzu (stated to have lived within the fifth century B.C.), one of the brightest stars within the Taoist constellation, thought of this nameable world as having developed from an unnameable absolute being. The evolution didn’t happen by the path of a private will figuring out a plan of creation: “In the beginning there was Chaos [hun tun]. It was a mingled potentiality of Form [hsing], Pneuma [ch’i], and Substance [chih]. A Great Change [t’ai i] took place in it, and there was a Great Starting [t’ai ch’u] which is the beginning of Form. The Great Starting evolved a Great Beginning [t’ai shih], which is the inception of Pneuma. The Great Beginning was followed by the Great Blank [t’ai su], which is the first formation of Substance. Substance, Pneuma, and Form being all evolved out of the primordial chaotic mass, this material world as it lies before us came into existence.” And that which made it doable for Chaos to evolve was the Solitary Indeterminate (i tu or the tao), which isn’t created, however is ready to create everlastingly. And being each Solitary and Indeterminate it tells us nothing determinate about itself.

Chuang Tzu’s Super-tao

Chuang Chou (fourth and third centuries B.C.), generally called Chuang Tzu, essentially the most good Taoist of all, maintained with Lao Tzu that the universe began from the Nameless, nevertheless it was if doable a extra absolute and transcendental Nameless than that of Lao Tzu. He dwells on the relativity of information; as when asleep he didn’t know that he was a person dreaming that he was a butterfly, so when awake he didn’t know that he was not a butterfly dreaming that he was a person. But “all is embraced in the obliterating unity of the tao, and the wise man, passing into the realm of the Infinite, finds rest therein.”

And this tao, of which we hear a lot in Chinese philosophy, was earlier than the Great Ultimate or Grand Terminus (t’ai chi), and “from it came the mysterious existence of God [ti]. It produced Heaven, it produced earth.”

Popular Cosmogony nonetheless Personal or Dualistic

These and different cosmogonies which the Chinese have devised, although it’s obligatory to word their existence so as to give a simply thought of their cosmological speculations, needn’t, as I stated, detain us lengthy; and the rationale why they needn’t accomplish that is that, within the matter of cosmogony, the P’an Ku legend and the yin-yang system with its monistic elaboration occupy nearly the entire discipline of the Chinese psychological imaginative and prescient. It is these two–the widespread and the scientific–that we imply once we communicate of Chinese cosmogony.

Though right here and there a stern sectarian may deny that the universe originated in a single or the opposite of these two methods, nonetheless, the final rule holds good. And I’ve handled them on this order as a result of, although the P’an Ku legend belongs to the fourth century A.D., the I ching dualism was not, rightly talking, a cosmogony till Chou Tun-i made it one by the publication of his T’ai chi t’u within the eleventh century A.D. Over the unscientific and the scientific minds of the Chinese these two are paramount. Applying the final ideas said within the previous chapter, we discover the identical trigger which operated to prohibit the expansion of mythology on the whole in China operated additionally in like method on this specific department of it. With one exception Chinese cosmogony is non-mythological.

The cautious and studiously correct historians (whose work geared toward being ex veritate, ‘made of reality’), the sober literature, the huge affect of agnostic, matter-of-fact Confucianism, supported by the heavy Mencian artillery, are indeniable indications of a constructive creativeness which grew too rapidly and turned too quickly scientific to admit of a lot hovering into the realms of fantasy. Unaroused by any robust stimulus of their ponderings over the riddle of the universe, the sober, plodding scientists and the calm, truth-loving philosophers gained a peaceable victory over the mythologists.