Below are excerpts from Handbook of Chinese Mythology of text related to myths and legends that have parallels with those in Japan (either in written texts or oral tradition or that would likely form the basis for shrine or festival rituals or cultural customs and practices or that would explain tomb mural paintings and other cultural icons and artefacts found in ancient Japan .
Yang Lihui used more than 500 myths about Nüwa and the brother-sister marriage, mainly from the San Tao Jicheng projectand from her own ﬁeldwork in Han communities in modern Hebei, Henan, and Gansu provinces, in her book,..The Cult of Nüwa: Myths and Beliefs in China.
Stressing a more synthetic approach and the signiﬁcance of context, she not only discusses the transformation of Nüwa myths during the past 2,000 years but also examines the social and cultural contexts in which myths are told today. She further looks into the functions of Nüwa myths and beliefs and thereasons why they are of great vitality today. Yang indicates several characteris-tics of the transformation of myths in modern Chinese society, comparing themto their ancient versions. These characteristics mainly include adhesion and the combination of various myth types and motifs, localization, secularization, andthe inﬂuence of religion.
These forms of transformation can be found in manymyths that are told orally in contemporary China.
A Myth-telling Performance in Renzu Temple
In 1993, mythologist Yang Lihui did a ﬁeld study in Huaiyang County, HenanProvince, to investigate how myths continue to be told in situational contexts 33 in contemporary Han communities, how classical myths are transformed and in what ways, and how and why people reconstruct them in their social and cul-tural lives. 34 Huaiyang County is located in the eastern part of Henan Province,32 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Zhoukou City. It has an area of 1,469square kilometers (588 square miles) and a population of 1.24 million. Under itsadministration are six towns and fourteen villages.35
Huaiyang is said to be thelegendary capital of the god Fuxi’s mythic kingdom. In the northern part of thecounty is the Renzu Temple complex (Temple of the Ancestors of Humans). Ac-cording to a 1936 report, many temples were intact at the Renzu complex at thattime, including several to Fuxi and one to Nüwa. During the Cultural Revolu-tion (1966–1976), many of the temples—including Nüwa’s—were destroyed be-cause they were thought to be “feudal superstitions.” Yet in 1993, the local gov-ernment was planning to reconstruct the Nüwa temple because the government
It is a genuine festival of local community. Outside the temples, businessstalls extend for miles, selling local snacks, local handicrafts (such as “mud dogs”and cloth tigers), farm tools, and spiritual statues (Fuxi and Nüwa, Buddha, andeven Chairman Mao Zedong). In the temples, there are more lively and excitingscenes. Besides the many vendors’ stalls, the area is full of pilgrims: they maydance danjingtiao (a folk dance meaning “Carrying Pole Dance”), sing songspraising the ancestors, tell fortunes, and play local operas to please the ancestors.Among them, some women will bring shoes to Nüwa that they embroidered.They sacriﬁce the shoes to Nüwa by displaying them in the Renzu Temple com-plex or burning them with incense, paper money, or paper buildings (intended asancestors’ dwellings). By doing these things, they believe the ancestors will re-ceive their tributes and be pleased, and thus will grant them what they hope for.There are many customs speciﬁc to the Renzu Festival. Two that relate toNüwa’s myths and beliefs are ninigou and jingge. Ninigou (“mud dog”) is a gen-eral name for toys made of mud. These toys are usually monkeys, swallows, tu-tles, tigers, or a combination of monkeys riding a tiger or a horse. The craftsmen who make the mud dogs explain their origin with a myth that the ancestors created humans by mud. The ancestors’ children want to imitate their mythical activity and thus to remember them. These kinds of festival crafts illustrate how myths exist in local communities, even as toys, therefore making their place in nearly every level of society from ritual to play.
Jingge is a type of folk song that usually is sung to express people’s folk be-liefs
Handbook of Chinese Mythology16
remember the beginning of the world is chaos,Without sky, without earth, without human beings. Then the deity of sky created the sun, the moon, and the stars, Then the deity of earth created the grain and grass.Having the sky and earth, the chaos separated,Thus appeared Renzu, the brother and sister. They climbed to the high mountain Kunlun,To throw the millstone and get married. They gave birth to hundreds of children,That’s the origin of Baijiaxing (human beings). Therefore, though people in this world look different,In fact they belong to the same family. How wrong it is to struggle for wealth and fame , Because you can’t bring them with you when you go into the grave
I urge you to be a good person because a good person can be blessed by Renzu…
Remember the beginning of the world is chaos,Without sky, without earth, without human beings. Then the deity of sky created the sun, the moon, and the stars,Then the deity of earth created the grain and grass.Having the sky and earth, the chaos separated,Thus appeared Renzu, the brother and sister.They climbed to the high mountain Kunlun,To throw the millstone and get married.They gave birth to hundreds of children,That’s the origin of Baijiaxing (human beings).Therefore, though people in this world look different, In fact they belong to the same family.How wrong it is to struggle for wealth and fame, Because you can’t bring them with you when you go into the grave
widespread myth at this festival is that of the brother-sister marriage.When Yang and her colleagues met a ﬁfty-year-old woman (an illiterate peasant)who was selling local snacks in the Renzu Temple complex, they asked her ifshe knew something about the source of the Renzu Temple. She related a legendof why the Renzu Temple was reconstructed during the Ming dynasty. Afterthat, when she was asked why people worshiped the ancestors, she told thebrother-sister marriage myth: Once upon a time, there were a brother and hissister. Every day, when they went to school, they fed a stone turtle. One daywhen they fed the turtle, the turtle told them there would be a great ﬂood. Onlythe two of them survived the deluge by hiding in the belly of the turtle. Theywanted to marry each other in order to re-create human beings. Wonderingwhether this was proper, they decided to divine by throwing the two pieces of amillstone from two different mountains. The two pieces landed on top of oneanother, so they got married.While this myth was being told to Yang, several others surrounded them,listening while the woman spoke. Upon hearing that the ancestors married, anolder woman suddenly interrupted, “How can a brother marry his sister?! Thetwo pieces of the millstone did not fall on top of each other, so they did not getmarried. That’s why today brothers and sisters can’t marry each other.” Theyounger myth teller looked embarrassed and hesitated to continue. With en-couragement from Yang and her colleagues, she concluded the story quickly androughly: after the marriage, the brother and sister decided to create humans bymolding mud. They placed the mud-humans outside to let them and let them dry. There came a rain. So they hurried to sweep the mud-humans back into their cave.During the process, some people lost their arms, some lost their legs, and some were blinded. That is why today there are some disabled people in this world. Later Yang and her group caught up with the older lady and asked her to tell what she knew of the brother-sister myth. She told the same tale but in a more detailed and vivid narrative style: the brother and sister threw the two pieces of millstone from different mountains, and the two pieces separated. Therefore, the brother and sister did not get married. Then, they decided to create humans by molding mud. And when the rain came, some were disabled
Myths in Other Ethnic Groups
The Richness of Myth in China’s Ethnic Minorities
Many Western readers think China is a single-ethnic country and that Chinese mythology is equally uniﬁed, integrated, and homogenous. In addition, becausethe Han people make up the majority of the population in China, when some Western scholars introduce Chinese myths they usually discuss only the myths of the Han people. But in fact, China has 56 ethnic groups including the Han. Since China boasts many ethnic groups, and almost every ethnic group has its own body of myths, myths spread in the modern geographic boundaries of China are rich not only in amount but also in types, themes, and motifs. For example, there are more than ten myth types explaining the origins of humans:
1. Humans were made by gods.
Among this type, there are many subtypes,such as: (1) Gods created humans from mud. This subtype can be found in Han, Kazak, and many other ethnic groups. (2) Humans were made from carvings on wood. This type of myth can be found in Manchu, Lahu, and others. (3) Humans were made by combining many plants together. A myth told among the Tujia people states that the goddess Yiluo created humans,using bamboo as their bones, lotus leaf as the liver, cowpea as their gut, radish as their ﬂesh, and a gourd as their head. Then she poked seven apertures into the head (two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and one mouth)and blew air into them, and after that the human was alive. (4) Gods created humans by cutting a rein into pieces and then scattering them everywhere; these pieces transformed into human beings. This type of myth can be found in the Baima Tibetan ethnic group in Sichuan Province.
2. Humans were sown from seeds.
A myth told by the Zou people in Taiwan states that a god sowed the seed of humans into the earth, and later humans grew.
3. Humans were spat out from the mouths of gods and goddesses.
Among the Uighur people, it is popularly said that a goddess inhaled the dust and air of the universe and then spat out the sun, the moon, the earth, stars, and humans.
4. Humans were made from sound.
A myth spread among the Miao peopl ein Yunnan Province that after a huge ﬂood, only a mother and her son were left. A god turned the mother into a girl to marry the son. When theson realized that the girl he married was none other than his mother, her an into the wilderness and shouted. His mother followed him and also shouted. Where their voices sounded, there emerged humans
.5. Humans came from the shadows of deities.
Humans were made by a god and a goddess projecting their shadows onto the earth. This type of myth can be found among the Miao people and other groups.
6. Humans were created by two gods touching their knees together.
This myth, told by Yamei people in Taiwan, states that the ﬁrst human couple was created this way.
7. Humans were transformed from animals.
Among the Yao people in Guangxi Province, a popular myth explains that the great goddess Miluotuo carried a beehive home and reﬁned the bees several times a day. After nine months, the bees were transformed into humans.
8. Humans were transformed from plants.
A creation myth of the De’angethnic people in Yunnan Province describes that 102 tea leaves wentaround and around in the air for 30,000 years and then metamorphosedinto ﬁfty-one young men and ﬁfty-one girls
Besides these types of myths, there are many other types, themes, and mo-tifs concerning the origin of humans in various ethnic groups, such as a human emerging from a cave, coming out from a huge stone or a gourd, being procreated by animals or plants, being born after a man married a goddess or an animal, being procreated by the sun, or bein made from the corpse of a divine creature.
Most types and themes of Chinese myths are not conﬁned to only one or two ethnic groups but are common to several ethnic groups. Flood myths have been documented among forty-three ethnic groups in China. These myths have different formal characteristics in different ethnic groups. Based on his study of over 400 versions of ﬂood myths, Chen Jianxian, a modern Chinese mythologist, divided the ﬂood myths in China into four principal subtypes:
1. The sibling ancestors received miraculous omens or instructions from gods.
The main plot of this type states that a kind brother and his sister receive a prophecy from a god or goddess that there will be a destructive ﬂood. Usually they are told to watch for omens of the ﬂood (the eyes of a stone tortoise or astone lion will turn red, a mortar will produce water, etc.). Because of the in-struction or warning, the siblings survive the ﬂood by hiding in the stomach of the stone tortoise or the stone lion. In order to re-create human beings, the sib-lings have to marry each other, but before that, they divine to decide whether they should do so (if they throw two pieces of millstone separately from two mountains but the two pieces still touch when they reach the bottom, or if they create ﬁres on two different mountains but the smoke twists together). Aftertheir marriage, the sister gives birth to humans, or the two create humans bymolding mud. Chen found that although this type of ﬂood myth is spread in Bai,Manchu, and Hui ethnic groups, it mainly occurs in myths of the Han people.Therefore, he presumes that this type originated from Han people and was trans-mitted primarily by Hans
2. The Thunder God’s revenge induced the ﬂood.
This subtype states that two brothers, the Thunder God and the ancestor of humans (his name differs in different texts), often quarreled with each other. One day, the human ancestor caught the Thunder God. But when he went out, his two young children (a brother and his sister; their names differ in different texts) set the god free. Before the Thunder God went back to heaven, he sent the siblings one of his teeth (or sometimes a seed of a gourd or pumpkin) and told them there would be a huge ﬂood and they should do what they were told. When the ﬂood came, all humans were destroyed except the brother and sister, who hid in a big gourd that grew from the seed sent by the Thunder God. In order to re-create humans, the siblings divined (their methods are various, and some are similar to the methods mentioned in the ﬁrst subtype above) and then married. The sister later gave birth to a gourd. They cut the gourd into pieces, and the pieces turned into humans. Alternately, they opened the gourd and from it came the ancestors of many ethnic groups. This type of myth can be found in ﬁfteen ethnic groups—Miao, Yao, Buyi, Dong, Gelao, Hani, Han, Maonan, Mulao, Qiang, She, Shui,Tujia, Zhuang, and Li—but has been mainly transmitted by Miao people. Chen presumes that this type might have begun in Miao regions, especially in south-east Guizhou Province, after which it was diffused to other ethnic peoples in different regions.
3. The only surviving man sought the Heavenly Maiden.
This subtype states that the human ancestor plowed ﬁelds with his siblings. Every morning after they tilled, they saw that the plowed ﬁeld had become un-cultivated during the night. They found that a wild boar had done this the siblings sought to beat or kill the boar, the human ancestor stopped them. As a reward, he received a prophecy from a god (disguised as the wild boar) that there would be a ﬂood. He survived the ﬂood by hiding inside a skin-covered drum (or a wooden box). He went to heaven and wanted to marry a heavenly maiden. He passed many tests and ﬁnally married the girl. They gave birth to three sons, and they became the ancestors of the Tibetan, Naxi, and Bai peoples. This type can be found among Yi, Naxi, Tibetan, Pumi, De’ang, Dulong, Lahu, and Mongol peoples but mainly is spread in the Yi and Naxi groups.
4. The brother and sister plowed the wilderness.
This subtype is a combination of the three types above. A myth of this type collected from Gelao people in western Guizhou Province in southwest China states that two brothers plowed a wild ﬁeld with their sister. Every morning they saw that the plowed ﬁeld had become uncultivated
…that an old man, who in fact was a god, had done this. The god told them that there would be a ﬂood and instructed the elder brother (who was unkind) to take refuge in a stone boat, and the kind young brother and sister to hide in a huge gourd. As a result, the younger brother and the sister were the only survivors of the ﬂood. They divined to learn whether they should marry to recreate humans (by the similar ways mentioned above). After the veriﬁcation, they got married and later gave birth to a son. The son married a heavenly maiden and they became the ancestors of humans. This type is spread mainly among Yi and Miao peoples; therefore, Chen has deduced that it may have been formed from a mix of the different types of ﬂood myths of the Yi and Miao peoples. Among his conclusions, Chen writes that ﬂood myths in China are quite rich not only in amount but also in their forms and types. These subtypes show different social lives and cultural characteristics of different ethnic groups, reﬂect ethnic identity, and illustrate the cultural communication and fusion b-tween ethnic groups in China.c
Though his classiﬁcation and denomination of the subtypes need further analysis,39 Chen’s research provides a good example of how a type of myth is spread in many ethnic groups in China, how these myths relate to or differ from each other in different ethnic groups, and how they are transformed to ﬁt into different ethnic cultures and social life.
Contexts of Myth Telling in Ethnic Minorities
Similar to the contexts of myth telling among the Han people, myths in other ethnic groups also are told on common occasions and in rituals. In the Maonan and Li ethnic groups in southern China, for example, myths are told like other ordinary spoken arts and are not necessarily told in rituals or special occasions. Anyone can tell myths, and there is no strict method for myth tellers to learn the art of telling myths.40
Nevertheless, in her inspirational book about living myths in Chinese ethnic minorities, Meng Huiying, a folklorist who specializes in the oral tradition and folk belief of Chinese ethnic minorities, points out that the typical living myths rely on rituals and other special occasions when myths are told in heightened performances. Meng divided the rituals in which myths are told into four types according to their different functions: rituals offering sacriﬁces to heaven or ancestors, funeral rites, weddings, and rituals for daily activities such as rites of passage, praying for children, and building a new house. Examples for the ﬁrst type of ritual come from the Naxi and Achang peoples. When people in the Naxi ethnic group offer sacriﬁces to the sky, according to tradition they will invite a dongba (shaman) to preside over the ritual. In the ritual, the dongba will chant classic texts (jing), which tell about the origin of their ethnic group and how this world was created by their ancestor, Renli’en. The Achang
Handbook of Chinese Mythology p. 24
The Achang people divide their ancestors’ souls into two types: dajiagui (literally meaning“big family ghost”) and xiaojiagui (“little family ghost”). When offering sacri-ﬁces to dajiagui, the shaman will chant a creation epic that lasts one day and one night. The epic is “Zhepama and Zhemima.” Zhepama and Zhemima were the ﬁrst human couple in Achang mythology and belief. The epic describes how the sky and earth were created by these two ancestors, and how they created humans and cultural artifacts in this world. By chanting the creation epic in this ritual, people ask for blessings from their divine ancestors. At the same time,this epic reminds everyone in the community that they are children of the same ancestors.
In some ethnic groups, myths are told as part of funeral rites. In the Achang ethnic group, for example, a person is believed to have three souls. After a person dies, one soul will be sent into the grave and one soul will be sent to the ancestors. The third soul will remain in the home to be worshiped. The Achang people believe that only a shaman can properly arrange the three souls. After someone dies, the family will invite all members of the community to attend a funeral and will request that a shaman come and chant the classic texts. Before the shaman arranges for the souls, he will chant for an entire day. The ﬁrst part of what he chants is the creation epic “Zhepama and Zhemima.” Through telling the story of the ﬁrst couple and how they created this world and humans, the ritual instructs the souls and audience who they are and who their ancestors are. The second part of this ritual is a chant of the history of the nomadic movement of the ancestors, which aims to tell the soul how to travel to meet the ancestors. So the creation epic chanted in funeral rites functions to direct the dead soul toward the ancestors and remind the living that death is not terrible but is a way to leave this world and live in another land with the divine ancestors. In this way the creation epic consoles the dead and the living, and builds a bridge to communicate between the dead and the living.42
A third ritual in which myths appear is the wedding. Lan Ke reported how creation myths were told in a wedding ceremony in 1974 in a Jingpo village in Yunnan Province of southwest China. The ceremony continued from morning to night with feasting, music, and dance. When evening came, the singing and dancing stopped, and guests went into the host’s bamboo house. In the center ofthe house, people gathered and sat around a ﬁre pit; then in a very solemn atmosphere, the jaiwa (shaman) chanted an epic named “Munau Jaiwa.”43
The main content of this epic is the creation myths and ﬂood myths. It tells that in remote antiquity a ﬂood destroyed the world. Only a girl and her young brother survived by hiding in a wooden drum. They were married following the suggestions of the Mountain God. Then they gave birth to a baby that could not eat or sleep and cried all day. The Mountain God cut the baby into eight parts. Four of the parts became four men, and the others became four women. Later they be-came the ancestors of some ethnic groups. Among them, the fourth one became the ancestor of the Jingpo people, and he then made a rule that from then on Jingpo people should not marry a sibling or a person with the same family name,and they should choose husbands and wives from certain other clans. This kind of myth told in rituals serves to conﬁrm traditional history and remind people o f the rules for marriage.44
Other instances in which myths appear include rituals such as praying for children, rituals when building a new house, rites of passage, and offering sacriﬁces to gods. For example, before the middle of the twentieth century, Wa people in Yunnan Province hunted for human heads to offer to a great god, Muyiji, who created the sky and earth, and to Xi’aobu (Corn God). Every March and April before the sowing of crops, people of the same clan went out went out to hunt for heads.
The heads they found would be placed on altars, and the shaman would lead the clan in worshiping them, chanting the creation myth
In the re-mote past the great god and human ancestor Muyiji ordered one god to create the earth and another to create the sky, the sun, and the moon. Muyiji created animals, plants, and humans. He put humans into a stone cave and led a small bird to peck the stone cave until it opened. The ﬁrst human to come out was of the Wa people, followed by Han, Lahu, Dai, and Dan. Gradually the Wa people learned to settle down, to speak, and to build houses. They asked for seeds from Muyiji, and Muyiji ordered Xi’aobu to be the corn god. But when the Wa people planted the seeds they did not sprout, and when the harvesttime came, a ﬂood destroyed the village. And then Muyiji told the Wa that they should offer human heads as sacriﬁces to the gods, and after they did this it would always rain dur-ing planting and growing, and there would be no ﬂood during harvest. Later theWa moved to where they live today in Yunnan Province, and their custom ofusing heads to offer sacriﬁces to Muyiji and the corn god was transmitted overtime
In Xiuyan County, Liaoning Province, in northeast China, there are many Manchu people. In the 1980s, researchers collected 115 stories from a distinguished female Manchu storyteller named Li Chengming (1914–). Among the forty-six stories that were published, there are ﬁve myths. These myths explain how humans were created by the ﬁrst brother-and-sister couple after the cosmos was destroyed; why humans lost the paradise of harvesting endless grains be-cause they took these grains for granted; how the sun and the moon were created, and why people could not look at the sun directly with their eyes; how the divine maiden Hailun repaired the broken sky; and how the ancestor of the Manchu people was born after his mother consumed a hawthorn fruit and miraculously became pregnant. Li’s repertoire of stories came mainly from her father and grandfather. As an ordinary Chinese farmer, she often told stories to her neighbors and children during the slow seasons in farming, occasions of working with other people, or during the relaxed long winter nights on her warm kang (a brick bed that is warmed by a ﬁre built underneath, popular in northern China).49
The two collectors of her stories state that in these contexts,the storytellers in Xiuyan County transmit the wealth of stories they inherit from previous generations.50
Common People as Bearers of Mythological Tradition.
Ordinary people also bear some traditional mythical knowledge though they are not speciﬁcally con-nected to professional or highlighted myth-telling activities. Since their posses-sions of myth are usually fragmented and scarce and they are often reluctant totell myths in their daily lives, these people can be called “passive bearers of myth tradition.”51
When Yang Lihui asked some ordinary pilgrims in the Renzu Temple complex whether they knew any stories about Fuxi and Nüwa, most of them could not relate the full myth but did know that humans were created by the ancestors in the remote past. In another small village in Gansu Province, northwest China, when Yang asked several old men and women chatting beside a country road about the ﬂood myth, two of them knew only that there was indeed a ﬂood in remote antiquity that destroyed almost the whole world. And then they sighed deeply about the complicated development of this world and the hardship of their lives. So, though these common people are passive bearers of myth tradition, they also use mythological material to create their own ways to express their views and attitudes about history, the world, and their lives.
Cosmic disasters and restorations
In Chinese mythology, myths about world calamities in the remote past are quite numerous. They tell how and why the former world or human race was disturbed or even destroyed during the catastrophes, which usually happened int he form of deluge, worldwide ﬁre, rare snow, the collapse of the sky pillars, more than one sun rising in heaven, and so forth. Among some ethnic groups, the mythological world catastrophes occurred in a series and regularly. After the disasters, the stories usually continued with renewal of the world and humans. In myths relayed in Chinese, the most prominent concerning cosmic disasters and their restorations are myths about Gun and Yu controlling the ﬂood, the brother-sister couple re-creating humans after the world deluge, Nüwa repairing the broken sky, and Yi shooting down the surplus nine suns. Since the myth about the sibling couple who became human ancestors was introduced earlier, here the other three are presented.
A Timeline of the Mythological World p.73
Flood myths are especially popular in Chinese mythology. Chinese ﬂood myths usually tell how the ﬂood imperiled the world in ancient times, and therefore how heroes or heroines tried to stop the ﬂood and save the world from the disaster, or how human ancestors tried to re-create humans after the deluge, and howa new cosmic order was eventually rebuilt and a new civilization appeared.Some Chinese scholars assert that there are three systems of ﬂood myths in Chinese mythology (see the entry “the Floods”). Among them, the Gun-Yu myth is the most popular one, focusing on the theme of ﬂood and the controlling of it. Most versions of this myth state that in the ancient era, the ﬂood brought great damage to the world. The water was so ﬁerce that it gushed up into heaven. Gun wanted to stop the ﬂood. So he stole Xirang, a kind of mythical soil that was able to grow ceaselessly by itself, from the Supreme Divinity without waiting for his permission. Gun used Xirang to barricade against the overﬂowing water. The Supreme Divinity was angry, so he ordered the ﬁre god Zhurong to kill Gun at the outer edge of Yushan (which literally means “feather mountain”). Gun’s corpse did not rot for three years. Later, when his belly was opened with a sword, his son Yu emerged. Yu continued to ﬁght the ﬂoodwater.He deepened the seas and lakes, dredged the rivers, and dug mountains, channel-ing the overﬂowing water to the east seas. Eventually the demigod Yu stopped the ﬂood and changed the miserable world into a habitable place for humankind. He then became the founder of the ﬁrst civilized state, Xia. According to a wide-spread mythological story, Yu spent thirteen years trying to control the deluge.During this period, he was so devoted to his task that he did not go to his home three times when he passed by it. In another story, he had changed into a bear to dig a mountain when his pregnant wife came to bring him food. She felt embarrassed when she saw her husband as a bear, so she ran away. Yu ran after her and she metamorphosed into a stone. When Yu shouted to the stone, “Give back my son!” the stone opened up and out came Qi (literally meaning “open up”), the ﬁrst ruler of Xia.
The Repair of the Broken Sky
Though the notable myth about Nüwa mending the broken sky is sometimes attributed to ﬂood myth systems (see the entry “the Floods”), the disaster it describes is actually not only a ﬂood. Rather, it is a cosmic catastrophe. In some versions, this calamity was caused by the collapse of the four poles supporting heaven.
Handbook of Chinese Mythology p. 74
In other texts, this cosmic disorder was caused by the breakdown of oneof the sky poles, Mount Buzhou (literally means “not full”), in a war between the gods Gonggong and Zhuanxu (names differ in different texts). Gonggong fought with Zhuanxu to be the supreme god but failed in the war. He was so angry that he butted into Mount Buzhou. The collapse of the sky pillar(s) caused great disasters. Fires raged ﬁercely and could not be extinguished. Water ﬂowed without abating. Ferocious birds and beasts seized and devoured people. At this moment,the goddess Nüwa melted stones of ﬁve different colors to patch heaven, and cut the legs off of a huge tortoise and set them up to support the four extremities of heaven. She defeated the ﬁerce Black Dragon to save the people, and collected ashes of reeds to stop the ﬂood. Her arduous work cleared up the terrible mess and put the world in order again. In some versions collected in the twentieth century, Nüwa not only mended the broken sky but also repaired the broken earth that was damaged in the same disaster. Her mythical actions often serve as an etiology to explain why people today can see colorful clouds in heaven (because the goddess mended heaven with colorful stones), and why the current western land of China is high while the east is low(she used the longer legs of the tortoise to support the west, using the shorter legs to to support the east)
Shooting down surplus suns
Another famous cosmic disaster and its restoration in Chinese mythology relate to shooting down the sur-plus suns. This type of myth can befound in many ethnic groups, such as the Han, Hani, Lahu, Luoba, Lisu,Naxi, Qiang, Tujia, Miao, Yao, Dong, Yi, Zhuang, Li, Buyi, Gelao,Mongol, Hezhe, and others. It usually tells that in ancient ages, there several suns appearing in heaven (the number of the suns may be seven, ten,twelve, or another number). The weather became extremely hot, the earth was burned, and the crops all died. Humans suffered greatly from the disaster. Then a hero arrived. He shot down the surplus suns and left only one for the normal use of this world. In this way, he restored the cosmos to regular order. In myths in the Chinese language, the hero who shot down the extra suns is Yi. He is often set in the time of the sage ruler Yao. Many versions of his myths describe that at the time of Yao, ten suns rose up together in heaven. They burned crops and dried the grasses and woods, and this resulted in the deaths of many humans. In addition, ferocious monsters took this opportunity to devour the remaining humans. So Yi shot down the additional suns and left one for the natural cosmic order. Thus the cosmos was renewed again.
A famous sky pillar, one of the mythical mountains holding up heaven; Mount Buzhou was damaged by Gonggong in a war and was partially destroyed, henceits name (bu means “not” or “without,”and zhou means “complete” or “full”).The concept that heaven is supported by pillars or some other kind of foundation is found in many cultures. In China, this cosmological belief is also quite common among many ethnic groups. The sky holders can be big mountain peaks, huge trees, turtles’ feet, deities’ or heroes’ bodies or corpses, pillars of gold or silver, or other supports. The number of the holders may be four, ﬁve, eight, or even twelve, due to variations from different ethnicities, times, and places.Among these supports holding up heaven, Mount Buzhou is very famous. It is located at the corner of the great wilderness beyond the northwest seas. Tothe north it overlooks Mount Zhubi and Mount Yuechong, and to the east it overlooks the Youze Marsh, where the river runs underground and its roaring noise can be heard on the plain. Two yellow beasts guard Mount Buzhou. A mythical fruit that looks like a peach but has leaves like a jujube, with blossoms of yellow with calyx red, grows there. If one eats the fruit, one will no longer feel tired or, in one version of the myth, will not feel hungry any longer.The most well-known myth about Mount Buzhou is that it was damaged by the water god Gonggong in his war with Zhuanxu, sometimes called Zhurong or Shennong (different names are given in different texts). This story was mentioned as early as in the late Warring States era in “Tianwen,” which, similar to its other mythological recordings, put a simple and ambiguous question on the logical connection between Gonggong’s rage and the tilt of the earth toward the southeast. A much more detailed story appeared later in Huainanzi and Lunheng.
De-tailed accounts also exist in other written works, but with considerable variants.
(chapter 3) states that Gonggong fought with Zhuanxu to be ruler in remote antiquity. In his fury he bumped against Mount Buzhou andcaused this pillar of heaven to break and snap the cords of the earth. Since then, heaven tilts towards northwest and that is why the sun, moon and stars continue to this day to move in that direction. The earth also had a piece missing…the southeast, and that is why the rivers of China ﬂow toward the ocean in the east.The same story was told in Lunheng, but it is connected to the Nüwa myth of repairing the broken sky. In this version Gonggong butted against MountBuzhou in his unsuccessful war with Zhuanxu, thereby causing the pillar of the sky and the cords of the earth to break. It was then that Nüwa patched up thesky with melted colorful stones and cut off a turtle’s feet to hold it up. A similar explanation was given for the variations in the Chinese topography.In Liezi (which was thought to have been written in the Warring States era but probably was compiled during the Jin dynasty, 265–420 CE), though the two stories also are connected, their chronological order is opposite. Nüwa patched the broken sky ﬁrst because it was defective, followed by Gonggong’s damage years later.Now more and more scholars argue that this story, “Gonggong bumps into Mount Buzhou,” has no logical connection with the story that “Nüwa repaired the broken sky.” They are loosely bound together with their development and change. Similar mergers of separate stories can be commonly found in Chinese oral tradition, including Chinese mythology. No matter whom Gonggong fought with, and no matter whether the Gong-gong event happened before Nüwa’s repair or afterward, Mount Buzhou was damaged by Gonggong and thereafter a new cosmological order was established….
Cancong appeared as the first ancestor of the Shu kings…
Cancong also had an unusual appearance in that his eyes bulged in an upright position, which showed his extraordinary powers. He al-ways wore green clothes, thus he was also called “Green God” or “God in Green Clothes.” Yuan Ke, an important Chinese mythologist, deduced that the original ﬁgure of this god of sericulture is a silkworm, because the color of the silk-worm is green (Yuan 1993, 367). The most important deed Cancong did, according to the mythological record, is teaching people how to rear silkworms. According to Xianzhuan Shiyi (Supplementary Material to “Biographies of Immortals” and to “Biographies of Holy Immortals,” written in the late Tang dynasty, ca. tenth century CE, now known only in later writings that quote this work) and Sanjiao Soushen Daquan (A Compendium of Information on the Gods of the Three Religions, written in the Yuan dynasty, 1206–1368 CE ), Cancong set himself up as king of Shu and taught people to breed silkworms. He made thousands of golden silkworms and gave every family one golden silkworm at the beginning of every year. The silk-worms in each family multiplied proliﬁcally, and after some time people would return the golden silkworms to their king. When Cancong toured the area of his realm to make an inspection, wherever he stopped, people would gather and form silkworm markets. Because people received great beneﬁts from Cancong,they built many temples throughout western China to worship and offer sacriﬁces to him. During the twentieth century, especially in 1986, one of the most famous primitive tribal ruins of ancient Shu was uncovered at Sanxingdui (Three Stars Mound), which is located in the northeastern corner of the Sichuan plain. Archaeological studies of the cultural relics found in the many layers of the site revealed a signiﬁcant civilization existing as early as approximately 5,000 to 3,000 years ago, dating from the late Neolithic age to the Shang dynasty. Among theartifacts were pottery, jade, and gold or bronze ﬁgures, such as a gilded wooden walking stick that symbolizes the power of the king of Shu. Other artifacts in-clude a set of bronze masks displaying characteristics of local mythological ﬁgures. These characteristics include high noses, wide mouths, and, most notice-ably, bulging eyes; some even portray the eyeballs sticking out of the mask likeshort pillars. Though the origin and race of these Sanxingdui people remain a mystery, many scholars think the bronze masks with protruding eyes are the statues of Cancong, the founding god of the Shu tribe.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts83
Chang’e is the spirit of the moon, one of the most well-known goddesses in Chi-nese mythology. She stole the elixir of immortality from her husband, the great hero Yi, and ﬂew to the moon.Chang’e was originally called Heng’e, though later the name Chang’e be-came popularly used. Since the character
heng in her name happened to be the same character used in a certain Han emperor’s name had to be changed to Heng-e or to a different Chinese heng character due to the taboo ofsharing an imperial Han name. Some scholars believe that Chang’e is originallythe twelve moons’ mother, Changxi, since they both have direct relationshipswith the moon and their names could be the same in ancient Chinese phonology…
Early traces of the Chang’e myth are found in the initial periods of the War-ring States era (ﬁfth century BC ). In the divination book of that time, Guizang (The Storehouse of All Things, now known only through later quotation), whichwas written for shamans’ divination, Chang’e was said to have stolen the elixir of immortality from Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West. She reportedlyconsumed it, then ﬂew to the moon and became the spirit of the moon. How-ever, the story recorded here was simple and did not mention Yi, Chang’e’s hus-band, at all.A more complete story about Chang’e appeared in Huainanzi at the begin-ning of the Han dynasty. Yi got the elixir of immortality from Xiwangmu, but Heng’e stole it from him and consumed it. Then she ﬂew to the moon. Yi wasvery disappointed but could not recover the elixir (chapter 6). Gao You, the Hanannotator of many classics, added that Heng’e was Yi’s wife.In some versions, Chang’e is said to metamorphose into an ugly toad aftershe escapes to the moon. This is usually interpreted as a punishment for her be-havior of stealing the precious elixir and forsaking her husband. In Han iconog-raphy a toad often appears in the moon, standing on its hind legs, holding a pestle and pounding the elixir of immortality in a mortar. Many scholars think this toad is none other than Chang’e herself. She has been punished and transformed into a toad, and has to pound the elixir for all time (Yuan 1993, 235). Li Shangyin(ca. 813–858 CE), a famous Tang poet, also mentioned that “Chang’e endlesslypounds the elixir of immortality in a mortar” in one of his poems .In some other versions, however, the creature pounding the elixir in the moon is a rabbit. Since it is pure white, it is often called the “Jade Rabbit.” In some later iconography or literature, Chang’e is often depicted as a beautiful goddess, holding the jade rabbit in her arms, or the jade rabbit is pounding the elixir while Chang’e is not working at all. In fact, the belief that there is a toad or a rabbit in the moon appears quite early too. This belief also can be found in texts from the Warring States era. And it is used to explain the shadow on the surface of the bright moon. Wen Yiduo, a modern Chinese scholar, argued that the earliest mythical creature appearing in the moon was the toad; then the toad and rabbit appeared together; later only the rabbit showed in the moon (Wen 1982, 313–338). Nevertheless, it is evident the toad and the rabbit (they seem to not have pounded the elixir) were originally independent of the Chang-e myth and they were combined into it during its development process. In Han dynasty iconography the rabbit can often be seen. Sometimes it is running on the moon,and sometimes it is pounding the elixir in a mortar in front of Xiwangmu, the owner of the elixir of immortality, and her husband, Dongwanggong. However, in as late as the Jin dynasty, the pounding rabbit has somehow changed its hostess and living place. It moves onto the moon and becomes Chang-e’s companion and continues its work of pounding there. …
… The Chang’e myth continues to be popularly transmitted in contemporary China. Compared to ancient written recordings, the modern Chang’e myth seems more complex and rational. The myths usually appear as combinations of many mythical fragments relating to Chang’e, Yi, or Xiwangmu, they try to give a reasonable cause for Chang-e’s behavior. A common story explains the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In the ancient past, there was a hero named Yi who was excellent at shooting.
His wife was Chang’e. One year, the ten suns rose inthe sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the sunsand left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him theelixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang’e and be immortal withouther, so he let Chang’e keep the elixir. But Fengmeng, one of his apprentices,knew this secret. So, on the ﬁfteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yiwent hunting, Fengmeng broke into Yi’s house and forced Chang’e to give the elixir to him. Chang’e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and ﬂew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang’e liked in the yard and gave sacriﬁces to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang’e they participated in these sacriﬁces with Yi. From then on, holding a memorial ceremony on the ﬁfteenthof August in the lunar calendar has become a tradition and has spread through-out the country.Another common version provides different reasons why Chang’e ﬂees tothe moon. After the hero Hou Yi shot down nine of the ten suns, he was pro-nounced king by the thankful people. However, he soon became a conceited andtyrannical ruler. In order to live long without death, he asked for the elixir fromXiwangmu. But his wife, Chang’e, stole it on the ﬁfteenth of August because shedid not want the cruel king to live long and hurt more people. She took themagic potion to prevent her husband from becoming immortal. Hou Yi was soangry when he discovered that Chang’e took the elixir, he shot at his wife as sheﬂew toward the moon, though he missed. Chang’e ﬂed to the moon and becamethe spirit of the moon. Hou Yi died soon because he was overcome with greatanger. Thereafter, people offer a sacriﬁce to Chang’e on every lunar ﬁfteenth ofAugust to commemorate Chang’e’s action.In spite of her different motivations and causes for ﬂying into the moon,Chang’e is described as a kind, smart, and self-sacriﬁcing lady in both of theseversions.Today during the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, many Han Chinesefamilies will still offer a sacriﬁce to the moon by laying out mooncakes (roundpastries stuffed with sweet bean paste or salted egg yolk) and round fruits intheir yards. …
Mother of the twelve moons, Changxi is also one of Di Jun’s wives.In spite of her high status in mythology, the Changxi myth is quite sparse.Her accomplishment mainly appears in Shanhaijing, which states that there was a lady who spent her time bathing the moons. She was Di Jun’s wife, named Changxi. Changxi gave birth to the twelve moons and was beginning to bathe them at this time (chapter 16). This text does not mention what the twelve moons did to occupy themselves. Another two chapters of the same book depict that a lady named Xihe gave birth to ten suns and bathed them in the Gan Gulf.The ten suns lived on the Fusang tree. When one sun ﬁnished its work and cameback home, another sun would go out instead (chapters 14 and 15). This maysuggest similarities in how the twelve moons worked.Though the Changxi myth is not very complete, it contains certain motifs,such as “there is more than one moon in the ancient past,” “the moon is born from a goddess,” and “bathing (or washing) the moon.” These motifs can be found in the stories of many ethnic groups in China. The number of the moons varies—it can be ﬁve, seven, nine, ten, twelve, or other numbers. The moons may be created by gods and may be born from goddesses. In Shanhaijing, the rea-son the moons needed to be bathed is unclear. Some myths that are spread in the Miao, Buyi, and Yi ethnic groups explain that the sun and the moon needed to be washed in order to cleanse them of the dust they accumulated during their work and to make them bright again.
Changxi sometimes is identiﬁed as Chang’e, who stole the elixir of immor-tality from her husband, Yi, and ﬂew to the moon to become the spirit of themoon. Some Chinese scholars believe they are actually the same goddess because they both have direct relationships with the moon and their names could be the same in the ancient Chinese phonology.
Cords of the Earth
Cords tied to the earth supposedly prevented it from collapsing. In Chinese mythology, these cords are commonly called Di Wei (di means “the earth,” and wei means, basically, “cords.”) The concept of holder(s) preventing the earth from sinking can be found among many people. In Chinese mythology, the holder could be a divine creatures such as a turtle, cow, ﬁsh, dragon, or snake that supports the earth from under-ground. Versions of this motif include four cords tied up to the four corners of the square earth, or several pillars (four, ﬁve, eight, etc.) holding the earth in place. In some ancient texts, the earth cords were said to have been broken off during a war in the remote past. According to Liezi, there were ﬂaws in the sky and the earth when it was created; therefore, Nüwa melted stones of ﬁve different colors to repair the defective sky, and cut the legs from a huge tortoise and set them up to support the four extremities of the sky …
Gonggong fought with Zhuanxu to be the Supreme Emperor and failed. Gonggong was so angry that he butted into Mount Buzhou, one of the sky pil-lars, and damaged it. The cords of the earth were broken off too. Thereafter, the sky tilted toward the northwest, and that is why the sun, moon, and stars move in that direction. The earth had a ﬂaw in the southeast, and that is why therivers and rains ﬂow in that direction. The same story was told in
Lunheng, but the logical connection between Gonggong’s war and Nüwa’s mending work isjust the opposite. It states that because of Gonggong’s war with Zhuanxu, the sky pillar Mount Buzhou collapsed and the cords of the earth were snapped. Therefore, Nüwa smelted colorful stones to patch the sky and cut the legs of a tortoise to support the four extremities of the sky. It is clear these two separate myths became confused and gradually merged into a new syncretic version.
Some scholars claim Di Wei refers to the four corners of the earth because wei also has the meaning of “corner” …
Crow of the sun
The crow of the sun functions as the spirit of the sun or, in some versions, the bearer of the sun across the sky. Sometimes it is said to be three-legged, and itsnumber might be ten, as many as the suns in ancient times.The belief in a crow settling in the sun (or in each individual sun) or bearingthe sun across the sky appears very early in Chinese texts. According to a text in Shanhaijing, in the great wilderness there was a huge tree named Fusang (Lean-ing Mulberry) growing on the top of a mountain. Its trunk reached a height of 300 li (about 100 miles). Beside the mountain there was a valley named Tang Valley, in which another Fusang tree was growing. Here was the place from which the ten suns rose and set back down. As soon as one sun came back from its journey crossing the sky, another sun started forth. Each of the ten suns was carried by a crow. Another earlier text, “Tianwen,” also mentioned the crow of the sun along with the story of Yi in an ambiguous way asking: “Why did Yi shoot down thesuns? Why did the crows shed their feathers? Wangyi the Han commentator “Tianwen,” cited a paragraph from Huainanzi to explain these questions, which stated that at the time of Yao (a demigod and one of the three sage kings), the ten suns rose together and burned up the woods and grass. Yao then ordered Yi to shoot down the ten suns in the sky, and Yi shot down nine of them. The nine crows settling in these suns died, and their feathers fell out. It seems that the crows in the suns, which function as the suns’ spirits, are in some degree different from those who are bearers of the suns, whose main function is to carry each sun across the sky while they are on duty.In some versions, especially in some texts during and after the Han dynasty,the crow of the sun is sometimes said to be three-legged. For example, both Huai-nanzi and Lunheng mention that there was a three-legged crow in the sun (the texts could also be interpreted with a plural reading that there were three-legged crows in the suns). Another version recorded during the Six Dynasties era stated that two sorts of mythical grasses of immortality grew in the northeast and southwest: one was named Di Ri (di means“ground,” ri means “sun”), and the other was named Chun Sheng (chun means“spring,” sheng means “grow”). The three-legged crow liked eating these grasses very much. It descended from heaven to the earth several times in order to eatthem. But Xihe, the mother of the ten suns, did not like it to do so. She wanted to control the crow, so she covered its eyes with her hands to stop it from ﬂying down.
Fusang; Tang Valley; Xihe; Yi
References and Further Reading Birrell, Anne.
Chinese Mythology: An Introduction.
Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, 38, 234, 255. Bodde, Derk. “Myths of Ancient China.” In Mythologies of the Ancient World, ed.Samuel Noah Kramer. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961, 394–398.Yuan, Ke.
A Dictionary of Chinese Myths and Legends
(in Chinese). Shanghai: Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe, 1985, 21.
Handbook of Chinese Mythology96
A three-legged crow in the sun. Funeral stone carving of the Eastern Han dynasty, Tanghe County, HenanProvince, central China. (Reproduced for ABC-CLIO from Shan Xiushan, Wang Rulin, and Li Chenguang,eds.,
A Collection of Han Pictorial Stone Carvings in Henan Province,
Henan Meishu Chubanshe, 1989)
Di Jun, or Emperor Jun, is one of the supreme gods in ancient time. He is a com-panion to Xihe, mother of the suns, and a companion to Changxi, mother of themoons. Many of his descendants are famous culture heroes or demigods.Scholars presumed that Di Jun was the supreme god of the Yin people ineast China. In ancient times, Di Jun was as great to the Yin people as Huang Diwas to the Xia people from west China. However, the Di Jun myth can be foundin no other documents save for ﬁve chapters of
According to Chinese mythologists such as Yuan Ke, this is because Di Jun gradually faded in popularity as a deity since the kingdom of Yin collapsed. Fewer people continued to tell the Di Jun myth during the Warring States era and the early Han period, the time when Shanhaijing was compiled (Yuan 1993, 179–181).One of Di Jun’s famous deeds is that he made friends with the phoenix. Inthe Great Wilderness lived a ﬂock of ﬁve-colored birds. They were dancing in pairs. The god Di Jun desired to go down to the earth and make friends withthem. These birds looked after his two altars on the earth. This story is recorded in chapter 14 in Shanhaijing;
according to a text in chapter 16, the ﬁve-coloredbird is a type of phoenix.In a story from chapter 18, Di Jun is described as the god who bestowed special power on the archer Yi. He gave Yi a red bow and arrows with white feathers, placing Yi on the earth to help all the countries there. Therefore Yi started his work of saving people from hardship.A text in chapter 17 concerns Di Jun’s bamboo forest. Beyond the northeastseas, in the Great Wilderness around the river, there was a mountain named Mount Fuyu. Beside the mountain there was a mound. It was about 300 li (about 100 miles) in circumference. To the south of the mound lay Di Ku’s bamboo forest. The bamboo here was so large that just one knot of it could be used to make a boat. The most spectacular stories associated with Di Jun are about his two con-sorts, Xihe and Changxi. An account in Shanhaijing (chapter 15) relates that beyond the east sea and next to the Gan Gulf was the kingdom of Xihe. A lady named Xihe married Di Jun and gave birth to the ten suns. She spends her time bathing the suns in the Gan Gulf. Changxi is depicted in chapter 16 in the same book. In the Great Wilderness there was a mountain called Mt Riyue (sun and moon). It was in the key position of the heavens. At this mountain was a lady, Changxi, who was also Di Jun’s wife. Changxi had given birth to twelve moons. In the text, Changxi was just beginning to bathe them.
Among Di were many skilful craftsmen who invented …
Di Jun’s most famous and divine son is Houji. Houji brought varieties of grain to people and taught them cultivating and harvesting. He later became the ancestor of the Zhou people. Houji’s younger brother, Taixi, fathered Shujun(in another version, Shujun was said to be Houji’s grandson). Shujun invented the technique of plowing and took the place of his father and Houji to sow the grains.
Di Ku, or Emperor Ku, also called Gaoxin, is a grandson of Huang Di and one ofthe Five August Emperors in the mythical history of China. During his reign heoversaw the composition of many Chinese traditional songs and the inventionof several musical instruments. By his order, his two sons who fought every daybecame star gods. He is also known as the father of Houji, ancestor of the Zhoupeople, and the father of Qi, ancestor of the Shang people. In some accounts he isidentiﬁed as the father of Yao, one of the three sage kings. …
When he was born, Di Ku showed a divine ability: he could utter his name,“Jun.” When he grew up and became the emperor, Di Ku would ride a dragon inthe spring and summer, and a horse in the fall and winter
Several other stories related to Di Ku feature his descendants. One of thesestories tells of Di Ku’s two sons who became star gods. Ebo and Shichen weresons of Di Ku. At ﬁrst they both lived at Kuanglin, but they could not bear eachother and often fought. Di Ku was so displeased with this that he moved Ebo to Shangqiu and assigned him to be in charge of the Chen star. He moved Shichento Daxia and assigned him to be in charge of the Shen star. From then on Ebo was worshiped by the Shang people, and Shichen was worshiped by the Tang(Yao) people. That is why the Chen star is also called the Shang star. The Shenstar is equivalent to stars in Orion, and the Chen star is the same as those in Antares. They never appear in the sky at the same time. This phenomenon isoften depicted in literature as an image to symbolize good friends who are sep-rated by distance or persons who are on bad terms. For instance, Du Fu (712–770 CE ), the famous poet of the Tang dynasty, wrote in his poem, “It is almost ashard for friends to meet as for the Shen and Shang (Chen) stars.”In a story recorded in Shiben (The Origin of Hereditary Families,ca. third century BC ), Di Ku’s four consorts are mentioned. These four ladies were Jiang Yuan, Jiandi, Qingdu, and Changyi. Jiang Yuan gave birth to Houji, the god ofgrain and ancestor of the Zhou people. Jiandi gave birth to Qi, ancestor of the Shang people. Qingdu bore Di Yao (Emperor Yao), the ﬁrst of the three sage king sin ancient China. Changyi bore Di Zhi (Emperor Zhi), who inherited Di Ku’scrown but resigned and handed over the crown to his brother Yao after nine years. Another version about Di Ku’s companions is from Shiyiji(Researches into Lost Records, ca. fourth century). It tells of another of Di Ku’s consorts, a lady from Zoutu who gave birth to eight sons. Each of them was born after she dreamed that she swallowed the suns. People called these sons “the Eight Gods”.
As a famous god and sovereign, Di Ku is also linked with the Panhu myth,the ancestral myth of the Miao, Yao, She, and Li ethnic people in south China. Worried about an imminent invasion, Di Ku issued an imperial decree that if anyone in the world could bring back the enemy general’s head, he would be rewarded with the emperor’s daughter as a wife, along with many other rewards. Panhu, a mythical dog in the royal palace, accomplished the mission and received the princess as his wife.
Thus they became ancestors of several ethnic groups in China.
Some scholars presume that Di Ku also is identiﬁed as Di Jun, anothermythical sovereign in ancient China. The reasons for this conclusion includethe evidence that Di Ku took the same name of “Jun” as Di Jun; they both had ason named Houji; Di Ku’s wife, Changyi, and Di Jun’s wife, Changxi, actuallyare the same name; and so on. However, in the scattered myth texts and the mythological history, they are treated Di Ku and Di Jun are usually treated as different gods.
various dragon tales and legends …
In a lot of areas, especially in the east, northeast, and central parts of China,among Han people there are plentiful stories about Short-Tailed Old Li. Short-Tailed Old Li is a famous dragon god who is said to have had a short tail. The explanations for why his tail was short are various. One popular version states that his father cut off part of his tail. Short-Tailed Old Li was born into a poor family in Shandong Province as a black dragon. When he was ﬁrst born and started to suck his mother’s breasts, she immediately fainted. Then his father came back from the ﬁeld. Seeing the strange and ugly newborn baby, the man, already tired of the family burden, became very angry. He hit the baby with a spade and cutoff part of the baby Li’s tail. The dragon was hurt so severely that he broke the roof of of the house and ﬂew away in a cloud of sparks. He never went home again.Many texts state that the place that he ﬂew to was northeast China, where he settled in the Black Dragon River and became the god of that river. He took his mother’s family name, Li, so he was called Short-Tailed Old Li. After his mother died, every May 13 of the lunar calendar, the day his mother died, Short-Tailed Old Li ﬂew back to pay respect at his mother’s grave. Whenever he came back, it would rain. Therefore people worshiped him as a rain god. They often pray to him for rain. Texts about the dragon’s lineal descendants are also a very important and large part of dragon tales. Differing from the nine varieties of dragon offspring,these descendants all inherited the dragon’s nature and power. They are authentic dragon sons or daughters …
As the most powerful divine creature, the dragon’s inﬂuence is deeply rootedin various facets of Chinese culture and society, not only in oral or literate tradi-tions. The dragon is thought to control rain, and whenever there is a drought peo-ple will pray to the dragon for rain. From an ancient era as early as at least theShang dynasty (1600 BC –1046 BC ) to modern times, in China there have been amultitude of rituals of praying for rain. Among many of those rituals, the dragon isoften worshiped or given the main role. The ways in which people deal with dragons in the ritual differ greatly in different places and era
by Dong Zhongshu (former Han, d. 104 BC), as a drought appears, if one makes several statues of dragons with clay and then asks boys or young men to pace and dance among these statues, the rain will come. The number of the statues, their color, and the people who dance in the ritual will be changed according to the season. Some local records of the areas in southwest China compiled during the Qing dynasty describe that in people’s minds a drought can most likely be attributed to the laziness of a dragon. They consequently had speciﬁc treatments to motivate the dragon in order to receive rain. One of those was to throw a tiger’s bone into the pool where a dragon was thought to live. The dragon would be irritated and would ﬁght with the tiger, and this would cause heavy rain. The reason for this is that the dragon and the tiger are the most ﬁerce and powerful creatures, therefore they cannot bear each other. Whenever they see each other,or even sense a part of the other, they will ﬁght. Another method was to throw dirty things into a pool. Because the dragon could not bear ﬁlth, it would create rain to clean its pool.The praying-for-rain ritual is still very popular in many rural areas in contemporary China, and in the ritual a speciﬁc dragon king is usually worshiped as the main god of rain. In parts of northwest China, for example, every village has its own local god that is different in name and the powers it has. These kinds o flocal gods function as the core being that is worshiped in praying-for-rain rituals,and many of them are dragon kings.Though the dragon shows up very early in Chinese history and culture, and dragon kings have become popular gods in Chinese belief nowadays, the ﬁgures of dragon kings actually did not appear until the Eastern Han dynasty, when Buddhism was imported into China. A deity named Naga was linked with the divine dragon originating in Chinese Buddhism Because it was thought of as the main god that took charge of rain, a vital resource for agricultural society, the dragon king emerging from Chinese Buddhism received positive feedback from people. Inspired by this, Taoist leaders created their own dragon kings to meet ordinary people’s needs and hence attract followers. Therefore, many dragon kings emerged from Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, and folk beliefs. People began to believe that in every sea, river, lake, spring, and even well there must be a dragon king reigning,and numerous temples for dragon kings were built throughout the country. Each dragon king was different in power, rank, and ability, but they all were worshiped as important deities by people in different areas.The dragon’s ﬁgure is also visible in other kinds of customs. The most well-known examples are the customs of the dragon dance and the dragon boat race.The dragon dance is an activity held primarily at traditional festivals, such as the Spring Festival, Lantern Festival (on January 15 of the lunar calendar), and many kinds of temple fairs.
This kind of performance was originally held to bring good weather and good harvests on speciﬁc occasions, but nowadays the dragon dance functions as entertainment. At various celebrations, fairs, and new festivals, the dragon dance is performed in a standardized way, and occurs more often in the daytime rather than its traditional evening performance. The dragon boat race is often held during the Duanwu Festival on May 5 of the lunar calendar in river or lake regions in southern China. Sometimes the race is held among several neighboring villages, and sometimes it is held among teams throughout a county or even an entire province. The scale of the races may be very different according to the region they cover, and the dragon boats,though all carved in the shape of a dragon, also differ in size and quality because of their owners’ ﬁnancial resources. In the race, all participating boats will compete in a race to determine which boat covers the predetermined distance the fastest, while the audience stands along the banks and cheers. This forms the highlight of the Duanwu Festival; accordingly, in many areas in southern China the festival is called the Dragon Boat Festival.The origin of the dragon boat race, according to a famous legend, is related to Qu Yuan, the ﬁrst great poet in the Warring States era, who drowned himself in a river on May 5 for the honor of his state and his ambition. When Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River, people rowed boats on the river to rescue him. Though Qu Yuan died, this act brought about the custom of the dragon boat race. However, scholars presume that this custom originated much earlier than the time of Qu Yuan. It was initially a ritual held to avert evil fortune.During the imperial era from the Han dynasty to the Qing dynasty, the dragon was gradually associated with the symbol of the holy imperial power. Emperors all claimed and tried to testify that they were the sons of heaven as well as the incarnation of a divine dragon. This greatly strengthened the holy image and integrity of royalty in the eyes of ordinary people. Meanwhile, the dragon image that appeared as ornaments on clothes, houses, and many other articles of everyday use was monopolized by emperors. Commoners who dared to use the ﬁgure of a dragon to ornament any article of everyday use risked execution.
the elixir of immortality is the most famous, because it is often linked with some powerful or well-known deities, such as Xiwangmu (the Queen Mother of the West), Yi, and Chang’e. A popular story appears in Huainanzi, noting that Yi got the elixir of immortality from Xiwangmu, but his wife Heng’e stole it from him and consumed it. Then she be-came immortal and ﬂew to the moon. Yi was very disappointed but could not re-gain the elixir. Xiwangmu is the famous possessor of the precious drug. In Han iconography a rabbit often pounds the elixir in a mortar in front of her, and sometimes also infront of her husband, Dongwanggong. Though Chang’e became immortal and ﬂew to the moon, she was transformed into an ugly toad after she reached the moon and had to endlessly pound the elixir there. However, later, the pounding rabbit somehow moved to the moon too and became Chang’e’s companion, continuing its work there. Xiwangmu does not alone own the elixir of immortality; other deities and even shamans also have it. In a text in chapter 11 of Shanhaijing, it is written that east of the Kaiming beast, there were several holy shamans named Peng, Di,Yang, Lü, Fan, and Xiang. They each held the elixir of immortality and surrounded the corpse of the god Zhayu in an attempt to revive him.
3 types of flood myths
type of legend also can be found in accounts from the Zhou dynasty,and it is usually used to describe the mythical birth of a great man or to explain the origin of a certain lake. For example, Yiyin, the important politician in the Shang dynasty, was said to be born from a hollow mulberry tree that was trans-formed from his mother. The mother was the sole survivor of the local ﬂood,but when she turned around to see what had happened to her city—which brok e the divine forbid dance—she was turned into a hollow mulberry tree. However, this legend later became connected to the brother-sister marriage myth, and thus the local ﬂood became a worldwide disaster. In Henan Province in central China, the ﬂood is usually said to be a part of a cosmic disaster, which is often depicted as “the sky collapsed and the earth sank.” A myth collected in 1982 in Nanyang County says that in the remote past, there were two sibling students, a brother and his elder sister. There was a temple near their school with an iron lion standing in front of it. The siblings liked to ride the lion for fun. One day, a monk told the siblings that they should feed the iron lion everyday with steamed bread. They followed his suggestion. After a period of time,the monk told them that they should pay attention to the lion’s eyes, and whe nthe eyes became red, they should get into the lion’s stomach. One day, when the sister fed the lion again, she found that the lion’s eyes had turned red, so she and her younger brother got into the lion’s stomach. Then they saw the sky become dark, and heard the wind blowing ﬁercely with a loud crash. When it became bright again, they climbed out and found that the sky had collapsed and all the other people were dead.
Eventually the demigod Yu stopped the ﬂoodand changed the miserable world into a habitable place for humankind. He thenbecame the founder of the ﬁrst civilized state, Xia. Similarly, the emphasis of thebrother-sister marriage myth is not on the ﬂood itself either. The ﬂood only functions as the necessary cause for the sibling incest. The narrative purpose is to ex-plain how humankind was re-created after the cosmic disaster and how a newworld order was rebuilt. In some versions, after the repopulation of human be-ings, the stories also tell how the new descendents get grain seeds or ﬁre, andthereafter start an agricultural civilization. So, as recent research insists, the motifs of “controlling the ﬂood” and “acquisition of the agricultural civilization”contained in the Chinese ﬂood myth make it unique
The ﬂood myth is by no means uniquely Chinese, for it is widely foundamong other peoples of East and Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa, India Islands,New Guinea, Polynesia, Micronesia, the Americas, and many other places. How-ever, compared to the biblical or other Western ﬂood myths, the Chinese ﬂoodmyth is distinctive in some regards. The basic difference, as some scholars havesuggested, is that in the Chinese version what is emphasized is the conquest ofthe ﬂood and the origin of civilization rather than the ﬂood that came to punishhuman sin (Bodde 1961, 402–403; Lu 2002, 18–21). This characteristic is stronglyillustrated in the Gun-Yu myth. The essence of this myth is not that on…
Fusang (literally meaning “Leaning Mulberry”) is a world-tree in the east wherethe ten suns stay, bathe, and rise. It is also known as Fumu (Leaning Tree).The world-tree is a common mythical motif found in many countries and among numerous ethnic groups. It is usually described in various mythologies as a huge divine tree that links earth with heaven and communicates the humanand profane condition to the divine and sacred realm. Among its many parallels in Europe, Australia, North America, and other areas, Fusang is one of the mostfamous Chinese world-trees. According to texts from Shanhaijing, Fusang grew in the water of the Tang Valley. The tree was very high; its trunk reached 300 li(100 miles) in height, and its leaves were like the leaves of the mustard plant. The ten suns stayed on the tree and bathed in the valley. Nine of them stayed on the lower branches of the Fusang while the sun that was going to rise stayed on its top branch. The ten suns rose from the Fusang tree one by one. As soon as one sun came back from crossing the sky, another sun went up. Each sun was carried by a crow. In an account from Huainanzi, the sun is said to rise from the Yang Valley(the same as the Tang Valley) and be bathed in the Xian Pool. When the sun swept past Fusang it was called First Dawn. When it climbed up Fusang and was prepared to begin its journey, it was called Daybreak. In some later versions, Fusang is described as a large tree in the east. Its top reached heaven while its trunk curved down and reached the Three Springs of the earth. However, according to Shizhouji (A Record of Ten Mythic Islets, said to have been written during the Han dynasty but probably written in the Six Dynasties era), Fusang seemed to be not only a kind of tree but also a mythica lplace that was located in the middle of the Blue Sea. It was thousands of miles in circumference with a palace for an immortal built on it. Fusang trees grew here. Their leaves were like those of the mulberry, and they also produced the same fruit. The biggest one of them was more than 100,000 feet high and 2,000 wei wide (one wei is equal to the diameter of a circle created by a person’s arms) .Since the trees grew in pairs, every pair of them shared the same root and their trunks leaned toward each other; therefore they received the name “Leaning Mulberry.” Though the trees were extremely large, their fruits were rare, be-cause the trees produced fruit only once every 9,000 years. The fruit was red,and it tasted very sweet and savory. When the immortals ate the fruit, their bod-ies would turn a golden color, and they were able to ﬂy and ﬂoat in the air.Other legends state that there were Heaven Chickens on the Fusang tree. The chickens nested in the top of the mythical tree and crowed at midnight each night. Every time they crowed, the crows inside the suns followed them. And then all the chickens in the world would follow and crow loudly.
Fuxi: a cultural hero and human ancestor and one of the most powerful primeval gods in Chinese mythology…
According to some an-cient written recordings and iconography, he had a human head with a snake’s body, though he gradually became fully human and in later years was a kingwith great dignity. During the Han dynasty Fuxi often became associated with Nüwa, one of the most powerful and ancient goddesses. Nüwa’s achievements include creating human beings by molding yellow earth together and patching the broken sky alone, according to early written sources. Fuxi took the role of Nüwa’s brother and husband, and Nüwa was his helper and assistant. Theyoften appeared together in funeral stone bas-reliefs of the Han dynasty, portrayedwith human heads or upper bodies and serpents’ or dragons’ lower bodies, some-times with their tails intertwined. Fuxi holds a pair of compasses or the sunwith a three-footed crow inside it, and Nüwa holds either a carpenter’s square orthe moon with the divine frog inside. These symbols are interpreted as repre-senting the order that Fuxi and Nüwa created subsequently by establishing therules of the world and the harmony of the universe between yang and yin, whichare important notions in traditional Chinese philosophy, medicine, and other systems. Yang represents the male or positive principle in nature while yin rep-resents the feminine or negative principle.
Deities, Themes, and Concepts119 Fuxi and Nüwa. Funeral stone carving of the Han dynasty, Wuliang Shrine, Jiaxiang County, Shan-dong Province. Both of them were portrayed with human heads and upper bodies and serpents’lower bodies. Their tails intertwined. Fuxi held a pair of compasses while Nüwa held a carpenter’s square. They were surrounded by other winged divine creatures with serpent bodies. (Yang Lihui, Rethinking on the Source Area of the Cult of Nüwa, Beijing Shifan Daxue Chubanshe, 1999, 71)…
One of his famous inventions, for example, was the Eight Trigrams (Ba Gua, the eight possible combinations of three whole or bro-ken lines, used in Chinese divination), which later also became very importantin traditional Chinese philosophy and belief. According to Zhouyi, “Xi Ci Zhuan” (“Appended Texts” of The Classic of Change, written approximately inthe Qin and early Han eras), Fuxi carefully watched the images in the sky and on the earth, and he thought about the patterns and colors of birds and beasts aswell as the suitability of the land. The images and patterns included not only those of his surroundings but also those of his own body. Then he created the Eight Trigrams in order to communicate the virtue of the divinities and to resemble the character of everything on the earth…
he had so many cultural inventions important for human life, hewas respected as the ﬁrst of the Three Divine Sovereigns, along with Nüwa andShennong, or the Divine Farmer (different names are given in different texts). Ina rationalized system of Chinese ancient history, which was primarily formed inthe Han dynasty, he was even respected as the ﬁrst king of the remote past.In modern Chinese mythology, however, Fuxi is best known as an ancestorof humans. He married his sister and re-created human beings after a great ﬂood.This type of brother-sister marriage myth is widely spread throughout the coun-try, especially in southern and central China. The ﬁrst couple may only becalled “a brother and his sister” rather than by the names Fuxi and Nüwa, orthey may take different names in different places and ethnic groups. In somecases they have the title “Fuxi and his sister” or simply “Fuxi and Nüwa.”Therefore, Fuxi is known in his ﬁrst marriage as a human creator to many eth-nic groups, including the Han, Miao, Yao, Tujia, Maonan, and Shui.Fuxi is still worshiped in modern China. Huaiyang County in HenanProvince is said to be the capital of King Taihao Fuxi’s mythical kingdom andthe hometown of Fuxi (Fuxi is said to have been born in Huaiyang). In Huaiyangthere is a big temple complex called the Tomb of Taihao, or, more popularly,Renzu Temple (Temple of Human Ancestors). The main god worshiped here isFuxi. Nüwa is also worshiped here, but her hometown is said to be Xihua, in a nearby county….
There is another interesting custom here, that of ninigou (“mud dog”),which relates to Fuxi’s mythical deeds. Ninigou refers to all toys made of mud,including monkeys, swallows, tortoises, and tigers, and it can also be the claymusical instrument, the xun.
Why do people make ninigou? The craftsmen ex-plain that this tradition originated with Fuxi, who ﬁrst made the clay xun andcreated humans from mud.
Houtu is a shadowy ﬁgure in Chinese mythology whose gender is ambiguous.He functions as the Deity of Earth. In some versions he is said to be the descen-dant of Yan Di, son of Gonggong, grandfather of Kuafu, and the assistant god ofHuang Di. Both Houtu and Huang Di hold cords and reign over the central partof the world. Houtu also is sometimes described as the ruler of the netherworld.However, Houtu’s gender is gradually described as female in later writings andbeliefs. In his name, tu means “earth” or “soil,” and hou
means “divine sover-eign,” which can equally be used to address males and females.The name Houtu appears early in Zhou writings such as Guoyu Discourses of the States ), Zuozhuan (Chronicle of Zuo ), Chuci, and the early Han accounts such as Liji (Record of Ritual) and Huainanzi.
However, in these writings“Houtu” has several meanings and the gender it refers to is ambiguous. Some-times “Houtu” is used as a respectful title for the earth. This usage is similar tothe custom of addressing heaven as Huangtian (“Grand Heaven”). Since the earthproduces plants, fruits, and grains on which humans live, it is often regarded as amother ﬁgure. Accordingly, Houtu is frequently interpreted as a female (Ma1990, 37–39; Birrell 1993, 161–162). But sometimes “Houtu” also refers to a cer-tain male god named Houtu. A text from Guoyu, for instance, states that Gong-gong possessed the world, and he had a son named Houtu. Houtu was able to level and reclaim the ground of the world, so he was worst…
In Wang Yi’s annotations to Chuci, Houtu also functioned as the ruler ofthe netherworld, Youdu (which literally means “Dark Capital”). Houtu had a terrible assistant named Tubo (“The Master of the Earth”) to guard the gate of Youdu. In addition to these two meanings of the word, “Houtu” sometimes maybe used as a title for a kind of mythical ofﬁcial who takes charge of affairs on earth. According to a text from Zuozhuan, the title for the Tuzheng (Ofﬁcial of Earth) was “Houtu,” namely “She” (the deity of the earth), and this title was assumed by Gonggong’s son, named Goulong. In another version from Huainanzi, Yu became She after he died of exhaustion in his work controlling the great ﬂood. Gao You wrote that Yu was worshiped as Houtu after his death.In spite of these variants, Houtu regularly appeared as a female earth deity inlater developments, at least after the Sui dynasty. She often is respectfully ad-dressed as Madame Houtu or God-dess Houtu in folk religion and popular literature. Many temples are dedicated to her. In Wanrong County, Shanxi Province, for example, thereis a Houtu temple. According to local documents, this temple was ﬁrs tbuilt in the early Han dynasty thank sto the distinguished Emperor Wu.Thereafter, from the Han through the Song dynasties, there were more than ten emperors who went there to offer sacriﬁces to Houtu. In this place Houtu is popularly called“Houtu the Sacred Mother,” and she is portrayed as a graceful and poisedqueen wearing a coronet, silk cape,and skirt with embroidered phoe-nixes on it (in Chinese tradition…
Houtu functions as more than a Deity of Earth in thelocal belief system. Like most mythical gods in Chinese folk belief, Houtu is analmighty goddess in the pantheon. People offer her sacriﬁces and pray to her forharvest, rain, children, health, wealth, safety when boating in the Yellow River,and the tide when a boat is stranded
At another time, Houtu visited Yu and was sympathetic about his bad living conditions. She usedher great power and in minutes made a huge cave for Yu and his helpers to live in. To thank Houtu, Yu suggested naming this cave “the Sacred Mother’s Cave.” ButHoutu was modest; she thought Yu brought more beneﬁts to the world, so she in-sisted the cave be named “King Yu’s Cave.” Furthermore, Houtu learned that Yu was unable to supply enough food for his workers, so she and her daughter cooked a large pot of rice gruel every day for the hardworking laborers. No matter how much the laborers took, the pot of gruel was never emptied. The place where Houtu and her daughter cooked was later called “Rice Gruel Temple.” In another story, Houtu is described as a heroine who drove off a harmful ogre. A turtle ogre hat lived in the Fen River in Shanxi Province often took humans as its food. To eliminate the evil creature, Houtu the Sacred Mother transformed into a man who chopped ﬁrewood on the riverbank. The ogre soon found him and rose up from the bottom of the river to eat the man. Houtu then showed her true self and reprimanded the ogre for its evil behavior.
Jiandi is the ancestress of the Shang people and the second wife of Di Ku. She in-gested a swallow’s egg and miraculously gave birth to Qi, the founder of theShang people.Most gods or goddesses and heroes or heroines in Chinese mythology havemiraculous birth stories. Huang Di, for example, was conceived after his mothersaw a great bolt of lightning circling one of the stars in the Great Bear, Houji wasconceived after his mother stepped into a huge footprint, Yu was born from thebelly of his father’s corpse, and there are numerous other stories of miraculousbirths. The mythical births show the deities’ sacred origins, testify to their un-usual abilities, and promise their signiﬁcant achievements.Myths about Jiandi’s miraculous conception and the birth of Qi can befound in some ancient classics. Poems in Shijing(Eulogy of Shang, for example) mention that the founder of the Shang people comes from a swallow. The fa-mous Zhou poet Qu Yuan clearly names Jiandi in his well-known poem “Tian-wen.” He asks, “Jiandi stayed on the terrace, why did Di Ku go there and seduceher? The swallow sent two eggs to her, why did she devour them?” Wang Yi, theHan commentator of this poem, explains these questions with the story thatwhen Jiandi was serving Di Ku on the terrace, a swallow passing by dropped itsegg. Jiandi was pleased and devoured it. Then she gave birth to Qi. In another version that appears in Shiji, Jiandi is said to be a daughter o fthe Yousong clan and the second concubine of Di Ku. One day when she wentout to take a bath with Di Ku, she saw a swallow dropping an egg. She picked itup and swallowed it. Then she inexplicably became pregnant, and later gavebirth to Qi
One of the most remarkable mythical mountains in Chinese mythology, KunlunMountain is the earthly residence of the Supreme Divinity, a paradise of deitiesand immortals, one of the pillars of the sky that prevents heaven from collaps-ing, and a sky ladder that links the earth to heaven.Descriptions about the mystery, grandeur, or magniﬁcence of KunlunMountain in ancient writings are indeed abundant. The renowned Zhou dynastypoet Qu Yuan sketchily depicted it in his inquisitive poem “Tianwen.” Amongthose various descriptions, one of the earliest and most comprehensive depic-tions comes from Shanhaijing.
In a text from that volume (chapter 11), Kunlu nwas said to be a huge mountain located in the northwest. It was the earthly resi-dence of the Supreme Divinity and the dwelling of other gods. It was 800 li (400 kilometers, or 248 miles) square and 80,000 feet high. On the summit were nine wells, nine gates, and magic grain. The balustrades of the wells were made ofjade. The gates were all guarded by the divine beast Kaiming (“Enlightened”),which looked like a big tiger with nine heads and human faces. The magic grain, named Muhe (literally meaning “Tree Grain”), was forty feet tall and ﬁve spans wide. To the west of Kunlun Mountain were phoenixes that wore snakes on their bodies and stepped on snakes. To the north of the mountain were the Pearl Tree, the Jade Tree, the Tree of Immortality, Tree Grain, the Sweet Spring, and Shirou (meaning “Seeing Flesh”). Shirou was a substance shaped like a cow’s liver with two eyes. It could never be completely consumed … eaten
Another text from Shanhaijing (chapter 2) also sets Kunlun Mountain in the west as the earthly capital city of the Supreme Divinity, which is rich in odd animals and plants. It was ruled by the deity Luwu, who had a man’s face, tiger’sbody and paws, and nine tails. He was also the ruler of the nine parts of heavenand the seasons of the Supreme Divinity’s garden.A magic beast named Tulou lived on Kunlun Mountain. It looked like asheep with four horns, and it ate human beings. There was a bird namedQinyuan, shaped like a bee but as big as a mandarin duck. If it stung other birdsand beasts, they would die; and if it stung trees, the trees would wither. Anothermagic bird, Chunniao, resembled a phoenix and took charge of the Supreme Divinity’s clothes and utensils. The Shatang Tree was waterproof; one who con-sumed its wood would ﬂoat in water instead of sinking. Also found on the moun-tain, the Pincao Grass could make one who consumed it forget his troubles andalways be happy. Kunlun Mountain was…
In various pictures drawn in Yubenji (written in the Warring States era, cited by Shiji ), Huainanzi, Shiyiji, and other writings, Kunlun appears as a pillar of the sky (in one version a pillar of the earth) located at the center of the world. Thiswas the paradise of the deities and immortals, the place where the sun and themoon hid in turn while the other one glared out of the blue sky, and a huge divine mountain that contained numerous marvelous and wonderful items…
Persons who climbed this tier would acquire spiritual power and could control the wind and rain. And if one climbed further, one would arrive a theaven, the residence of the Supreme Divinity, and thereafter one would becomea spirit. Here Kunlun Mountain functioned not only as a pillar of the sky but also as a sky ladder that connected the earth with heaven. In some later traditions, Kunlun was rebuilt into a Taoist paradise for immortals. An account appearing in Shiyiji depicts Kunlun as a mountain that was even higher than the sun and moon. It had nine tiers that were separated from each other by 5,000 kilometers(3,100 miles). The clouds surrounded them and the wind blew from the four directions. Immortals often went there to play by riding on dragons and cranes. Though Kunlun is quite famous, it became much better known because of its association with an important goddess in Chinese mythology, Xiwangmu, or the Queen Mother of the West. Some sources suggest that Kunlun Mountain isalso the residence of the goddess (other versions say that she presides over the Jade Mountain, which is very close to Kunlun). A text from Shanhaijing (chapter16) states that Kunlun Mountain was located south of the west sea, on the shore of the Liusha (meaning “Flowing Sand”), behind the Red River, and in front of the Black River. A spirit dwelled in the mountain. It was human-headed with a tiger’s body and white spotted tail. The Weak River circled the bottom of the mountain, and a ﬂaming mountain surrounded it. A deity named Xiwangmu inhabited a cave there. She (or he; the text makes this unclear) wore a Sheng crown and had tiger’s teeth and a panther’s tail. Other versions say that Kunlun Mountain was surrounded by the Weak River and that only deities and immortals could arrive there by riding on dragons. Three green divine birds ﬂew in and out, fetching food for Xiwangmu. Xiwangmu is popularly known as the keeper of the elixir of immortality and the magic peaches; both of them have the power tokeep one’s vitality and prevent death. In the Yi myth, the hero Yi is said to have received the elixir of immortality from Xiwangmu. Since the text in Shanhai-jing (chapter 11, mentioned above) says that only the benevolent and talented hero Yi could ascend the mountain, it might be deduced that Yi scrambled up Kunlun Mountain and asked Xiwangmu for the precious elixir. But, unfortu-nately, the elixir of immortality was eventually stolen by Yi’s wife Chang’e, and Chang’e then ﬂew to the moon and became the spirit of the moon.