Most cultures have their own myths – in Western civilization there is the Book of Genesis and the epic poems of Homer, for example. The Chinese also have legends describing the divine origins of their culture. This mythology has continued to develop through the generations, creating an incredibly rich folklore. The tales and legends are often scattered among many different sources which, when put together, reveal a vast tapestry full of detail.
SUN WUKONG – Monkey King of Chinese mythology
Among the common Chinese legends, the most famous is that of Sun Wukong, or “the Monkey King”. He is one of the most famous and beloved characters in Chinese mythology and the protagonist of the 16th century classic tale, The Journey to the West.
Sun Wukong was a very mischievous monkey, known to have caused havoc in heaven with his eagerness to conquer the world. It was said that he was able to do this by using a cane that he had stolen from the dragon king of the East Sea.
But Sun Wukong was finally defeated by Buddha who asked him to do a somersault from his palm. He could not get out of half his hands and was then imprisoned for 500 years under a magic mountain formed by the palms of Gautama Buddha. He later became a companion of the monk Xuanzang and accompanied him on his adventurous journeys.
The legend of the mirrors of Chinese mythology
What do you see in a mirror? Yourself, right? But this is not what the ancient Chinese believed. They thought that the reflection in the mirror was not a reflection at all, but a vision from another world. The legend of the mirror says that these creatures would imitate us to learn our behaviors. Eventually, when they were ready, they would step out of the mirror and take our place in the real world.
It was also believed that creatures from the past had attacked the population in a bid to replace them. But they were eventually stopped and sent back to their original home by Emperor Huang Di. The creatures on the other side were called “fish” and it was believed that they could be seen for a split second out of the corner of the eye. They were thought to be the guardians standing at the doorway that served as the interface between the two worlds.
Dragons of Chinese mythology
The Chinese dragon is the most iconic creature in Chinese history. It is considered the controller of water and in ancient times, dragons were symbols of the emperor. They were also believed to bring good luck and fortune. The fearsome and powerful dragon was the noblest of all creatures, but at the same time, he was kind and thought to have a heart of gold.
Dragons are believed to represent both good and evil. They are responsible for tidal waves and destruction and are revered as protectors of agriculture. Dragons are thought to represent courage, and it is considered auspicious to be born in the year of the dragon. This meaning is born from the fact that many powerful warriors were born in the year of the dragon.
The Jade Rabbit
The jade rabbit is also known as “the rabbit that lives on the moon”. According to mythology, it is the companion of the moon goddess Chang’e. The story began when a poor old man came to beg for food. At that time, the creatures of the forest, the monkey, the otter, the jackal and the rabbit, showed kindness to those in need and believed that doing a good deed today would be repaid tomorrow.
So, to help man, the monkey brought fruit, the jackal brought a jar of curdled milk, and the otter collected dead fish from a pond. But the rabbit, who ate only grass, offered himself as an offering to the man. But the man did not kill him and revealed his true identity. He was the god Sakra. Later, he drew the image of the rabbit on the moon to honor him.
Pangu – The World Creator
The oldest Chinese myth includes the legend of creation. Pangu was considered the first living being on Earth, born from a cosmic egg. He is described as a creature with a hairy body, two tusks and two horns and is said to have created the world.
The first thing he did was to separate yin and yang with his axe, yin becoming the earth and yang the sky. Each day he pushed the sky a little higher and this process lasted 18,000 years. He then shaped the earth by cutting the valleys and dividing the sea.
There are many variations of this myth, one of which tells how Pangu married the daughter of the Dragon King and had a son.
Nuwa – The creator of humans
According to Chinese mythology, Nuwa is the goddess of all humanity. She is said to have created the human race. According to the legend, the four pillars of heaven were destroyed and chaos broke out. The fires got out of control and the oceans flooded. Animals became wild and began to eat people. It was Nuwa who repaired this damage by cutting off the legs of the great turtle to define them as the four new pillars. After that peace was again restored on Earth.
According to Chinese mythology, Nuwa is also the patron saint of matchmakers and established the rules of marriage. Another saying says that with the mountain spirits, she created a magnificent palace that paved the way for the first great Chinese cities.
The immortal goddess of the moon
It is a tale about the beautiful moon goddess, which revolves around the elixir of life. This ancient story takes us back to the legendary time when the Jade Emperor was on the throne. The Emperor had 10 sons who were transformed into 10 suns. These suns wreaked havoc on the earth and made conditions impossible for the people to survive. Then came a brave archer who set out to destroy them. He killed nine of the suns but left one. The archer’s name was Yi. Later, Yi was rewarded for his courage with the elixir of life.
But one day, while Yi was hunting in the forest, someone tried to break into his house and steal the elixir. Yi’s wife refused to give it to him and drank it herself. As she drank the elixir, she became so light that she was taken up to the moon, where she is believed to still live today.
Conclusion on this introduction to Chinese mythology
The myths of ancient China feature a multitude of gods and goddesses, masters of the elements of the natural world, who participated in the rise of this brilliant civilization by guiding men in every aspect of their daily lives. Chinese Myths analyzes the influence of beliefs and religions-Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism-on Chinese mythology and culture through stories illustrated with art, artifacts, and photographs that bring the world of Chinese myths to life.