Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Creation Mythology: China

The Universe: Creation by suntwirl
Today we are going to look at the creation mythology of China. With developed mythology dating to at least the Shang dynasty (1766BC – 1123 BC), it has been suggested that the development of this mythology could have started as early as 2205 BC, during the Xia dynasty. However, there is very little evidence to support this. Within China’s vast documentation of history one can find many creation narratives. Some of these include the ‘Chuci’, written in the 4th century BC; the ‘Shanhaijing Huainanzi’, written in 139BC; and the ‘Zhuangzi’.

Yin-Yang by Infinidium
The earliest account of a Chinese creation myth dates back to the 4th century BC and can be found in a work called ‘Questions of Heaven’, which is written in a question and answer format. In this account the primal mist made up of the opposing forces of yin and yang. From these two opposing forces the world began to take shape. The Heavens were held up by eight pillars in the Earth. The sun, moon and stars all move in an ordered way and numbers are used in such a way as to suggests that they have some special significance. Here the number eight is linked with harmony and the number two suggests interactions between yin and yang.

One creation myth which appears in many Chinese sources is that which involves the giant Pan Gu, or P’an Ku. It has survived in China’s texts since the 3rd century. While there are other creation myths contained within China’s texts, this myth remains one of the most popular and involves reducing chaos to order, which is a common theme in Chinese mythology.

Pangu Cracks the Cosmic Egg
Pangu Creates the Sky and the Earth

Long, long ago, at the beginning of time, there was Chaos. Heaven and earth were all mixed up and all was the same. The universe was vast and empty, formless. It was said that this Chaos was shaped like a giant egg and at the very heart of the egg Pangu was born. Pangu was the first of all beings, a child of the universe itself.

For countless ages Pangu slept within the egg, growing and growing. When he awoke and stretched his arms, the egg cracked. The lightest parts of the egg floated up and became the sky, while the heavy parts of the egg sank down to become the earth.

Pangu was most pleased by the separation of the earth and the sky, but he was afraid that they wouldn’t stay parted. So he stood up and his head supported the sky, while his feet remained on the earth. As time passed, Pangu continued to grow. The sky rose higher and the earth sank deeper.  
For 18,000 years Pangu stood like a pillar. The sky rose ten feet higher and the earth sank ten feet deeper as each day passed. And every day Pangu grew until he was an enormous giant.

The sky eventually reached its highest point and the earth eventually reached its lowest point. Pangu saw that the sky and earth were firmly fixed in place and was reassured that the world would never again fall into chaos.

Pangu separates Heaven from Earth
With much relief, Pangu lay down to rest and, taking one last deep breath, he drifted off into a peaceful death. As he died, his breath transformed into the wind and clouds. His voice became the thunder. His left eye rose to become the sun and his right eye rose to become the moon. The hairs on his head became the stars and his sweat streamed down as life-giving rain.

Pangu’s body became the features of the earth. His trunk and limbs became the sacred mountains of the five directions: north, south, east, west, and center. His flesh became fertile fields. His muscles and veins became the paths that humans would travel. The hair of his body transformed into the grass, plants, and trees. His blood flowed into the seas, lakes, and rivers. His teeth and bones transformed into rocks and metals, while the marrow hardened into pearls and jade. Pangu’s body also gave rise to living beings when ‘the tiny specks on his skin sprang forth as the fish and animals.’

And so it was this child of the universe, the giant Pangu who brought order to the chaos and filled the heavens and earth with the all their beauty and splendor.

Some Chinese myths say that Pangu not only created the heavens and the earth, but also humans. Others credit the goddess Nu Gua with the creation of humans. Nu Gua was a shape-shifter and her most common form was either a serpent or a dragon. At the beginning of the world Nu Gua molded the first people from yellow earth and these perfectly formed people were to be the ancestors of the rulers of Chinese society. Later creations which were made sloppily were to become the common people.

Nu-Gua by nuu
Nu Gua Creates the First People

When the earth was first made, Nu Gua came down from heaven to gaze upon this creation. In one of her favourite forms, a serpent with the head of a woman, she slithered across the peaceful landscape. Here she saw mountains, rivers and forests filled with animals and fish. While she thought this creation beautiful, Nu Gua found it somehow empty and she felt alone.

On the bank of a river, Nu Gua suddenly had an idea. With her divine power she would create some companions. She scooped up a handful of yellow clay and molded a small figure and when she was finished she set the first human down on the ground and watched as it danced with happiness. Pleased with her creation she made another and another, and these perfect little men and women laughed and danced around their great mother. Nu Gua was no longer lonely.

Throughout the day and night Nu Gua worked hard to fill this new world with her children until she was too tired to complete the task. She decided that she needed to simplify her work so it could be done faster. So she pulled a vine from the riverbank and dragged it through a muddy ditch. Then she cracked the vine like a whip, scattering drops of mud around her and, as each drop of mud touched the earth it was transformed into a human. And this is why we have nobles and commoners. The rich and lucky nobles were each formed carefully by the hands of a goddess and the poor and humble commoners were formed without care and the simple flick of a vine whip dragged through the mud.

Nu Kua by Susanne Iles
At last Nu Gua’s task was complete and the world was full of her children. But these people made of clay and mud could not live forever. What was to become of them when they grew old and died? After much deliberation, Nu Gua called the people together and taught them how to marry and have children. Now her children could make children of their own.

As time passed Nu Gua took a husband – her brother Fu Xi, who became the first emperor. Fu Xi was a great god who not only showered his people with blessings, but taught them how to hunt and fish and write and divine and make music. He also gave them the gift of fire.

Nu-Gua and Fu-Xi by Daimyo-KoiKoi
The people honoured Fu Xi and their mother Nu Gua, building temples and singing of their greatness. And for many years the people lived in peace and happiness.

That’s all for today. Next time we will explore the creation myths from Japan.

Useful Resources
Chinese Mythology by Owen Giddens & Sandra Giddens
The Ancient Chinese by Virginia Schomp
Chinese Mythology A-Z: [A Young Reader’s Companion] by Jeremy Roberts
Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia by David Adams Leeming

No comments:

Post a Comment