Chinese mythology

"Nine Dragons" handscroll section, by Chen Rong, 1244 CE, Chinese Song dynasty, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, US.

Chinese mythology (中國神話 Mandarin Chinese: Zhōngguó Shénhuà) is a collection of cultural history, folktales, and religions that have been passed down in oral form or within the written tradition of mainstream Chinese culture. These include creation myths and legends and myths concerning the founding of Chinese culture and the Chinese state. China is also home to many other mythological traditions, including Tibetan mythology, Turkic mythology, Korean mythology, and many others. Like many mythologies, Chinese mythology has in the past been believed to be, at least in part, a factual recording of history.. Along with Chinese folklore, Chinese mythology forms an important part of Chinese folk religion.[1] Chinese mythology includes creation myths and legends, such as myths concerning the founding of Chinese culture and the Chinese state. Chinese mythology was long believed to be, at least in part, a factual recording of history. Thus, many stories regarding characters and events of the distant past have a double tradition: one which presents a more historicized and one which presents a more mythological version.[2]

Historians have written evidence of Chinese mythological symbolism from the 12th century BCE in the Oracle bone script. Legends were passed down for over a thousand years before being written in books such as Classic of Mountains and Seas (山海經) and the Taiping Yulan. Other myths were passed down through oral traditions, such as theater and song before being recorded as novels such as Epic of Darkness. Historical documents and philosophical canons such as Book of Rites, Records of the Grand Historian, Book of Documents, and Lüshi Chunqiu all contain Chinese myths.

Major sources and concepts

Some myths survive in theatrical or literary formats as plays or novels. Books in the shenmo genre of vernacular fiction revolve around gods and monsters. Important mythological fiction, seen as definitive records of these myths, include:

Presiding deities

Nüwa and Fuxi represented as half-snake, half-human creatures.

The concept of a principal or presiding deity has fluctuated over time in Chinese mythology. Examples include:

  • Shangdi, also sometimes Huángtiān Dàdì (皇天大帝), appeared as early as the Shang dynasty. In later eras, he was more commonly referred to as Huángtiān Shàngdì (皇天上帝). The use of Huángtiān Dàdì refers to the Jade Emperor and Tian.
  • Yu Di (the Jade Emperor) appeared in literature after the establishment of Taoism in China; his appearance as Yu Huang dates back to beyond the times of Yellow Emperor, Nüwa, or Fuxi.
  • Tian (Heaven) appeared in literature c. 700 BCE, possibly earlier as dating depends on the date of the Shujing (Book of Documents). There are no creation-oriented narratives for Tian. The qualities of Tian and Shangdi appear to have merged in later literature and are now worshiped as one entity ("皇天上帝", Huángtiān Shàngdì) in, for example, the Beijing's Temple of Heaven. The extent of the distinction between Tian and Shangdi is debated. The sinologist Herrlee Creel claims that an analysis of the Shang oracle bones reveals Shangdi to have preceded Tian as a deity, and that Zhou dynasty authors replaced the term "Shangdi" with "Tian" to cement the claims of their influence.
  • Nüwa (also referred to as Nü Kwa) appeared in literature no earlier than c. 350 BCE. Her companion, Fuxi, (also called Fu Hsi) was her brother and husband. They are sometimes worshiped as the ultimate ancestor of all humankind, and are often represented as half-snake, half-humans. It is sometimes believed that Nüwa molded humans from clay for companionship. She repaired the sky after Gong Gong damaged the pillar supporting the heavens.
  • Pangu, written about by Taoist author Xu Zheng c. 200 CE, was claimed to be the first sentient being and creator, “making the heavens and the earth.”[3]
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粵語: 中國神話
中文: 中国神话