Home > Looking at China > The Study of China > History and Culture > Ancient Chinese Myths and Legends

Ancient Chinese Myths and Legends

 Nvwa Mended the Firmament
Chinese legends
(chuán shuō 传说) reflect the dreams, history, and values of the Chinese people, and they link today with the past. Many of these tales are more than a thousand years old, but they are still popular today. In China, depictions of legendary characters are printed on greeting cards and calendars, carved on door and window frames, and painted on vases. Children learn these stories in school, and through comic books and cartoons. Legends are often the basis for plays and operas. The Moon Maiden (cháng é 嫦娥), Monkey King (měi hóu wáng 美猴王), and other characters advertise products on television.

how to study chinese

Pan Gu Separates the Sky from the Earth

Pan Gu Separates the Sky from the EarthThe sky and the earth were at first one blurred entity like an egg. Pan Gu (pán gǔ 盘古) was born into it. The separation of the sky and the earth took eighteen thousand years-the yang which was light and pure rose to become the sky, and the yin which was heavy and murky sank to form the earth. Between them was Pan Gu, who went through nine changes every day, his wisdom greater than that of the sky and his ability greater than that of the earth. Every day the sky rose ten feet higher, the earth became ten feet thicker, and Pan Gu grew ten feet taller. Another eighteen thousand years passed, and there was an extremely high sky, an extremely thick earth, and an extremely tall Pan Gu. Then came the Three Emperors (sān huáng 三皇): the Emperor of the Sky, the Emperor of the Earth, and the Emperor of Men.

study chinese language in shanghai

So these numbers came into existence and evolve like this. The numb or begins with one, becomes established at three, is completed at five, prospers at seven, and ends in nine. So the sky is ninety thousand li  (lǐ 里) from the earth.

After the eighteen thousand years had elapsed, Pan Gu was laid to rest. His breath became the wind; his voice the thunder; left eye the sun and right eye the moon; his body became the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood formed rivers; his muscles the fertile lands; his facial hair the stars and milky way; his fur the bushes and forests; his bones the valuable minerals; his bone marrows sacred diamonds; his sweat fell as rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became human beings all over the world. The distance from Earth and Sky at the end of the 18,000 years would have been 65,700,000 feet, or over 12,443 miles.

chinese language study lesson

Nvwa Mended the FirmamentNvwa Mended the Firmament

Nvwa (nǚ wā 女娲) is the ancestor of mankind in the mythology of ancient China. As legend goes, she smelted the five-colored stones (wǔ sè shí 五色石) to mend the firmament (sky tiān 天), cut off the feet of the great turtle to support the four pillars of the universe, controlled the flood, and drove away fierce beasts so as to let the people live in peace. Another legend says, she made persons with yellow clay, and married her brother, Emperor Fuxi  (fú xī 伏羲), turning a relationship of brother and sister into a marriage, and multiplying mankind. Thus, later generations adored her as a goddess of marriage and reproduction, especially in charge of matters of copulation between men and women. Learners of cultural history regard her as a goddess that came into being in the era of worship of the female genital organ.

study chinese beijing online

The popular story of "Nvwa Mended the Sky"  (nǚ wā bǔ tiān 女娲补天) was noted in "Huainanzi" (huái nán zǐ 淮南子), written in Western Han  (xī hàn 西汉) (206 B.C.-24). It says, "In remote antiquity, the four poles of the universe collapsed, the sky cracked open, the earth was no longer able to support everything, fire ran wild everywhere without ceasing, and flood overflowed out of control. Fierce beasts ate common people, and ferocious birds attacked the old and the weak. Hence, Nvwa smelted the five-colored stones to mend the sky, cut off the feet of the great turtle to support the four poles, killed the black dragon to help the earth, and gathered the ash of reed to stop the flood."

中国古代神话传说

Pan Gu and Nvwa      中国古代神话反映了中国古代的历史文化、人民的美好愿望和价值观念,成为联结古今的纽带。许多美丽动人的古代神话传说已经拥有上千年的历史,却仍然 脍炙人口,在华夏大地上广为流传,成为人们心中永不退色的神话传说。远古神话在民间流传很广,它给人以鼓舞和启发,促使人们把神奇的幻想变为现实。远古神 话对中国文学的发展影响很大,后世的许多著名作家都从古代神话中吸取营养,创作出了优美、动人的文学篇章。

      这个神话出自宋代《太平御览》卷二引遗失的三国吴人徐整的《三五历纪》:

      “天地浑沌如鸡子。盘古生在其中。万八千岁。天地开辟。阳清为天。阴浊为地。盘古在其中。一日九变。神于天。圣于地。天日高一丈。地日厚一丈。盘古日长一 丈。如此万八千岁。天数极高。地数极深。盘古极长。故天去地九万里。后乃有三皇。天气蒙鸿,萌芽兹始,遂分天地,肇立乾坤,启阴感阳,分布元气,乃孕中和,是为人也。首生盘古。垂死化身。气成风云。声为雷霆。左眼为日。右眼为月。四肢五体为四极五岳。血液为江河。筋脉为地里。肌肉为田土。发为星辰。皮肤 为草木。齿骨为金石。精髓为珠玉。汗流为雨泽。身之诸虫。因风所感。化为黎甿。"

      女娲的神话则出自《淮南子·览冥训》,全文如下:Nvwa Mended the Firmament
      “往古之时,四极废,九州裂,天不兼覆,地不周载,火滥(liàn)焱而不灭,水浩洋而不息,猛兽食颛民,鸷鸟攫老弱。于是,女娲炼五色石以补苍天,断鳌足以立四极,杀黑龙以济冀州,积芦灰以止淫水。苍天补,四极正;淫水涸,冀州平;狡虫死,颛民生;背方州,抱圆天。”
      久远的过去,支撑天地四方的四根柱子倒了,大地裂开;天不能普遍地覆盖万物,地不能全面地容载万物;火烧猛烈而不熄灭,水泛滥成灾而不停止;凶猛的野兽吃善良的百姓,凶猛的鸟用爪抓取老人和小孩。于是,女娲冶炼五色石来修补苍天的漏洞,砍断巨龟的脚来做撑起四方的擎天柱,杀死黑龙来拯救冀州,用芦灰来堵塞洪水。天空被修补了,天地四方的柱子重新竖立了起来,洪水退了,中国的大地上恢复了平整,凶猛的鸟兽都死了,善良的百姓生存下来。

PREV:Liangzhu Jade NEXT:Last page