Chinese Gods in Creation Myths and Legends, Religions, and Folklore

Chinese gods are supreme deities who create, rule, and bless the universe in ancient mythology and religion, who are They are powerful, virtuous, responsible, and righteous.

 

As a polytheistic culture, Chinese gods from mythology mainly come from three systems:

Chinese Mythology
 

Chinese Gods in Creation Myths and Legends

 

Chinese Gods and Goddesses in creation myths and legends are concerning the formation of primitive culture and society. 

  • Those stories were inherited from ancestors more than 5,000 years ago; none of them was written or created by professional authors or religion. 

  • Most of the Chinese gods in creation myths and legends are regarding creating the world, maintaining justice and order, cooperating with and fighting against nature, and helping and protecting humans to survive and develop.  

  • Major characters are diligent, brave workers, sometimes with miraculous power. They became well-respected, important gods because of their outstanding contributions, hard work, and spirit of sacrifice. 

Creator of the World — Pan Gu

Crushing of Mount Bu Zhou — Gong Gong

Creator of Human, and the Savior of Sky — Nv Wa

The Ancestor of Chinese Culture and Sacred Creator — Fu Xi

Creator of Chinese Characters — Cang Jie

Father of Agriculture and Herb — Shen Nong

Pursuing the Sun — Kua Fu

Filling the Sea — Jing Wei

Shooting the Suns and Flying to the Moon — Hou Yi and Chang E

 

Creator of the World — Pan Gu

 

Once upon a time, the whole world was like a giant egg, all dark and blurry.

 

Pan Gu has been growing and nurturing inside, and 18,000 years later, he woke up. 

 

Pan Gu felt it was quite uncomfortable staying in these dim and breathless surroundings, so he grasped an ax next to him, and broke the eggshell.

 

After a big explosion, the bright and clear debris rose and became the sky, while those dark and turbid ones went down and turned into the earth. 

Pan Gu was quite happy about the clear and spacious world that he created; therefore, he stood between the sky and earth, hoping they won't mix again. 

Pan Gu

As time went by, he grew taller and taller, while the sky and earth became further apart. 

Another 18,000 years later, Pan Gu felt exhausted and fell. 

His left eye transformed into the sun and his right eye turned into the moon. His breath became the wind and cloud, and his voice became the thunder. Shining stars are his hair and his beard, and the Five Great Mountains in China are his head and limbs.

His blood turned into rivers, lakes, and seas, and his muscles became mud and road. Plants are his skin, rain is his sweat, and mineral treasures are his teeth and bones.

As the first human being, Pan Gu dedicated his entire life to creating a beautiful world. 

 

Crushing of Mount Bu Zhou — Gong Gong

 

In ancient masterpieces, the Classic of Mountains and Seas, Mount Buzhou was an important pillar between heaven and earth. It was covered by snow and ice all year round and was the only path for humans to get to heaven.

Gong Gong, sometimes was respected as the God of Water, with a human's head with red hair and a snake's body; or in other folklores, he was a lord of a huge tribe.

One day, the Gong Gong crashed Mount Buzhou and changed the whole world.

Gong Gong Crushing Mount Buzhou

Gong Gong Crushing Mount Buzhou, Painted by Snow Fish.

In some legends, he collided with the mountain accidentally when he was escaping during a war with the God of Fire, or competing for the throne with King Zhuanxu.

Other versions record that he wanted to adjust the geographical landscape, which is of great help to agricultural irrigation. 

An evil lost in wars, or a true hero that sacrificed to save people, either way, after Gong Gong's huge crush, the sky leaned to the northwest, and the earth inclined to the southeast.

Afterward, the sun and the moon rise from the east and descend to the west, while all the water in China runs toward the east and at the end merges into the sea. 

From that time on, natural phenomena in China follow these laws and never changed again.

 

Creator of Human, and the Savior of Sky — Nv Wa 

 

After the world has been created, it was a pity that there were no lives in such a wonderful place.

Therefore, a Chinese goddess named Nv Wa made some animals, and then some human forms with clay. After a slight blow, they became active human beings that could talk and run. 

Nv Wa was excited about her magic and kept creating lives.

Then, she taught them to get married and reproduce offspring on their own. In some legends, she also invented some ancient musical instruments and taught humans to sing and dance.

Since then, Nvwa has been respected as one of the most important mother goddesses, and this new alive world seemed perfect.

Chinese Goddess Nv Wa creating human using clay

Until one day, a big hole appeared in the sky and then followed by huge disasters, after the God of Water Gong Gong crushed Mount Buzhou.

The sky was shaking, and endless fire and flood were devouring lives. 

With the assistance of her magical guardians Teng She and Bai Xi, Nv Wa fought bravely and defeated many monsters that had killed many people in the catastrophe. 

She defeated a giant, magical tortoise that had caused a huge flood, cut off its four legs, and used them as pillars to support the sky from falling on the earth. 

Then, she collected 36,500 pieces of five-color stones and refined them into one giant magical stone to fill up the big hole in the sky.

Nv Wa fulfilling broken sky using five colored stones

Afterward, the world became peaceful again.

There are many different versions concerning her appearance, the most common one is that she was a beautiful half-woman and half-snake deity.

As for her origin and end, however, it is still a mystery.  

Gradually, Nv Wa had been considered the sister or wife of Fu Xi. They had four sons that later have been guarding the four directions, and invented four seasons; soon, they formed the land and heaven.  

Together, they set and taught a series of basic etiquette to Chinese people, and formed a decent, functional society.

 

Ancestor of Chinese Culture and Sacred Creator — Fu Xi

 

Fu Xi is the primogenitor of Chinese culture, one of the Great Three Sovereigns in ancient China.  

 

He was a deity with superpowers or an ingenious king of a big clan, which used the Chinese Dragon as the totem, in some other versions. Either way, Fuxi made exceptional contributions to creating ancient Chinese culture:  

  • Created Tai Ji and Eight Diagrams, the most essential foundation ideologies of Chinese philosophy, mythology, divination, and Chinese Religion, based on his continued observation of nature;

Fu Xi Painted by Artist Ma Lin of Southern Song Dynasty

Fu Xi Painted by Artist Ma Lin of Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) - Taipei Palace Museum

  • Taught people to keep livestock, and invented the net for fishing. From that time on, besides hunting, Chinese people were able to get more types of food and gained better chances to survive;

  • Established some positions, divided land, and assigned people to manage professionally;

  • Helped people with nomenclature family names, and named everything in the world;

  • Set basic wedding ceremony rules, including not marrying very close kins, and standard betrothal gifts;

  • Determined dragon as the totem of his kingdom;

  • Invented some musical instruments (Xun and Qin) to entertain people, and wrote songs to accompany those compositions.

Ancient Chinese Traditional Instrument Qin

Ancient Chinese Traditional Instrument Qin

In many legends, Fu Xi was the older brother or husband of Nv Wa. Together, they raised four sons on Mount Kunlun

 

After they grew up, they were in charge of four seasons, went to four different places, and developed four huge tribes. 

 

Today, many memorial activities are held near his mausoleum every year on the 18th of March of the Chinese Calendar, the day believed as Fu Xi's birthday, showing people’s gratitude and respect for this mysterious and exceptional ancestor of Chinese Culture.

 

Creator of Chinese Characters — Cang Jie

 

Cang Jie was a lord of a tribe or a historian of the Yellow Emperor

 

He invented some sophisticated signs, based on the special characteristics of each item. From that time on, tying knots on strings to record events in history was replaced.

 

Those Chinese Characters that he created were known as the Pictograms. 

After the extraordinary invention, people saw a rain of maize in the daytime and heard the crying of the ghosts at night for several days.

Some people considered the invention an outstanding achievement to celebrate, after which all culture and history could be documented and well preserved.

Cang Jie the inventor of Chinese Characters

Cang Jie Creating Chinese Characters, Painted by Snow Fish.

Others thought that with the development of people’s intelligence and enrichment of knowledge, their desire would keep expanding, which might lead to gaps, hierarchy, competition, fights, and wars.

Hence, the maize rain was to celebrate the extraordinary achievement, as a symbol of the more rapid progress of agriculture, or as a sign to prepare for people that will suffer hunger in the upcoming, endless battles. 

But for ghosts that represent the dark and evil side, their behaviors would be recorded and disseminated permanently. Therefore, they cried for the reason that they could no longer fool and manipulate humans as easily as before. 

 

Father of Agriculture and Herb — Shen Nong

 

Shen Nong, one of the Great Three Sovereigns in ancient China, was the father of Chinese Medicine. 

It is believed that Shen Nong had two horns on his head, and his body was transparent. Hence, it's quite easy to see the changing colors of his internal organs after he ate herbs and food.  

Because of his magic, Shen Nong was a genius that knows what is good for people, and what is not good to eat. 

Gradually, he taught people many better methods to increase agricultural production and to use herbs to cure some types of diseases and intoxications.

To save more people and get to know more about botany, Shen Nong started to investigate herbs on his own.

Chinese God Shen Nong

Shen Nong by Artist Guo Xu (1456-1529) - Shanghai Museum

He had tasted and recorded hundreds of floras and had been poisoned several times.

During this period, he found some types of teas that could be used to detoxicate. 

Some years later, unfortunately, gelsemium elegant poisoned him to death.

However, hundreds of herbs and their application methods had already been documented and taught to other people, and countless lives were saved since after. 

In some legends, people considered Shen Nong was also the Flame Emperor; but in other versions, Shen Nong was a more ancient deity or an ancestor of the Flame Emperor's tribe.

Now, there is a big area named Shen Nong Jia, which was believed the place where Shen Nong had tasted those herbs and departed thousands of years ago. 

 

Pursuing the Sun — Kua Fu

 

Once upon a time, there was a tribe that consisted of giant people.

One year, many people of this tribe died because of a severe drought. Hence, Kua Fu, the lord of this tribe told his people that he will catch the sun and make it stop burning.

Kua Fu was the strongest, bravest person in this clan, who wore two yellow snakes on his ears as decorations and hold two giant snakes as walking sticks.

Soon, he started the journey of chasing after the sun, which was full of severe weather conditions and horrible monsters.

Kua Fu kept running, while he defeated evil monsters, overcome all difficulties, and drank up water from some giant lakes. 

Finally, he arrived at the magical mountain where the sun falls.

Kua Fu pursuing the sun

Seeing the bright and glowing sun, Kua Fu was extremely exhausted and scorching.

The sun was so huge and powerful, which made him realize that he was unable to take the sun back or make it stop burning as he had expected, and he didn't have enough strength to come back to his clan either. 

In the end, before he fell, Kua Fu used up his last strength to throw his stick toward the direction of his tribe. 

Later, his stick transformed into a big peach forest, which contains plenty of tree shade and peaches.

People of his clan then happily lived in this forest. From that time on, they never suffered from drought again, even though the sun is still there shining.

 

Filling the Sea — Jing Wei

 

She was the youngest daughter of the God of the Sun or the Flame Emperor.  

One day, when she was sitting on a boat playing, she accidentally drowned in the sea.

Her spirit transformed into a bird that has a colorful head, a white beak, and red claws. People called the bird Jing Wei based on the sound of her tweets.

Jing Wei hated the sea for taking away her young life, especially after seeing more people had lost their lives there.

Hence, she used her beak to pick up branches and small stones and throw them into the sea, trying to fill it up.

Jing Wei Filling the Sea

Jing Wei Filling the Sea, Painted by Snow Fish.

She believed that after the sea was flattened, no more people would drown again. 

In some other legends, her filling behavior was to stop a huge flood and to protect people. 

Tens of thousands of years passed, and the sea is still there, but she never gave up.

Jing Wei believed that where there is a will, there is a way; no matter how hard this work is and how long it will take. 

 
Chinese Gods and Goddesses

Apotheosize Prehistoric Kings as Chinese Gods

After bigger clans and kings were formed in Chinese history out of primitive tribes, some exceptional kings are documented both in historical and mythological stories. 

Because of their remarkable accomplishments, they were respectable kings when they were alive, and were memorized as honorable ancestors and powerful Chinese gods after they departed. 

Creator of House — You Chao

 

The Ancestor of Fire — Sui Ren

Brilliant Sovereign and Inventor of Agriculture — Flame Emperor 

Culture Hero and Founder of Country — Yellow Emperor 

Ideal Monarch and the Incarnation of Red Dragon — King Yao 

Moral Model of Confucianism — King Shun

Until Yu the Great led the people and conquered a huge flood and founded the Xia Dynasty (about 2070 BC — 1600 BC), the first empire in the history of China. He ended the prehistoric mythology and opened up the chapter of the historic Hereditary Kingdom.

Battle of Zhuolu in Chinese Mythical History

Mythical Creatures Assisting Prehistoric Kings Fight in the Battle of Zhuolu, in Ancient Chinese Mythical Classic Shanhaijing.

Kings after Yu the Great were monarchs of the secular world that were granted by heaven, but they didn’t become gods after having departed. 

Supreme God of Han Culture and Imperial Worship Rites — Hao Tian Shang Di

 

Hao Tian Shang Di is the most supreme god in the Chinese Han culture, who rules everything in the world.

Hao Tian Shang Di is believed the supreme authority of the universe, or the anthropomorphized Hao Tian lives in upper heaven.

Throughout history, Chinese Emperors have been respected as "Son of Heaven", who were obliged to rule the country by the Mandate of Heaven.

The "Heaven" is Hao Tian Shang Di.

From Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC) to the last feudal empire Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912), worshiping Hao Tian Shang Di had been the most important and grandest imperial sacrificial ceremony, which was held exclusively by emperors.

 
Tablet of Hao Tian Shang Di on Main Hall of Temple of Heaven, the Sacred Imperial Heaven Worship Altar.

Tablet of Hao Tian Shang Di on Main Hall of Temple of Heaven, the Sacred Imperial Heaven Worship Altar.

 
Chinese Gods and Goddesses

Chinese Gods and Goddesses in Religion and Folklore

 

After Oracle Bone Scripts appeared and were used in Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC), history, national activities, myths and legends, and folklore were recorded by written Chinese Characters.

 

In Eastern Han Dynasty (25 — 220), Taoism Religion originated and popularized, and Buddhism was introduced, when religious gods were included in the Chinese mythological world.

 

Centuries later, with the development of the economy since the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), Novels became popular, which created and universalized more deities that are widely accepted and worshipped by civilians.

 

They together formed the polytheistic god system in Chinese culture.

Chinese Gods, Goddesses, Deities, and Immortals from Different Sources Gathering

Chinese Gods, Goddesses, Deities, and Immortals from Different Sources Gathering

Taoism Religion

Three Pure Ones or San Qing

 

Three Pure Ones or San Qing are the three most supreme gods of Taoism Religion: Yuanshi Tianzun, Lingbao Tianzun, and Daode Tianzun.

 

They are representatives and incarnations of Dao, the law of nature, and the rule of the universe.

 

According to Dao De Jing (or Tao Te Ching), The Dao begets Taiji (one), Taiji begets Yin and Yang (two), movements of Yin and Yang generate a new status (three), and three begets everything.

 

The three means Yin and Yang and Qi, or in other versions, Heaven and Earth and Human.

 

Hence, there are Three Pure Ones as the highest gods who rule everything.

Three Most Supreme Immortals of the Taoism Religion — San Qing

Chinese Gods the Three Pure Ones or San Qing of Taoism Religion

Jade Emperor or Yu Huang Da Di

 

In Taoism Religion, Jade Emperor or Yu Huang Da Di is a powerful god that subordinates to and assists the Three Pure Ones to rule the world.

 

In folk belief, Jade Emperor or Yu Huang Da Di is the supreme authority of heaven and rules all gods and deities, like emperors in the secular world.

 

Four Heavenly Ministers or Si Yu

 

Four Heavenly Ministers or Si Yu are four gods who assist the Jade Emperor in administrating the universe:

 

  • The Great Emperor of North Polar, or Ziwei Emperor, rules celestial bodies and climates.

 

  • The Great Emperor of Longevity of South Polar, or Changsheng Emperor, rules thunder, birth, and lives.

 

  • The Great Emperor of Highest Palace, or Gouchen Emperor,  rules heaven, earth, human, and warfare.

 

  • Empress of the Earth, or Houtu, is the Chinese goddess who rules the earth and all gods of mountains, rivers, cities, etc.

Golden Hall or Jindian of Wudang Mountains

Golden Hall or Jindian on Peak of Sacred Taoist Wudang Mountains, Photo from Official Site of Wudang.

Under their leadership, many gods are in charge of different aspects of the world, such as astrological Lunar Mansions, wealth, health, literature, marriage, season, weather, mountain, river, happiness, dragon, spirit, ghost, etc.

 

Taoism religion also included gods and goddesses from ancient Mythology, such as Queen Mother of the West (or Xi Wangmu), and King Father of the East (or Dong Wanggong).

 

Together, they formed the polytheistic Taoism Religion god and deity system.

Murals of Some Taoism Religion Gods inside the Yongle Palace (Constructed in 1247 — 1358)

Murals of Some Taoism Religion Gods inside the Yongle Palace (Constructed in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi

Buddhism

 

Meanwhile, Buddhism introduced, localized, and developed many sacred gods, such as Gautama Buddha, and Four Great Four Bodhisattvas (Guanyin, Puxian, Wenshu, and Dizang).

Buddhism Gods Statue of Yungang Grottoes in Datong

Buddhism Gods Statue of Yungang Grottoes in Datong

Folk Religion

 

Throughout history, in folktales, legends, ancient novels, and in today's Xianxia stories, Chinese gods and goddesses from different sources have been integrated to some extent, while more immortals with mystical power have been created and popularized, such as Lady White from White Snake story, and Sun Wukong the Monkey King from the classic novel the Journey to the West.

Four Main Characters of Journey to the West or Xi You Ji Painted on Corridor of the Summer Palace.

Sun Wukong and Other Characters of Journey to the West or Xi You Ji Painted on Corridor of the Summer Palace, A Classic Novel that Includes Created Folk Deities, and Gods from Religions and Ancient Mythology.