Chinese Mythology — Origins, Characteristics, Legends, Folklore, and Elements
What is Cultivation in Chinese Mythology?
Influential Chinese Myths, Legends, and Deities throughout History.
Murals of Some Taoism Religion Deities in Chinese Mythology, inside the Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province.
What is Chinese Mythology?
Chinese Mythology includes creation myths, great deities, beautiful wonderlands, mythical creatures, and ancient legends.
They combined ancient folklore, history, religion, and mystical rites, and originated as long as humans appeared.
When these primitives were learning and fighting to survive, they created a beautiful land for their descendants and left many legendary stories that have been passed on for thousands of years.
Origin of Ancient Mythology
The Classic of the Mountains and Seas or Shan Hai Jing, a book with only pictures and descriptive Chinese characters added centuries later, was believed to be the origin and foundation of ancient mythology in China.
It was believed written by Yu the Great, the founder of the first empire, the Xia Dynasty (about 2070 BC — 1600 BC) in history.
This miraculous book includes about 40 states, 550 mountains, 330 rivers, over 100 historical figures, more than 400 Mythical Creatures, their legends, agricultural activities, and customs, and the creation myth, Chinese Gods, and Mythical World.
It is a combination of reality, myth, and legend, and records of the era of mysterious deities and brave heroes with influential contributions.
Besides the Classic of Mountains and Seas, myths and legends from other literature, Taoism Religion and Buddhism, and folktales have extensively enriched Chinese mythology.
Characteristics and Facts
Multiple Origins and Systems
Chinese Mythology includes many deities with different origins.
They coexist harmoniously in culture and history, and there’s no consensus regarding the strongest one.
In general, deities in Chinese myth include Gods in Creation Myths, extraordinary heroes and kings from the prehistoric era who made significant contributions, and immortals from Taoism Religion, Buddhism, and folklore.
Buddhism Apsaras in Mid Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) Mural "Guan Wu Liang Shou Jing Bian" in the 217th Cave of Mogao Grottoes, Photo by Dongmaiying.
The Practical Sun
The sun's origin varies in Chinese culture, which has been believed to be the incarnation of Pan Gu's left eye or the son of a mysterious queen.
Except for having been shot down by hero Hou Yi and chased by a clan leader Kua Fu, there were not many stories about the sun.
However, the sun's track was clearly and frequently described in history, which has great Astronomy value.
Therefore, the sun in Chinese mythology was not a sacred, mythical object that many people worshiped; instead, it was considered more for practical and agricultural utilizations.
Hero Hou Yi Shooting Extra Suns
Fighting Against Nature
Many Chinese myths and legends are about fighting against nature or the supernatural to survive and protect human well-being.
When the weather was scorching, a hero would shoot the extra suns down; when a massive flood was deluged, it would be fought and conquered.
Some extraordinary people had created characters, documented medical herbs, killed evil monsters, etc.
Significant characters in those myths are diligent and fearless workers, sometimes with mystical power.
Ultimately, they became immortals because of their outstanding contributions, hard work, and spirit of sacrifice.
Been Historicized and Secularized by the Confucianism
Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, was highly against supernatural ideology.
Therefore, in most of his masterpieces, he historicized many immortals in ancient myths and secularized many mysterious legends.
Mythology in Confucianism, then, served the ruling class and their governance, in which the Chinese emperors' power was granted by heaven.
Meanwhile, sovereigns' behaviors would be reflected by natural phenomena.
Everything Is Possible To Become Immortal Through Cultivation
In Chinese mythology, everything in the universe can gain supernatural power and become immortal.
Those who had made significant contributions to humankind or completed orthodox cultivations would have the chance to fly up to the sky and transform into immortals, such as many Prehistoric Kings.
Besides Mythical Creatures, some ordinary animals, such as snakes and foxes, can turn into human or celestial beings if they go through assiduous cultivation and do extremely contributive activities (like having saved people’s lives) or run into a lucky opportunity.
Plants have their wills, and those growing in sacred mystical places can absorb nimbus and obtain different superpowers.
However, after gaining supernatural power, every immortal should behave with high moral standards; otherwise, they would lose everything.
Therefore, they usually focus on further practicing in beautiful wonderlands, traveling worldwide, and helping humans when necessary.
What Is Cultivation in Chinese Mythology?
Cultivation is a Taoism Religion term, which includes two practice phases, Xiuzhen and Xiuxian.
Xiuzhen is to practice one's mind and spirit, find the true self, and pursue the final truth of the universe.
Xiuxian is pursuing immortality, usually coming after the Xiuzhen process.
In mythology, to conclude, cultivation is a person or a creature obtaining immortality and mystical power in certain auspicious places through physical practices (such as breathing exercises), taking elixirs from unique alchemy, or doing good deeds.
Pond Yangtianchi on Top of Mount Hua, Believed the Place that Deities Take Water to Do Alchemies.
This Mythical Small Pond is Surrounded by Rocky Stones but Had Never Overflown nor Dried Up.
Influential Chinese Myths, Legends, and Deities.
Creator of Human, and the Savior of Sky — Nv Wa
The Ancestor of Chinese Culture and Sacred Creator — Fu Xi
Creator of Written Characters — Cang Jie
Shen Nong Tasting Herbs, Painted by Guo Xu (1456－1529) － Shanghai Museum
Accomplished Immortal Kings
The Ancestor of Fire — Sui Ren
Brilliant Sovereign and Inventor of Agriculture — Flame Emperor
Culture Hero and Great Ancestor of Chinese People — Yellow Emperor
Ideal Monarch and the Incarnation of Red Dragon — King Yao
Moral Model of Confucianism — King Shun
Deities and Immortals in Folklore Legends
Crushing of Mount Bu Zhou — Gong Gong
Shooting the Suns and Flying to the Moon — Hou Yi and Chang E
Niu Lang and Zhi Nv's meeting on Qixi Festival, by Snow Fish
Jade Emperor — The supreme deity of Taoism Religion, the sovereign living in heaven, respected as the leader of all gods and the ruler of the whole world.
Hao Tian — The supreme god in Chinese culture, whom emperors have worshiped in grand imperial worship ceremonies.
Memorial Tablet of Hao Tian Enshrined on Main Hall of the Temple of Heaven, Where Emperors of Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 — 1912) Held Grand Sacrificial Ceremonies to Worship the Heaven.
Mystical Places in Chinese Mythology and Folklore.
Up in the Sky
In Chinese Astrology, the sky is divided into four cardinal directions; in the upper center, there are Three Enclosures where supreme deities live.
Each of these four areas contains seven big stars, which look like images of four mythical creatures: Azure Dragon of the East, Black Tortoise of the North, White Tiger of the West, and Vermilion Bird of the South.
They represent each section of the sky and control the four seasons respectively; a yellow dragon named Ying Long is guarding the middle, which is superior and more powerful.
They were important celestial beings and laid the foundation for Chinese culture, mythology, Fengshui, and magic arts in the Taoism Religion.
Eaves Tiles of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) — Shanghai Museum
Mount Kunlun in the West
Mount Kunlun is the most honorable and sacred mountain in Chinese mythology.
It is a sacred, beautiful land where many celestial beings and mythical animals live.
Penglai Islands in the East
In ancient mythology, Penglai Islands are some mountains floating in the sea.
In those mythical mountains, fancy palaces are made of jade and gold, all animals and plants are pure as white clouds, and some powerful immortals live there.
Therefore, Emperor Qin Shi Huang and Emperor Wudi of Han, two of the greatest monarchs in Chinese history, had been to Penglai to search for immortals.
Penglai Island Painted by Artist Qiu Ying (about 1497 — 1552) — Poly Art Museum
Mount Tai the Connection of Heaven and Acheron
At the foot of Mount Tai is the entrance to the underworld, where all the ghosts would go through.
On the top, however, is a path to heaven.
Therefore, it is believed to be a magnificent, mythical place that connected the worlds of celestial, human, and ghosts.
Meanwhile, Mount Tai has been the holy place where accomplished emperors held Feng Shan, the most sacred and supreme worship ceremony in Chinese culture.
Other Mythical Places
In Chinese culture, most magnificent mountains, rivers, and lakes have immortals guarding those places and protecting local inhabitants.
Taoists and Buddhists have been practicing in those quiet, spectacular places for thousands of years, during which they built many spectacular temples, pagodas, and grottoes.
Mythological Creatures in Chinese Mythology and Folklore.
Four Symbols, the Guardians of Cardinal Directions on Sky
Azure Dragon of the East, Black Tortoise of the North, White Tiger of the West, and Vermilion Bird of the South.
Four Auspicious Mythological Creatures in Culture
The four most benevolent, auspicious, and miraculous creatures in ancient Chinese culture are the Dragon (variable), the Phoenix (knowledgeable), the Qilin (honest), and the Turtle (divine).
Chinese Phoenix and Dragon on Silk Painting of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), They Were Believed Guiding the Deceased One's Soul to Heaven — Hunan Museum
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