The Info List - Chinese Mythology

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Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
refers to those myths found in the historical geographic area of China: these include myths in Chinese and other languages, as transmitted by Han Chinese
Han Chinese
and other ethnic groups, which have their own languages and myths. Along with Chinese folklore, Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
forms an important part of Chinese folk religion.[1] Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
includes creation myths and legends, such as myths concerning the founding of Chinese culture
Chinese culture
and the Chinese state. Chinese mythology
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
Oracle bone
script. Legends were passed down for over a thousand years before being written in books such as Classic of Mountains and Seas
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 Historical documents and philosophical canons such as Book of Rites, Records of the Grand Historian, Book of Documents, and Lüshi Chunqiu
Lüshi Chunqiu
all contain Chinese myths.


1 Major sources and concepts

1.1 Presiding deities

2 Time periods

2.1 Three August Ones and Five Emperors 2.2 Great Flood 2.3 Xia dynasty 2.4 Shang dynasty

3 Creation and the pantheon 4 Dragon 5 Religion and mythology 6 Important deities and mythological figures 7 Cosmology

7.1 Directional 7.2 Mythical places 7.3 Concepts

8 Mythical creatures

8.1 Abstract 8.2 Birds 8.3 Dragons 8.4 Fishlike 8.5 Humanoid 8.6 Mammalian 8.7 Simian 8.8 Snakelike and reptilian

9 Mythical plants 10 Mythical substances 11 Literature 12 See also 13 Notes 14 References 15 External links

Major sources and concepts[edit] 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:

Verse poetry associated with the ancient state of Chu such as "Lisao", "Jiu Ge", and "Heavenly Questions", contained in the Chuci
anthology, traditionally attributed to the authorship of Qu Yuan
Qu Yuan
of Chu Fengshen Bang
Fengshen Bang
(Investiture of the Gods), a mythological fiction dealing with the founding of the Zhou dynasty Journey to the West
Journey to the West
attributed to Wu Cheng'en, published in the 1590s; a fictionalized account of the pilgrimage of Xuanzang
to India
to obtain Buddhist
religious texts in which the main character encounters ghosts, monsters, and demons, as well as the Flaming Mountains Baishe Zhuan, a romantic tale set in Hangzhou
involving a female snake who attained human form and fell in love with a man

Presiding deities[edit]

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
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]

Time periods[edit] Three August Ones and Five Emperors[edit] Main article: Three August Ones and Five Emperors During or following the age of Nüwa
and Fuxi
came the age of the Three August Ones and Five Emperors. These legendary rulers ruled between c. 2850 BCE to 2205 BCE, before the Xia dynasty. The list of names comprising the Three August Ones and Five Emperors vary widely among sources. The most widely circulated and popular version is:

The Three August Ones (Huáng)

Fuxi: companion of Nüwa Yellow Emperor
Yellow Emperor
("Huang Emperor"): often regarded as the first sovereign of the Chinese nation Shennong
("Divine Farmer"): reputedly taught the ancients agriculture and medicine

The Five Emperors (Dì)

Shaohao: leader of the Dongyi
(Eastern Barbarians); his pyramidal tomb is in present-day Shandong Zhuanxu: grandson of the Huang Emperor. Emperor Ku: great-grandson of the Huang Emperor and nephew of Zhuanxu. Yao: son of Ku; Yao's elder brother succeeded Ku, but he abdicated when found to be an ineffective ruler. Shun: successor of Yao, who passed over his own son and made Shun his successor because of Shun's ability and morality.

These rulers are generally regarded as morally upright and benevolent, examples to be emulated by latter day kings and emperors. Historically, when Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang
united China
in 221 BCE, he felt that his achievements had surpassed those of all the rulers who had gone before him. He combined the ancient titles of Huáng (皇) and Dì (帝) to create a new title, Huángdì (皇帝), which is usually translated as Emperor. Great Flood[edit] Main articles: Great Flood (China)
Great Flood (China)
and Yu the Great Shun passed on his place as emperor to Yu the Great. The Yellow River, prone to flooding, erupted in a huge flood in the time of Yao. Yu's father, Gun, was put in charge of flood control by Yao, but failed to alleviate the problem after nine years. He was executed by Shun, and Yu took his father's place, leading the people to build canals and levees. After thirteen years of toil, flooding problems were ameliorated under Yu's command. Shun enfeoffed Yu as ruler of the geographic region of origin of the Xia, in present-day Henan. Xia dynasty[edit] Main article: Xia dynasty Upon Yu's death, his position as leader was passed not to his deputy, but rather to his son Qi. Sources differ regarding the process by which Qi rose to this position. Most versions agree that Yu designated his deputy, Gaotao, to be his successor. When Gaotao died before him, Yu then selected Gaotao's son, Bo Yi as his successor. One version holds that all those who had submitted to Yu admired Qi more than Bo Yi, leading Yu to pass his power to Qi instead. Another version holds that Bo Yi ceremoniously offered the position to Qi, who accepted, against convention, because he had the support of other leaders. Yet another version claims that Qi killed Bo Yi and usurped his position as leader. The version currently most accepted in China
has Yu name Bo Yi as successor because of the fame Bo Yi had achieved teaching people to drive animals with fire during hunts. Bo Yi had the support of the people, which Yu could not easily stand against. However, the title Yu had given Bo Yi came without power; Yu gave his own son all the power in managing the country. After a few years, Bo Yi lost popularity, and Yu's son Qi became favored. Yu then named Qi as successor. Bo Yi did not go willingly and challenged Qi for the leadership. A civil war ensued. Qi, with strong support from the people, defeated Bo Yi's forces, killed Bo Yi, and solidified his own rule. Qi's succession broke the previous convention of meritorious succession, and began what is traditionally regarded as the first dynasty of Chinese history. The dynasty is called "Xia" after Yu's center of power. The Xia dynasty
Xia dynasty
is semi-mythological. The Records of the Grand Historian and the Bamboo Annals record the names of 17 kings of the Xia dynasty. However, there is no conclusive archaeological evidence of its capital or its existence as a state of significant size. Some archaeological evidence for a significant urban civilization before the Shang Dynasty
exists. Shang dynasty[edit] Main article: Shang dynasty Jie, the last king of the Xia dynasty, was supposedly a bloodthirsty despot. Tribal leader Tang of Shang
Tang of Shang
revolted against Xia rule and eventually overthrew Jie, establishing the Shang dynasty, based in Anyang. Book 5 of the philosopher Mozi
described the end of the Xia dynasty and the beginning of the Shang. During the reign of King Jie of Xia, there was a great climatic change. Legends hold that the paths of the sun and moon changed, the seasons became confused, and the five grains dried up. Ghouls cried in the country and cranes shrieked for ten nights. Heaven
ordered Shang Tang to receive the heavenly commission from the Xia dynasty, which had failed morally and which Heaven
was determined to end. Shang Tang was commanded to destroy Xia with the promise of Heaven's help. In the dark, Heaven
destroyed the fortress' pool, and Shang Tang then gained victory easily.[4] The Shang dynasty
Shang dynasty
ruled from c. 1766 BCE to c. 1050 BCE. It came to an end when the last despotic ruler, Zhou of Shang, was overthrown by the new Zhou dynasty. The end of the Shang dynasty
Shang dynasty
and the establishment of the Zhou is the subject of the influential mythological fiction Investiture of the Gods. Book 5 of Mozi
also described the shift. During the reign of Shang Zhou, Heaven
could not endure Zhou's morality and neglect of timely sacrifices. It rained mud for ten days and nights, the nine cauldrons (presumably used in either astronomy or to measure earth movements) shifted positions, pontianaks appeared, and ghosts cried at night. There were women who became men while it rained flesh and thorny brambles, covering the national highways. A red bird brought a message: " Heaven
decrees King Wen of Zhou
King Wen of Zhou
to punish Yin and possess its empire". The Yellow River
Yellow River
formed charts and the earth brought forth mythical horses. When King Wu became king, three gods appeared to him in a dream, telling him that they had drowned Shang Zhou in wine and that King Wu was to attack him. On the way back from victory, the heavens gave him the emblem of a yellow bird. Unlike the preceding Xia dynasty, there is clear archaeological evidence of a government center at Yinxu
in Anyang, and of an urban civilization in the Shang dynasty. However, the chronology of the first three dynasties remains an area of active research and controversy. Creation and the pantheon[edit] Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
holds that the Jade Emperor
Jade Emperor
was charged with running of the three realms: heaven, hell, and the realm of the living. The Jade Emperor
Jade Emperor
adjudicated and meted out rewards and remedies to saints, the living, and the deceased according to a merit system loosely called the Jade Principles Golden Script (玉律金篇, Yù lǜ jīn piān). When proposed judgments were objected to, usually by other saints, the administration would occasionally resort to the counsels of advisory elders. Dragon[edit]

Dragon-gods, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner

Main articles: Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
and Dragon King The Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
is one of the most important mythical creatures in Chinese mythology, considered to be the most powerful and divine creature as well as controller of all waters. They were believed to be able to create clouds with their breath. The dragon symbolized great power and was very supportive of heroes and gods. One of the most famous dragons in Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
is Yinglong, said to be the god of rain. Many people in different places pray to Yinglong
in order to receive rain. Chinese people sometimes use the term "Descendants of the Dragon" as a sign of their ethnic identity. Religion and mythology[edit] Further information: Religion in China
and Chinese folk religion There has been extensive interaction between Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
and Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Elements of pre-Han dynasty mythology such as those in Shan Hai Jing
Shan Hai Jing
were adapted into these belief systems as they developed (in the case of Taoism), or were assimilated into Chinese culture
Chinese culture
(in the case of Buddhism). Elements from the teachings and beliefs of these systems became incorporated into Chinese mythology. For example, the Taoist belief of a spiritual paradise became incorporated into mythology as the place where immortals and deities dwelt. Important deities and mythological figures[edit]

Wen Chang, Chinese God of literature, carved in ivory, c. 1550–1644, Ming dynasty.

Deities with Buddhist

Dizang: ruler of the ten hells Four Heavenly Kings: four Buddhist
guardian gods Gautama Buddha
Gautama Buddha
(釋迦牟尼, Shìjiā móu ní) Guanyin
(also Kuanyin): bodhisattva associated with compassion Laughing Buddha

Baosheng Dadi: god of medicine Cangjie: had four eyes, invented Chinese characters Chang'e: goddess of the Moon Chiyou: tyrant who fought against the then-future Yellow Emperor City god Da Yu
Da Yu
(Yu the Great): founder of the Xia dynasty
Xia dynasty
and famed for his introduction of flood control and for his upright moral character Daoji: folk hero known for wild and eccentric behavior; maintained a compassionate nature Dragon King Eight Immortals

Cao Guojiu Han Xiangzi Han Zhongli He Xiangu Lan Caihe Lü Dongbin Li Tieguai Zhang Guolao

Erlang Shen: possessed a third eye in the middle of his forehead that saw the truth Four Emperors (四御, Sì yù): heavenly kings of Taoist religion

Yu Huang (Jade Emperor) Beiji Dadi Tianhuang Dadi Empress of Earth

Fangfeng: giant who helped fight flood, executed by Yu the Great Feng Meng: apprentice to Hou Yi, and his eventual murderer Gao Yao Gong Gong: water god/sea monster resembling a serpent or dragon Guan Yu: god of brotherhoods, martial power, and war Hànbá (旱魃) Houyi: archery deity; married to Chang'e, goddess of the Moon Hung Shing Kua Fu: a giant who wanted to capture the sun Kui Xing: god of examinations and an associate of the god of literature, Wen Chang Lei Gong: god of thunder Lung Mo: Chinese woman deified after raising five infant dragons Mazu: goddess of the sea Meng Po: responsible for reincarnated souls forgetting previous lives Nezha: Taoist protection deity Nüwa: creator of humans Pangu: a deity that separated heaven and earth Siming: god of lifespan and fate Sun Wukong
Sun Wukong
(also the Monkey King) Tam Kung: sea deity with the ability to forecast weather The Cowherd and Weaver Girl Three August Ones and Five Emperors: a collection of legendary rulers Three Pure Ones: the Taoist trinity

Daode Tianzun Lingbao Tianzun Yuanshi Tianzun

Tu Di Gong: god of wealth and merit Tu Er Shen: managed the love and sex between homosexual men Wenchang Wang: god of culture and literature Wong Tai Sin: possessed healing power Wu Gang: endlessly cut down a self-healing bay laurel on the moon Xi Wangmu: Queen Mother of the West Xiang River goddesses
Xiang River goddesses

É huáng (娥皇) Nǚ yīng (女英).

Xihe, goddess of the sun Xingtian: headless giant decapitated by the Yellow Emperor
Yellow Emperor
as punishment for challenging him; his face is on his torso as he has no head Yanluowang: God of death Yuqiang: Yellow Emperor's descendent, god of north sea and wind Zao Jun: kitchen god Zhao Gongming
Zhao Gongming
(also Cai Shen): god of prosperity Zhong Kui: vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings Zhurong: god of fire

Spirit of the well, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner

Zoomorphic guardian spirits of Day and Night, Han dynasty
Han dynasty
(202 BCE – 220 CE) Chinese paintings on ceramic tile

Cosmology[edit] Directional[edit]

The Four Symbols of the Chinese constellation

Azure Dragon: east Black Tortoise: north White Tiger: west Vermillion Bird: south

Mythical places[edit] See also: List of mythical Chinese mountains

Mount Buzhou: mythical mountain Diyu: hell Feather Mountain: a place of exile during or just after the world flood Fusang: a mythical island interpreted to be Japan Jade Mountain, a mythological mountain Kunlun Mountain: a mythical mountain, dwelling of various divinities, and fabulous plants and animals Longmen: dragon gate where a carp can transform into a dragon Mount Penglai: paradise; a fabled fairy isle on the China
Sea Queqiao (鵲橋; Quèqiáo): bridge formed by birds across the Milky Way Tiantang: heaven Xuanpu (玄圃; Xuánpǔ): a mythical fairyland on Kunlun Mountain Yaochi (瑤池; Yáochí): abode of immortals where the Queen Mother of the West lives. Youdu: the capital city of Di Yu


Cords of the Sky Pillars of the Earth Sky Ladder

Mythical creatures[edit] Abstract[edit]

Zhulong: the torch dragon, a solar deity The Four Fiends
Four Fiends
(四凶, Sì xiōng):

Hundun: chaos Taotie: gluttony Táowù (梼杌): ignorance; provided confusion and apathy and made mortals free of the curiosity and reason needed to reach enlightenment Qióngqí (窮奇): deviousness


Sanzuwu (三足烏; sānzúwū): three-legged crow that represented the sun birds shot down by Houyi Qing Niao (青鳥; qīngniâo): mythical bird and messenger of Xi Wangmu Fenghuang
(鳳凰; fènghuáng): Chinese mythical bird, sometimes translated as "phoenix" Bi Fang (畢方) Crane: linked with immortality, may be transformed xian Jiān (鶼; jian1): mythical bird supposed to have only one eye and one wing; 鶼鶼: a pair of such birds dependent on each other, inseparable, hence representing husband and wife Jiguang (吉光; jíguāng) Jingwei: mythical bird which tried to fill up the ocean with twigs and pebbles Jiufeng: nine-headed bird used to scare children Peng: giant mythical bird Shang-Yang (商羊): a rainbird Sù Shuāng (鷫鷞; su4shuang3): mythical bird like a crane; also described as a water bird Vermilion Bird: icon of the south, sometimes confused with the Fenghuang Zhen: poisonous bird

Dragons[edit] Main article: Chinese dragon

Chi: hornless dragon or mountain demon Dilong: the earth dragon Dragon King: king of the dragons Fucanglong: the treasure dragon Jiaolong: dragon of floods and the sea Shenlong: the rain dragon Teng: the flying dragon Tianlong: the celestial dragon Yinglong: the water dragon, powerful servant of Yellow Emperor Zhulong: the luminous red celestial "torch dragon" (only part-dragon)

Fishlike[edit] Main article: Fish in Chinese mythology

(人魚) Kun (also Peng): giant monstrous fish-form of the Peng bird.


Kui: one-legged mountain demon or dragon who invented music and dance; also Shun's musical master Jiangshi: a reanimated corpse Ox-Head and Horse-Face: devils in animal forms[5] and guardians of the underworld Xiāo (魈; xiao1): mountain spirit or demon Yaoguai: demons

Mammalian[edit] Further information: Dog in Chinese mythology, Bovidae in Chinese mythology, and Horse in Chinese mythology

Jiuwei Hu (九尾狐): Nine-tailed fox Nian: lives under the sea or in mountains; attacks children Longma: winged horse similar to the Qilin Luduan: can detect the truth Xiezhi
(also Xie Cai): creature of justice said to be able to distinguish lies from truths; it had a long, straight horn used to gore liars Qilin: chimeric animal with several variations. The first giraffe sent as a gift to a Chinese emperor was believed to be the Qilin; an early Chinese painting
Chinese painting
depicts this giraffe replete with the fish scales of the Qilin. Qilin
was believed to show perfect good will, gentleness, and benevolence to all righteous creatures. Pixiu: resembled a winged lion Rui Shi
Rui Shi
(瑞獅, Ruì Shī): guardian lions Huli jing: fox spirits Xīniú (犀牛): a rhinoceros; became mythologized when rhinoceroses became extinct in China. Depictions later changed to a more bovine appearance, with a short, curved horn on its head used to communicate with the sky

Bai Ze: legendary creature said to have been encountered by the Yellow Emperor and to have given him a compendium listing all the demons in the world

Simian[edit] Further information: Simians (Chinese poetry)
Simians (Chinese poetry)
and Monkeys in Chinese culture

Chinese Monkey: warded off evil spirits; highly respected and loved Xiao (mythology), described as a long-armed ape or a four-winged bird

Snakelike and reptilian[edit] Further information: Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
and Snakes in Chinese mythology

Ao: a giant marine turtle or tortoise Bashe: a snake reputed to swallow elephants Xiangliu: nine-headed snake monster White Serpent

Mythical plants[edit]

Fusang: a world tree, home of sun(s) Lingzhi mushroom: legendary fungus of immortality Peaches of Immortality: legendary peaches of immortality Yao Grass: grass with magical properties

Mythical substances[edit]

Xirang: the flood-fighting expanding earth


Imperial historical documents and confucian canons such as Records of the Grand Historian, Lüshi Chunqiu, Book of Rites], and Classic History In Search of the Supernatural: 4th century compilation of stories and hearsay concerning spirits, ghosts, and supernatural phenomena Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, by Pu Songling, with many stories of fox spirits Zhiguai (誌怪): literary genre that deals with strange (mostly supernatural) events and stories Zi Bu Yu: a collection of supernatural stories compiled during the Qing dynasty

See also[edit]

Agriculture in Chinese mythology Ba gua Celestial bureaucracy Chinese astrology Chinese creation myth Chinese folk religion Chinese folklore Chinese legendary creatures Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
in popular culture Chinese spiritual world concepts Dog in Chinese mythology Fish in Chinese mythology Fuxi Geese in Chinese poetry Great Flood (China) Guanyin Horse in Chinese mythology Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor I Ching Imperial examination in Chinese mythology List of deities Nüwa Panhu Sanxing (deities) Simians (Chinese poetry) Teng Yuan Ke


^ (Yang, 4) ^ Yang, 12-13 ^ Werner, E.T.C. (1922). Myths and Legends of China. New York: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. p. 77.  ^ Mozi. "非攻下 – Condemnation of Offensive War III".  ^ "Wenlin Software for Learning Chinese, Version 3.4". Wenlin Institute. 


Paper, Jordan D. (1995). The Spirits are Drunk: Comparative Approaches to Chinese Religion. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-2315-8.  Yang, Lihui, et al. (2005). Handbook of Chinese Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-533263-6

External links[edit]

Media related to Mythology of China
at Wikimedia Commons Encyclopedia of Chinese Gods and Goddesses Guide to Chinese gods Chinese myths online Collection of images from Chinese mythology 中国行业神崇拜

v t e

Chinese mythology

Overview topics

Creation myth Godly world concepts Astrology Dragons Shenmo fiction Gods and immortals Tian Pangu Ghosts

Major personages

Deities Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors Eight Immortals Shennong Yellow Emperor Yan Emperor Chiyou Hou Yi Kua Fu


Black Tortoise Azure Dragon White Tiger Vermilion Bird Qilin Fenghuang Huli jing Chinese guardian lions Pixiu
(Bixie) Nian Fox spirit Four Perils


Fusang Penglai Diyu Kunlun Mountain Youdu

Popular literary works

Classic of Mountains and Seas Shi Yi Ji The Peach Blossom Spring The Four Journeys Investiture of the Gods Legend of the White Snake The Sorcerer's Revolt Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio Journey to the West In Search of the Supernatural Tian
Xian Pei What the Master Would Not Discuss Heavenly Questions
Heavenly Questions
(Chu Ci)

Culture p