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Chinese Mythology

The writing of mythological tales began in the Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420),
when various writers, influenced by the alchemist's ideas and Taoist and Buddhis
t superstitions, were interested in inventing stories about gods and ghosts. Som
e of them show their unusual imagination and mastery of the written language. Th
is practice was continued in the next period, the period of Southern and Norther
n Dynasties.
In the middle of the Tang Dynasty many well-known writers and poets began story
writing. Their stories incorporate a wide range of subject matter and themes, re
flecting various aspects of human nature, human relations and social life. In fo
rm they are not short notes or anecdotes like the tales produced before them, bu
t well-structured stories with interesting plots and vivid characters, often sev
eral thousand words in length. Among them are many tales whose main characters a
re gods, ghosts, or foxes. Mythical stories of the Song Dynasty show strong infl
uence of Tang fiction, but hardly attain the Tang level.
One achievement in the field of fiction worthy of special mention is the compila
tion of the great Taiping Guangji or Extensive Records Compiled in the Taiping Y
ears (976-983), which is a collection of about seven thousand stories published
before and in the first years of the Song Dynasty. The stories were selected fro
m over three hundred books, many of which have long been lost to us. Large porti
ons of the seven thousand stories are about gods, deities, fairies, and ghosts.
In Song times there were stories written in the vernacular, called "notes for st
In the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties that followed the best-known works of ficti
on were novels in the vernacular, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water M
argin, Pilgrimage to the West, The Scholars, and Dream of the Red Mansions.
In the early period of the Qing Dynasty there appeared an anthology of short myt
hical stories written in the classical style-- Strange Stories from Happiness St
udio by Pu Songling. For some time it was a most popular book, praised and liked
by many people. After Pu, Ji Yun, who presided over the compilation of the Siku
Quanshu (Complete Collection of Written Works Divided into Four Stores), wrote

a book entitled Notes from a Thatched House, which includes anecdotes, rumors an
d tales about gods, foxes and ghosts.
As with other cultures, Chinese mythical stories are entwined with history. The
history of the long period before recorded history began is partly based on lege
nd, which is interwoven with mythology. Such ancient heroes and leaders as Fuxi,
Shennong, Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) and Yu are both historical figures accor
ding to legend and important characters in mythical stories. Again - as in other
cultures - myths reflect Creation, the importance of true love and balance, sel
f-sacrifice, encourage good deeds and warn against sin, rebellion vs. oppression
All these features add up, perhaps, to one prevailing characteristic - China's m
ythical stories, either those created by the primitive people or those written b
y later scholars, are full of human feelings. Gods, ghosts, foxes and spirits ar
e commonly described as living things with human qualities and human feelings. C
hinese inventors of myths describe gods the way they describe man, or treat them
as if they were human, and endow them with human nature. There are also stories
that try to illustrate fatalism, reincarnation, and all sorts of feudal ethical
principles. This is only natural, because literary works inevitably reflect the
beliefs of the age in which they are produced.
In style and art of writing, both early and later mythical stories are superb. C
lassical Chinese is extremely concise. A few hundred, even a few dozen words are
enough to tell a story complete with dialogue and behavioral and psychological

Chinese Deities
Principal Deities:

Shangdi, also sometimes Hungtin Dd appeared as early as the Shang dynasty. In later
eras, he was more commonly referred to as Hungtin Shngd. The use of Hungtin Dd refers
the Jade Emperor andTian.
Yu Di (the Jade Emperor) appeared in literature after the establishment of Taois
m in China; his appearance as Yu Huang dates back to beyond the times of Yellow
Emperor, Nwa, or Fuxi.
Tian (Heaven) appeared in literature c. 700 BC, possibly earlier as dating depen
ds on the date of the Shujing (Book of Documents). There are no creation-oriente
d narratives for Tian. The qualities of Tian and Shangdi appear to have merged i
n later literature and are now worshiped as one entity in, for example, the Bei
jing'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 or
acle bones reveals Shangdi to have preceded Tian as a deity, and that Zhou dynas
ty authors replaced the term "Shangdi" with "Tian" to cement the claims of their
Nwa (also referred to as N Kwa) appeared in literature no earlier than c. 350 BC.
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 rep
resented as half-snake, half-humans. It is sometimes believed that Nwa molded hum
ans from clay for companionship. She repaired the sky after Gong Gong damaged th

e pillar supporting the heavens.

Pangu, written about by Taoist author Xu Zheng c. 200 AD, was claimed to be the
first sentient being and creator, making the heavens and the earth.
Other Deities:

God of moats and walls. Every village and town had its own Ch'eng-Huang, most of
ten a local dignitary or important person who had died and been promoted to godh
ood. His divine status was revealed in dreams, though the gods made the actual d
ecision. Ch'eng-Huang not only protects the community from attack but sees to it
that the King of the Dead does not take any soul from his jurisdiction without
proper authority. Ch'eng-Huang also exposes evil-doers in the community itself,
usually through dreams. His assistants are Mr. Ba Lao-ye and Mr. Hei Lao-ye -- M
r. Daywatchman and Mr. Nightwatchman.

Chu Jung
God of fire. Chu Jung punishes those who break the laws of heaven.
Kuan Ti
God of war. The Great Judge who protects the people from injustice and evil spir
its. A red-faced god dressed always in green. An oracle. Kuan Ti was an actual h
istorical figure, a general of the Han dynasty renowned for his skill as a warri
or and his justness as a ruler. There were more than 1600 temples dedicated to K
uan Ti.
Kwan Yin
Goddess of mercy and compassion. A lady dressed in white seated on a lotus and h
olding an infant. Murdered by her father, she recited the holy books when she ar
rived in Hell, and the ruler of the underworld could not make the dead souls suf
fer. The disgruntled god sent her back to the world of the living, where Kwan Yi
n attained great spiritual insight and was rewarded with immortality by the Budd
ha. A popular goddess, Kwan Yin's temple at the Mount of the Wondrous Peak was e
ver filled with a throng of pilgrims shaking rattles and setting off firecracker
s to get her attention.

Lei Kun
God of thunder. Lei Kung has the head of a bird, wings, claws and blue skin, and
his chariot is drawn by six boys. Lei Kung makes thunder with his hammer, and h
is wife makes lightning with her mirrors. Lei Kung chases away evil spirits and
punishes criminals whose crimes have gone undetected.

Pa Hsein
The Eight Immortals of the Taoist tradition. Ordinary mortals who, through good
works and good lives, were rewarded by the Queen Mother Wang by giving them the
peaches of everlasting life to eat. They are:
TIEH-KUAI Li - of the Iron Crutch. A healer, Li sits as a beggar in the market p
lace selling wondrous drugs, some of which can revive the dead.
CHUNG-LI CH'UAN - A smiling old men always beaming with joy, he was rewarded wit
h immortality for his ascetic life in the mountains.
LAN TS'AI-HO - A young flute-player and wandering minstrel who carries a basket
laden with fruit. His soul-searching songs caused a stork to snatch him away to
the heavens.
LU TUNG-PIN - A hero of early Chinese literature. Renouncing riches and the worl
d, he punished the wicked and rewarded the good, and slew dragons with a magic s
CHANG-KUO LAO - An aged hermit with miraculous abilities. Chang owned a donkey t
hat could travel at incredible speed. The personification of the primordial vapo
r that is the source of all life.
HAN HSIANG-TZU - A scholar who chose to study magic rather than prepare for the
civil service. When his uncle chastised him for studying magic, Han Hsiang-Tzu m
aterialized two flowers with poems written on the leaves.
TS'AO KUO-CHIU - Ts'ao Kuo-Chiu tried to reform his brother, a corrupt emperor,
by reminding him that the laws of heaven are inescapable.
HO HSIEN-KU - Immortal Maiden - A Cantonese girl who dreamed that she could beco
me immortal by eating a powder made of mother-of-pearl. She appears only to men
of great virtue.

Goddess of prostitutes. As a mortal, she was a widow who was much too liberal an
d inventive with her favors, and her father-in-law killed her. In death her more
professional associates honored her and eventually became the goddess of whores

The Lords of Death, the ten rulers of the underworld. They dress alike in royal
robes and only the wisest can tell them apart. Each ruler presides over one cour
t of law. In the first court a soul is judged according to his sins in life and
sentenced to one of the eight courts of punishment. Punishment is fitted to the
offense. Misers are made to drink molten gold, liars' tongues are cut out. In th
e second court are incompetent doctors and dishonest agents; in the third, forge
rs, liars, gossips, and corrupt government officials; in the fifth, murderers, s
ex offenders and atheists; in the sixth, the sacrilegious and blasphemers; in th
e eighth, those guilty of filial disrespect; in the ninth, arsonists and acciden
t victims. In the tenth is the Wheel of Transmigration where souls are released
to be reincarnated again after their punishment is completed. Before souls are r
eleased, they are given a brew of oblivion, which makes them forget their former

Ti-Tsang Wang
God of mercy. Wandering in the caverns of Hell, a lost soul might encounter a sm
iling monk whose path is illuminated by a shining pearl and whose staff is decor
ated with metal rings that chime like bells. This is Ti-Tsang Wang, who will do
all he can to help the soul escape hell and even to put an end to his eternal ro
und of death and rebirth. Long ago, Ti-Tsang Wang renounced Nirvana so that he c
ould search the dark regions of Hell for souls to save from the kings of the ten
hells. Once a priest of Brahma, he converted to Buddhism and himself became a B
uddha with special authority over the souls of the dead.
God of wealth who presides over a vast bureaucracy with many minor deities under
his authority. A majestic figure robed in exquisite silks. T'shai-Shen is quite
a popular god; even atheists worship him.
God of the hearth. Every household has its own Tsao Wang. Every year the hearth
god reports on the family to the Jade Emperor, and the family has good or bad lu
ck during the coming year according to his report. The hearth god's wife records
every word spoken by every member of the family. A paper image represents the h
earth god and his wife, and incense is burned to them daily. When the time came
to make his report to the Jade Emperor, sweetmeats were placed in his mouth, the
paper was burned, and firecrackers were lit to speed him on his way.
Local gods. Minor gods of towns, villages and even streets and households. Thoug
h far from the most important gods in the divine scheme, they were quite popular
. Usually portrayed as kindly, respectable old men, they see to it that the doma
ins under their protection run smoothly.
Lord Yama King - Greatest of the Lords of Death. Yeng-Wang-Yeh judges all souls
newly arrived to the land of the dead and decides whether to send them to a spec
ial court for punishment or put them back on the Wheel of Transmigration.
Father Heaven - e August Supreme Emperor of Jade, whose court is in the highest
level of heaven, originally a sky god. The Jade Emperor made men, fashioning the
m from clay. His heavenly court resembles the earthly court in all ways, having
an army, a bureaucracy, a royal family and parasitical courtiers. The Jade Emper
or's rule is orderly and without caprice. The seasons come and go as they should
, yin is balanced with yang, good is rewarded and evil is punished. As time went
on, the Jade Emperor became more and more remote to men, and it became customar
y to approach him through his doorkeeper, the Transcendental Dignitary. The Jade
Emperor sees and hears everything; even the softest whisper is as loud as thund
er to the Jade Emperor.