Myth / Chinese Mythology

Creation Stories

  • Everything began as formless chaos. The world was created when this chaos coalesced into the form of Pan Gu, the first being, in equal measures of Yin and Yang. Pan Gu then used his great axe to split the Yin and Yang into Earth and Heaven respectively, then kept them seperated by pushing up the sky. This took 18,000 years, after which Pan Gu died. His body was turned into our world: His breath became the wind, his voice the thunder. His left eye became the Sun and his right the Moon, his hair the Stars and Milky Way. His body became the mountains, his blood the rivers, his muscles the fertile soil, his fur the plants, his bones the valuable minerals, his bone marrows the sacred diamonds. His sweat fell as rain, and the fleas on his fur became the fish and animals of the land. This is more or less the Taoist creation story, although scholars have suggested that the Pan Gu story is not Chinese in origin at all.
  • Alternately, the world was created and run by Shang-Di, variously understood either as God, a God of Gods, or Heaven itself, and literally meaning "High Sovereign". Shang-Di is a monotheistic or semi-monotheistic concept which predates Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, and works through the other various gods and spirits, who were regarded as either intermediaries (and thus comparable to angels), and/or lesser deities in their own right. Worship of Shang-Di faded out around the Zhou dynasty, in favour of Tian, which means 'sky' or 'heaven'. The modern or Abrahamic God is translated as Shangdi too.

Chinese mythology is influenced by three sources: Buddhism, Taoism, and various popular deities and spirits, all mixed in together. Buddhist gods are Chinese versions of various figures associated with Buddhism, such as Buddha, Avalokiteśvara, or The Four Vajras. Taoist gods are the immortals and holy men of the Taoist religion, such as Laozi or the Jade Emperor. Traditional gods are the gods that have been around since before Buddhism or Taoism got a foothold, as well as legendary figures hailed as gods. All three systems are interwined in a complex Celestial Bureaucracy reflecting the ancient Chinese government. Naturally, this results in loads and loads of gods. Also, these systems are not seen as practically incompatible, so there is little point splitting them up here.

Modern-day Chinese rural and festival mythology is mostly based on the Jade Emperor system, with added Buddhism figures. Officially, they would be classified either as Buddhists or Taoists, but in practice they are mostly secular.


Tropes featured include:

  • Celestial Bureaucracy: The Trope Maker.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Humans were frequently promoted to godhood in the Celestial Bureaucracy.
  • Dragon Hoard: The fucanglong or "hidden treasure dragon" lives underground, guarding both man-made treasure as well as natural deposits of precious stone or metal. They are also held responsible for volcanism.
  • Dragons Are Divine: Dragons in general are seen as beings in charge of fundamental forces of nature. The Dragon Kings for instance represent each of the four seas of the world. They are capable of attaining a human form, and are believed to control all forms of moving water and the weather.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Hundun (Chaos), the legendary faceless being. In spite of this, it is actually kind-hearted that the Emperor of the Southern Sea and the Emperor of the Northern Sea decided to drill seven holes in it as a return (because people have seven holes: nostril, nostril, mouth, ear, ear, eye, eye, and they wanted to make Hundun feel the world like human did), but it died shortly thereafter.
  • Elixir of Life:
    • A white rabbit that lives on the Moon knows the secret to creating an elixir that grants eternal life, which it produces by grading various ingredients together with a mortar and pestle.
    • The archer Houyi once shot down the nine suns that were overheating the earth, and was given the elixir of immortality as a reward. However, he wanted to share it with his wife Chang'e, but (depending on the version) she drank it herself/was forced to drink it, and fled to the moon to escape her husband.
    • On a more historical note, a common pursuit of Chinese alchemists during the imperial period was the attempted creation of an elixir which would grant eternal life if drunk.
  • Kids Prefer Boxes: There's a Chinese Buddhist parable about a shopkeeper that tried to sell a valuable pearl by putting it inside a pretty box. Unfortunately the person that bought it was only interested in buying the box and left the pearl. The Aesop to the story is not to ignore the deeper meanings of Buddhism in favor of the superficial.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Chinese mythology consists of three major religions, Shenism, Chinese Buddhism and Taoism. Shenism elevates many mortals to godhood. The pantheon is even called the Celestial Bureaucracy.
  • Narnia Time: Used in a number of stories, especially those involving reign of immortals.
  • Sacred Bow and Arrows: The Yellow Emperor is credited as inventing the bow.
  • Sea Monster: Gong Gong, the Chinese dragon god of water who tilted the Earth's axis by headbutting against a sacred mountain, which is the pillar of heaven supporting the sky.
  • Top God: The Jade Emperor is a King Of Gods; occasionally (such as at the beginning of Journey to the West) the Buddha shows up as a God of Gods. Shang Di is either this or God himself, or possibly both.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Lan Caihe of the Eight Immortals may or may not be one. It depends on who you ask.


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