Famous Chinese Myths You Must Know

famous chinese myth

5 Chinese famous myths you must know!

Famous Chinese Myths v.s. Western Myths

We all know that in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth; we all know the famous lovers Romeo and Juliet from Shakespeare’s play and also, the worldwide fairy tale Hansel and Gretel.  But do you know that there are Chinese versions of the creation of the universe, the escorts who bring the souls of the deceased to the Underworld, famous romantic lovers and even similar fairy tales? The legends and characters in Chinese myths, shaped the rich Chinese culture and religion and passes down to all Chinese people for a warning, enlightening or appreciating.

If you are not yet familiar with Chinese cultures and religions, you must know these Chinese myths that Chinese people grow up with. These famous Chinese myths are common and interesting that must amaze you!

Start with the creation of the Chinese universe:

Pan Gu Split the Heavens and Earth / NuWa Made Men (盘古开天/女娲造人,  Pángǔ kāi tiān, yǔ nǚ wā zào rén)

famous chinese myth

The beginning of Chinese universe: Pan Gu Split the Heavens and Earth.

The creation of the universe is one of the most classic Chinese legends. At the very beginning, the universe was a mess like a gigantic egg. Everything was in chaos. Pan Gu (盘古) is the giant who split the heaven and earth apart with his great power after he awake from this “gigantic egg.” Pan Gu then prop up and guard this universe after the heaven and earth grew higher, thicker and more steady.  

After he died, Pan Gu’s left eye turned into Sun, right eye turned into Moon; his hair and mustache became the stars in the sky and his limbs became the four cardinal directions and huge mountains. His blood became the lakes and streams; teeth and bones became underground mineral, his fine hair became the trees and grass in the world and his muscles became the fertile soil. His sweat became the dew and rain, and finally, his soul scattered and became human beings.    

famous chinese myth

NuWa made human beings from mud.

There was a Goddess NuWa, who has, in the legend, a human head and serpent body. After Pan Gu died, she felt lonely because there weren’t too many human beings in the world. Therefore, NuWa made little clay men from the soil one by one. These clay men became human who talk in NuWa’s language. The shape of these clay men looked like NuWa herself, she made a lot of humans to fill the world and thus to Chinese people, NuWa is the “Mother of all human beings.”

They’re the escorts to the Underworld:

Black and White Impermanence  (黑白无常, Hēibái wúcháng)

Yama (阎罗王, Yánluó wáng), also known as King of Hell or King Yan, is the judge of the Underworld. In Chinese belief, the souls would go to Yama for the trials of how many good things and bad things they did when alive. Yama would decide whether the souls can go to the heaven, hell, or reincarnation.

famous chinese myth

Black and White Impermanence work for Yama.

Their job is to escort the spirits to Yama. Some might say that Black and White Impermanence also help punish the evil people, but normally they just bring the souls of the deceased to the trials, regardless of they are good people or bad.  

Black and White Impermanence include the white guard named Xie Bi’an (谢必安, Xièbì’ān) and the black guard Fan Wujiu (范无救, Fàn wú jiù). The features of their appearances, the white guard is tall and white, with his tongue sticking out of his mouth because he hung himself to death; the black guard is short and black.

Legend has it that Black and White guards were good friends since childhood when they were alive. One day, they hung out but suddenly encountered heavy rain. The White guard asked his friend to wait under the bridge and he’ll go back to take umbrellas. The Black guard waited as he promised; however, the heavy rain became out of control and almost flooded over the short Black guard.

The Black guard didn’t want to break his promise and waited there until he was drowned by the rain. After the White guard came back and found his friend dead, he was so grief and regretted that he hung himself. The Yama was impressed by their deep friendship and thus hired them to escort newly-dead spirits to his trials.

In Taiwan, Black and White Impermanence is better known as “Qī yé bā yé” (七爷八爷), literally means “the Seventh Lord and Eighth Lord.” There’s a little bit difference between Black and White Impermanence and Qī yé bā yé though, that Qī yé bā yé also help punish the bad spirits and protect the good spirits.

famous chinese myth

The huge figure in “Qi Ye Ba Ye” costume in the religious festival in Taiwan.

Make sure you have your sunglasses on:

Hou-Yi Shooting the Suns (后羿射日, Hòu yì shè rì)

Hou-Yi is a legendary hero and a skillful archer. Legend has it that there were originally ten suns in the sky in the ancient time. Hou-Yi, seeing the people suffer from the scorching suns as well as the withering plants and land, decided to shoot down the suns with his superb archery skills. Therefore, Hou-Yi shot down nine suns one by one and keep the last one to nurture the land and bright the day. Since then, Hou-Yi is well-known as a heroic archer, and with his wife Chang E (嫦娥, Cháng’é) created the most romantic but sad story as Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Read the story of Hou-Yi and Chang E here.  

famous chinese myth

Hou-Yi shooting the suns and save the people.

It’s quite a common Chinese myth and one of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival legends. You can also read all Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival legends and the meaning behind them.

The father of Chinese medicine, herbal, and agriculture:

Shennong, the hundred-herb taster (神农尝百草, Shénnóng cháng bǎicǎo)

famous chinese myth

Shennong (-Shi) as “The God of Farmer” in Chinese legends.

 

Shennong (神农), or Shennong-Shi (神农氏),  literally means “The God Farmer”, was known for a respectful hundred-herb taster in ancient China. Another name of him was “Yan Emperor” (炎帝, Yándì); people believe he was a mythical first Chinese Emperor but the exact time of him taking the power is unknown.

 

In prehistoric China, people didn’t know how to cure their disease with herbs or medicine, nor did they know which plant was edible or poisonous. Shennong invented farming tools and taught people to farm and plant. In addition, the most famous of Shennong is his tasting hundred kinds of herbs in person. He went deep into the mountain, tasted different kinds of herbs in the daytime, and recorded them down at night. He recorded down details about the herbs. Which one is edible, able to cure illness, or which one is poisonous to cause some symptoms. Later was published as The Classic of Herbal Medicine (神农本草经, Shénnóng běncǎo jīng) as people’s important references.

It’s a dangerous job for sure because it’s easy for him to get poisoned by the unknown herbs. Every time he feels sick due to poisoning, he asked his entourages to cure him with another medicine herb. Shennong insisted to discover and taste more herbs as he can in order to make his people benefit from the herbs. It’s been said that Shennong died from poisoning of the herb during his tasting job.

famous chinese myth

Shennong Shi and his “The Classic of Herbal Medicine.”

 Careful, children, don’t get eaten:

 Aunty Tigress (虎姑婆, Hǔ gūpó)

Aunty Tigress can be the Chinese version of Hansel and Gretel for sure. The story is about the Aunty Tigress who is actually an evil spirit of a tiger, which eats children in order to gain the energy and get its own human flesh body. So this evil spirit temporarily pretended to be an old woman, “Aunty Tigress.”

One day, Aunty Tigress overheard a mother of a little sister and brother is going out that night, which would leave the kids alone at home. Aunty Tigress then tricked the kids to open the door and let her enter the house after the mother left.

In the midnight, the older sister heard a continuous chewing sound from the kitchen so she went to the kitchen and found out Aunty Tigress was chewing something and hiding from her. The sister asked Aunty Tigress what she’s chewing, the Tigress said she’s eating peanuts. However, the sister didn’t believe it, so she asked Aunty Tigress to give her one peanut too.

Aunty Tigress then throw something to the sister. It turned out it was a finger of her brother. Terrified, the sister realized that her little brother was eaten by this monster. Therefore, she lied to Aunty Tigress that she wants to go to the restroom. Aunty Tigress tied a rope on her in case escaped. The sister couldn’t get far, so she climbed on the tree outside.

Aunty Tigress started to find the sister and ordered her to come down from the tree. The clever sister said to the Aunty Tigress, “You can eat me, but can you eat me when I’m dead? It’ll taste better! You can bring me a barrel of boil oil here, then I’ll jump into the oil myself!” The Aunty Tigress thought it a good idea and agreed to do what the sister asked. Aunty Tigress brought boil oil to the sister, then the sister said, “Aunty Tigress, just open your mouth and close your eyes. After I boiled myself, I’ll jump into your mouth! ”  The Aunty Tigress actually believe the little girl and did what the sister said. The sister then poured the boiling oil from the tree and kill the Aunty Tigress.

This tale is actually a children’s story. Parents tell this story to warn their kids not to open and answer the door from strangers. Or when the children are too naughty, not going to sleep, the parents would scare them that the Aunty Tigress loves to eat naughty kids.   

famous chinese myth

Behave yourself or the Aunty Tigress will come and catch you!

These are just five of the famous Chinese myths. If you find Chinese legends and myths intriguing, don’t miss our articles! If you want to know the story about the Chinese version of “Romeo and Juliet” and other Chinese legends, stay tuned to us here on Tutorandarin blog!   

Read more relevant articles to this one: The story of Hou-Yi and Chang E, and our guest post Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival legends and the meaning behind them.

 

 

 

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