Top 10 Famous Chinese Myths

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China, a large and important country, which is developing at breakneck speed. China is the country that realizes the most innovation in technology. That’s how we see today’s China. But if you look at traditional China, you see the Chinese dragon, the zodiac, Yin and Yang. But where do these typical Chinese symbols come from? From Chinese Myths. These stories have been passed on from generation to generation, in which heroes, gods and strange creatures are central. Whether the myth stems from something that actually happened in China, you don’t know, the fact is that they are telling you a message.

1. The dragon

It should be clear that the Chinese dragon is a hero. It is a powerful divine creature, one of the four celestial beasts, master of water. It is a sign of good luck and the founder of the Imperial family. It is said that the legendary Yy Emperor (founder of the Xia Dynasty) turned into an (Emperor’s) dragon when he died and flew to heaven.

2. Chang’e and Hou Yi

Hou Yi has a potion to become immortal. Only one person can drink it. He doesn’t want to be separated from his beloved wife Chang’e, so he gives the potion to her to watch over it. One day Hou Yi is not at home. His student Feng Meng tries to steal the potion from Chang’e. Knowing she can’t protect the potion, Chang’e drinks it herself. It makes her fly to the moon. And there she is now, looking at the world. When the moon is in its brightest light, during the Chinese Moon Festival, you can try to find Chang’e on the moon.

3. Moon Rabbit

Throughout Asia, stories are told about the moon rabbit. He became a companion of Chang’e (see number 2 of this list). You can see him in images next to Chang’e on the moon. He is associated with the medics: depicted with a mortar and pestle. He constantly makes the elixir of life for Chang’e.

The rabbit was on the road with a monkey, otter and jackal on the full moon day. They believed that if they did a great virtue, they would be greatly rewarded for it. When an old man begged them for food, the monkey plucked fruit from the trees, the otter caught fish from the water, and the jackal killed a lizard for food. The rabbit, who could only fetch grass, decided to offer itself as food. He threw himself into a fire that the man had made. But he didn’t burn. The old man was moved by the virtue of the rabbit and drew a parable of the rabbit on the moon so that everyone can see Jade Rabbit forever.

4. Temple Lions

You see these stone or bronze temple lions in front of Chinese houses, palaces and temples. They are placed there to provide protection. They often stand in pairs, with the male holding a ball that symbolizes the world and the female protecting a lion cub. The male symbolizes prosperity and power, the female for caring.

5. Pangu and the Creation of the World

pangu
Pan-Gu, the primordial giant of Chinese myth, holding the symbol of yin and yang. Woodcut, 1850/1900 (?). Created 1850-1900. Work ID: a4vd4muq.Wellcome Collection

According to Chinese mythology, the big bang was created when the god Pangu broke the egg in which he was sleeping. The egg contained Yin and Yang, which were separated from each other. The lighter Yang created heaven. The dark Yin formed the earth. Pangu made sure with his hands and feet that both heaven and earth stayed in place (and still remain).

6. Nian: How the Chinese New Year Party came to be

This story tells why the Chinese New Year is celebrated with so much noise. Once upon a time there was an ugly, scary monster named Nian. He lived high in the mountains, but regularly came to a village below to hunt people. On the days that Nian came, the villagers locked themselves in their houses, that’s how scared they were. 

A wise man from the village thought it was better to stay together and chase the monster away. And they did, with the sound of drums and fireworks. Nian was startled and frightened. He started running like crazy until he was completely exhausted, allowing the villagers to kill him. And so the celebration of the New Year’s Eve began. ‘Nian’ means ‘year’ in Chinese.

7. How the Chinese Zodiac came to be

This is a popular version of how animals were assigned to the Chinese zodiac (horoscope). The Jade Emperor announced a contest to the palace to compete for the twelve places in the Chinese zodiac. The rat was supposed to wake up his neighbor the cat in the morning, but he forgot. The rat accompanied the other animals to the palace, which he did on top of the ox, which ran in front. He jumped off the ox when they arrived at the palace, so that he became the first animal of the zodiac, followed by the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the serpent, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig. The cat arrived much too late and was therefore not allowed in the zodiac. This is why the cat hates the rat so much and always tries to kill it.

8. Sun Wukong: The Monkey King

The most famous monkey in China is Sun Wukong. He is one of the main characters in a Chinese classic, in ‘The Journey to the West’. At the beginning of this story, Sun Wukong is a mean monkey, planning to take over the world. It takes Buddha a lot of effort to tame the monkey. But it works: Sun Wukon becomes a faithful companion of monk Xuanzang. He travels with him from China to India and back again, after which he, like Xuanzang, receives the status of Buddha.

9. The weaver and the cowherd: Chinese Valentine’s Day

A sad story is that of the weaver Zhinü and of the cowherd Niulang. The two fall in love, marry and have children, but when Zhinü’s mother (who is a goddess) finds out, she moves them to two sides of the galaxy . Once a year, magpies ensure that a bridge is formed between the two lovers. This day is Chinese Valentine’s Day. Although magpies are not seen as friendly in the western world, in China they symbolize love and happiness.

10. The Legend of the White Serpent

This story is set in the beautiful city of Hangzhou, which is known for its river. A white snake lives in it. She has magical powder in her possession, with which she can turn herself into a human being. When she falls in love with the high school student Xu Xuan, she must survive many obstacles before the gods agree that they can live together (as humans) forever.

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