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Asian Creation Myths
Last Updated: Sunday, February 03, 2002
The creation myths from this region are very old, and there are many variations. There are six variations of the Chinese myths. For a more complete rendition of them see "Chinese Myths" by Anne Birrell. The myths given below are from the oldest written version (5th century B.C.) to the more recent written version (3rd century A.D.).
There are parallels in these myths to those of other cultures. One of the Chinese myths talks of the separation of the sky from the earth by the air which is so similar to the Egyptian that scholars suspect it was picked up by the Chinese via tribes of Central Asia.
In the beginning Nu Gua made 70 transformations, and on each transformation another part of the cosmos was created, and then every living thing. Her guts transformed into ten deities called collectively Guts-of-Woman-Regenerating-Insect (Wan Nu Gua).
Nu Gua also created humans. She carefully shaped yellow clay making human images which she breathed into and they came alive. This was very slow work so when she got tired of making humans this way she dragged a rope through mod and slung the excesss mud off with a flick of her wrist. The mud fell as blobs close enough in human shape for her to animate. The yellow people were the aristocrats and the mud people were the peasants, merchants and artisans. This is the divine order she created in human society which cannot be tampered with.
In the beginning there was the god of Chaos (Hundun) who ruled the center of the world, with the gods of the south and north waters. Hundun had no face, just a golden colored sack of a body and 4 wings and 6 feline four-toed feet, each of these limbs colored cinnabar.
The lords of the south and the north water visted Hundun often, and in order to repay him for his generous and gracious hosting offered to carve him a face. Hundun agreed.
The lords of the south and north waters visited Hundun seven days in a row. This is what they did each day:
On the first and second day they carved his eyes. On the third and fourth day they carved his nostrils. On the fifth and sixth day they carved his ears. And on the seventh day they carved his mouth.
He died, and the world as we know it was born. (Told by Zhuang Zi of the 4th century B.C. as a warning of the danger of political interference with the natural order and as an example of the consequence of misguided charity.)
The earliest version of this story is that in the beginning there was a vapor which permeated the whole cosmos. Two cosmic forces emerged out of this vapor, Yin and Yang. Where they touched each other the universe as we know it started to emerge. The sky appeared as a round canopy covering the four sided flat earth bound together by the cords fastened to large mountains (or pillars). Nu Gua in one variation of a flood/fire myth had to repair this earth. See flood myths.
In a different version of this creation myth, the Yin and Yang are given more detailed descriptions. The Yin is cold/dark/shaded/heavy/feminine/passive, while the Yang is hot/light/sunny/ehtereal,masculine and active. Their interaction gave the four seasons and the sky and earth bound together as described above. Yang gave birth to fire and sun; Yin gave birth to water, the moon, and the stars.
Coiled Antiquity (Pan Gu):
There is also two versions of this story.
In one, in the beginning was a huge egg containing chaos and a mixture of yin-yang. After 18,000 years the egg separated into Yang and Yin. The Yang rose to form the sky, and the Yin fell to form the earth. As they separated they left Pang Gu between them. Pang Gu metamorphized nine times and became as divine and as wise as the Yin and the Yang. Pang Gu was the first human who after another 18,000 years had matured into their maximum size, and formed a trinity of Sky, Humankind and Earth. Eventually Three Sovereign Deities emerged and fixed the cosmic distances by first inventing numbers and then all of mathematics.
The other version, the official state sanctioned one in times past, tells how Pan Gu as he lay dying gave up his breath which became the wind and the clouds. He gave up his voice as thunder. His eyes becae the sun and the moon. His arms and legs the mountains. His flesh turned into soil, while the water in his body became the rivers and rain. His head hair became the stairs, his body hair became vegetation. His teeth, bones and marrow tunred into minerals. And the insects on his body (especially fleas and lice) turned into human beings.
It is said that there were no men when the sky and the earth were separated. It was Nü Wa (Emperor Yandi's youngest daughter) who made men by moulding yellow clay. The work was so taxing that her strength was not equal to it. So she dipped a rope into the mud and then lifted it. The mud that dripped from the rope also became men. Those made by moulding yellow clay were rich and noble, while those dripping off the rope were poor and low. Note: From Tai ping yu lan (Taiping Anthologies for the Emperor)
In the beginning the earth was a shapeless mass. Then the god Izanagi and the goddess Izanami were given the job of stirring this mass with a long, jeweled spear. As they stirred, the mixture thickened and dropped off the spear point and hardened into an island. On the island the god and goddess were married and had children. These offspring included the eight islands of Japan, many gods and goddesses, and finally the sun-goddess Amaterasu. From her descended the emperors of Japan.
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