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Chinese Myths and Fantasies (2)


Features of Chinese Mythology
Scholars and critics have written about the special features of Chinese mythology. Among the most obvious are:

  • Mythical stories are entwined with history.

    The history of the long period before recorded history began is partly based on legend, which is interwoven with mythology. Such ancient heroes and leaders as Fuxi, Shennong, Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) and Yu are both historical figures according to legend and important characters in mythical stories.
    • They extol erseverance and self-sacrifice.

    One typical example is the story of Gun and Yu trying to tame the floods. Gun steals the "growing earth" from the Heavenly God with which to stop the floods, but the god has him killed. Out of his belly Yu is born, who continues his cause. Yu goes through countless hardships, remains unmarried until he is thirty, and leaves his wife only four days after their wedding to fight the floods, and finally brings them under control.

  • They praise rebellion against oppression.
    One such story is about a boy whose eyebrows are one foot apart.Ganjiang, who is good at making swords, is killed by the king of Chu. His son Chibi is determined to take revenge. For this he kills himself so that a friend may take his head to see the king and then kill him.
    • They eulogize the yearning for true love.

    "The Cowherd and the Girl Weaver" is certainly one of China's earliest love stories. Many of the mythical stories written by intellectuals tell stories of how men and goddesses, fox fairies or ghost women love each other passionately and sincerely. Such stories reflect, in an indirect way, the yearning for true love when it was stifled by feudal ethical codes.

  • They encourage good deeds and warn against sin.

    This is an important theme of the mythical stories produced after the Wei and Jin. Their writers may have been motivated by Confucian teachings about humanity and righteousness, and the Buddhist tenet that good will be rewarded with good and evil repaid with evil.

    All these features add up, perhaps, to one prevailing characteristic: China's mythical stories, either those created by the primitive people or those written by later scholars, are full of human feelings. Gods, ghosts, foxes and spirits are commonly described as living things with human qualities and human feelings. Chinese 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.

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