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Selected Mythical Stories

Ancient Chinese myths were not recorded in a systematic way in any work, and, as a result, only fragments of them are extant today.

Fortunately, many classical works of the pre-Qin period and the Han Dynasties, such as the Zhuangzi, the Liezi, the Huainanzi, the Chronicles by Zuo Qiuming, Conversations from the States, and above all, the Book of Mountains and Seas, contain fragments and excerpts of ancient mythical stories, which make up a beautiful and fascinating part of our classical literature.

Below are some of the myths most known even to children. They are short but vivid. As you will see, most of the main characters in these mythical stories are gods, ghost foxes and spirits with human qualities and human feelings.

Pangu Separates the Sky from the Earth

The sky and the earth were at first one blurred entity like an egg. Pangu was born into it. The separation of the sky and the earth took eighteen thousand years-the yang which was light and pure rose to become the sky, and the yin which was heavy and murky sank to form the earth. Between them was Pangu, who went through nine changes every day, his wisdom greater than that of the sky and his ability greater than that of the earth. Every day the sky rose ten feet higher, the earth became ten feet thicker, and Pangu grew ten feet taller. Another eighteen thousand years passed, and there was an extremely high sky, an extremely thick earth, and an extremely tall Pangu. Then came the Three Emperors(1).

So these numbers came into existence and evolve like this. The numb or begins with one, becomes established at three, is completed at five, prospers at seven, and ends in nine. So the sky is ninety thousand li(2) from the earth.

Jingwei Determines to Fill up the Sea

On Fajiu Hill grew a lot of mulberry trees. Among them lived a bird which looked like a crow, but had a colourful head, a white bill and two red claws. Its call sounded like its name: Jingwei. The bird was said to be Emperor Yandi's youngest daughter, who, while playing on the East Sea, had been drowned and never returned. She had turned into Jingwei, and the bird would often carry bits of twigs and stones all the way from the west mountains to the East Sea to fill it up.

                                                                        from Shan haijing (Book of Mountains and Seas)

Li Bing Fights the River Deity

When King Zhao of Qin conquered Shu(1), he appointed Li Bing governor of the area. At that time there in the river was a river deity, who each year demanded two virgins as his wives. One day, the official responsible for the matter came to report to Li, "This time a million copper coins must be collected to buy two women for the deity." "Don't worry," Li Bing comforted him, "I have got girls for him already." When the day came, Li had his two daughters properly dressed, ready to be thrown into the river. He stepped onto the terrace for the ceremony and poured a libation, saying, "Today, I am greatly honoured to become a relation of yours. Please, my River God, come out and honour the occasion with your respected presence, and allow me to propose a toast to you." After saying these words, Li emptied his cup, put it down and waited. The wine in the cup for the deity, however, only stirred a little and remained full to the brim. Flying into a rage at this, Li said in a stern voice, "Since you look down upon me so, I have no choice but to fight you." Li drew out his sword, and the next moment disappeared. Quite a while later, two grey buffaloes were seen fighting on the other side of the river. Soon, Li reappeared, ordering his subordinates to help him, saying, "The buffalo facing south with a white stripe on the middle part of his body is me. That is the ribbon for my seal." Then he disappeared again to go back to his fight. Finally, his chief secretary killed the buffalo facing north. That was the end of the river deity and all the trouble he had caused.

                                                         from Tai ping yu lan (Taiping Anthologies for the Emperor)

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