Documents Related to Myths and Legends in Early Ages Chinese myths and legends are scattered among many ancient Chinese documents and wait to be discovered. Without knowledge of the documents that record Chinese myths and legends, one would find it extremely hard to discover the myths and legends in so much material. Among all the ancient Chinese documents, The Classic of Mountains and Rivers is the most valuable for mythological studies. Being called “the origin of myths” by later generations, it is the ancient document that records the largest number of myths in the pre-Qin period. For example, stories about Xihe giving birth to the sun, Changxi giving birth to the moon, Kuafu racing with the sun, Jingwei trying to fill up the sea with pebbles, Gun giving birth to Yu, Xingtian fighting against Emperor Huang, and Emperor Huang fighting against Chiyou are all from The Classic of Mountains and Rivers. But most ancient Chinese considered it a geographical book detailing the real conditions of the world. Few people realized it was a book that recorded geographical knowledge in the form of myths. This book records many myths and legends. The Classic of Mountains and Rivers, with rich content and bizarre descriptions, records many monsters, strange people and things. In the chapter about the north, there is the god of thunders who has a man’s head, a dragon’s body, and a potbelly; the god of wood who has a man’s face, a bird’s body, and rides two dragons; and the god of Zhongshan who has a man’s face and a snake’s body that is thousands of li long. In the chapter about the west, there is a country where people have only one arm (Fig. 1-1), one eye, and one nostril; a country where people have one arm and three eyes and ride flying carts; and many other strange countries. In The Classic of Mountains and Rivers, there are countless strange things. Many myths in this book are only fragments, but some of them already have clear outlines. These stories comprise a magical world. 130918.indd 1 2016-05-13 13:10:26 2 Fig. 1-1 “The One-Arm Country”, The Classic of Mountains and Rivers: The Book on Haixi (Jiang’s version) (copied by Zeng Shucong) There are many countries overseas. One is called the One-Arm Country and located in the north of the Country of Three Bodies. In this country, people have only one arm, one eye, and one nostril. In the picture, people ride yellow horses which have tiger stripes and one hand-shaped fore-hoof.
Behind these imaginative and strange stories lie the culture, traditions, and ideals of the early ages of the human society. They also reflect the ancient Chinese exploration of the world. Huainanzi is also called Huainan Honglie or Liuanzi. It is a book written by scholars organized by Liu An (Fig. 1-2), the King of Huainan in the Western Han Dynasty. In terms of mythological value, this book ranks only after The Classic of Mountains and Rivers. This book contains a huge number of myths, for example, the 36 foreign countries, the Kunlun Mountains, and the nine states and eight poles. The greatest contribution of this book is its preservation of the most famous four Chinese myths: Nüwa mending the sky, Gonggong hitting the Buzhou Mountain, Hou Yi shooting the sun, and Chang'e flying to the moon. These four myths are mentioned by many books before Huainanzi, but only in passing. In Huainanzi, the stories are told in detail. The Biography of Emperor Mu, or The Travel Journal of Emperor Mu, is a document containing myths from the Western Zhou Dynasty. This book (Fig. 1-3) is mainly about Emperor Mu’s journey to the country ruled by Western Queen Mother, and the welcome banquet she hosted. During this journey, Emperor Mu, accompanied by the elite of Zhou, rides a horsedrawn cart driven by Zaofu (Fig. 1-4), and Boyao serves as the guide. This 130918.indd 2 2016-05-13 13:10:26 3 and Legends Chinese Myths Fig. 1-2 Liu An, the King of Huainan of the Western Han Dynasty, illustration from Qianque Reference Book on Outstanding Personalities (Volume 1) Liu An, thinker and writer of the Western Han Dynasty, lived in Feng County of Jiangsu Province. He liked reading books and provided accommodation to thousands of visiting scholars, who compiled books such as Huainanzi. Taking Daoism as a guiding principle, Huainanzi records various theories from different schools. When illustrating philosophies, it often refers to supernatural beings. In this way, Huainanzi preserves some myths and legends.