Mythology is a collection of myths or the study of ancient traditional stories of gods or heroes, giving an explanation to an unexplained event. For Plato, the fist known user of the term, muthologia meant know more than the telling of stories (Kirk 8). Mythology is an important aspect to the world, today. Through the study of myths help us develop an idea of what the cultures were like. It includes hints that exhibit how they lived their lives. Myth is its serious purpose and its importance to the culture (Lansford 1).
Every culture has its own myth that explains about the nature of that particular culture. The Chinese culture has been around for many centuries, its myths have accumulated into varies stories of gods and their culture. China is the world’s oldest continuous civilization (Cotterel 9). Evidence show the earliest Chinese civilization to be found around 1650 B. C. The beginnings of Chinese mythology, started around the Wei and Jin Dynasties. Influenced by alchemist ideas, Taoist and Buddhist superstitions, various writers created storied about their enigmatic surroundings.
The beginning of the Chinese civilization is based on mythology. One of the creation myths is about the beginning of the world. In it, the world began as an egg and cracking open, the top of the shell grew to be the sky, the lower shell became the Earth, and in the middle stepped a man named P’an-gu. Mythology of the ancient Chinese is apparent through art, music and literature. Since, there is no explanation of how the Chinese civilization began; mythology has been a way of explanation to the Chinese culture and other cultures around the world, today.
Chinese mythology, as with many other cultures, has many gods and goddesses that are in charge of various things. In the Ancient Chinese culture, there are gods and goddesses for every important aspect of the people’s life, even things as unlikely as the stove god and the door god. Other deities that were important to the Chinese people were the gods of the elements such as Chu Jung, the fire god, Lei Kun, the thunder god, the wind god, and the lightning goddess. Most of the element gods devoted themselves to punishing criminals and keeping evil spirits away.
There were also important gods in charge of fields such as Kuan Ti, the god of war, Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion, T’Shai-shen, the god of wealth and Tsao hsang, god of the hearth. Although there gods were very important to the Chinese people, one of the most important gods was Nu wa, the mother goddess. She was a compassionate goddess who created mankind and bestowed love and creation to them. She helped her people when they were in need, like when she created rice from her own milk and blood in order to feed her people.
She was very humble and a modest goddess, not wanting credit for her benevolence. The gods and goddesses of Chinese mythology were basically deities that symbolized the good and just qualities that people should imitate in their everyday life. The basis of Chinese life was a belief in harmony and balance (Williams 20). The Chinese believed in harmony with nature, and sometimes honored the spirits with gifts, feasts, and rituals. The Chinese believed the souls of the dead returned (Williams 20), a concept of Buddhism. The family held Chinese society together (Williams 20).
In China, many generations of families lived together, even in the same house, and the children were taught to respect and obey their elders (Williams 20). As in all cultures, men were ? superior’ to women in China. Parents believed they would become gods after they died, if they had a son (Williams 21). This belief was taken fiercely to the point that the parents would kill a newborn female. A custom that the upper-class women followed was of foot binding, which was believed to make the foot appear tiny, since the culture considered small feet feminine and delicate.
The most important festival in China was the Chinese New Year, it is held in the spring of each year. During this festival, offerings were given to the sprits. In China, the color white is considered the mourning color and the children showed respect for dead parents by fasting and wearing thick clothes (Williams 21). Most beliefs and customs of the Chinese culture appear from the religions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The Chinese culture has a long history of beliefs and customs, which are used by the generations before and now.
It is highly unlikely that the generations to come would not be following the same beliefs and customs of the ancient Chinese. The origin of religion goes back to prehistoric times when the earliest people of China sought answers to the same basic questions that have baffled primitive men over the world: what is the unseen force that brings darkness and light, winter and summer, drought and rain, life and death; what must men do to appease this force? (Schafer 57) Ancient China has three main religions Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
Confucius was concerned mostly with laws made by people, and whether people were naturally good or naturally evil. In contrast, the followers of Lao-tzu believed people were guided by universal laws, not human ones. This was the basis of Taoism (Williams 18). Taoists tried to live a life of simplicity and meditation close to nature. Taoism was mystical and influenced by ancient Chinese folk religion. Its followers used magic as well as prayer and diet to seek eternal youth (Williams 19). Taoists were peaceful people who generally lived peaceful lives.
Buddhists follow the teachings of Buddha (born 563 B. C. ), a north Indian prince who devoted his life to a search for personal peace, or enlightenment. The name Buddha means “enlightened one”. He believed that by giving up worldly desires, such as for fine food and clothes, a blissful state called nirvana could be achieved. In nirvana there was freedom from sorrows of the world. Indian belief as that time held that people were reborn many times. Persons who had lived badly in former lives might be born in an animal or insect form.
Buddha said that by reaching nirvana, this endless cycle of rebirth could be broken (Cotterell 27). Buddhists follow an “eight-fold path,” this is like a code by which they live. Confucianism came in earlier than Taoism and Chinese Buddhism. The so-called Confucian classics were, in fact, complied long after the death of Confucius by disciples of his disciples, and were edited and interpreted in Han times by government scribes; but they purport to reflect the views of the great sage of antiquity on history, religious rites, morals, and standards of behavior.
The state officers of Han times accepted these interpretations and associated them with the standardized pagan nature worship of state cult as a part of the acceptable way of life for a Han gentleman. We in the west sometimes call this way of life, which includes both reverence for the ? ancient’ books and the ? ancient’ gods, ? Confucianism’ (Schafer 60-61). Confucianism flourished in China as so did the other religions. The Chinese were inquisitive people, always inventing and always wondering how things worked.
It is only logical for them to generate religions that explain how life is and how it will be in the afterlife. In Chinese mythology, myths and legends deal with aspects of human nature, human relations and social life (Owens). Chinese myths use human traits, like emotion, to convey lessons. The myth on the creation of man clearly depicts the basics of a Chinese myth. After P’an-gu, creator of the world, died and his body transformed into different elements of the Earth, Nu wa, the dragon goddess, came down from heavens and admired P’an-gu’s creation. In order to honor P’an-gu’s sacrifice to the Earth, Nu wa decided to create humans.
She started to make them out of yellow clay, but since it took much of her strength, she dipped a rope into the mud and when she took it out, the drips became people. Her clay and mud people were not alive, so her heart took pity and she breathed her divine breath into them. She also whispered thoughts of love and creation into their ears and told them to reproduce. The people made of yellow clay became the rich and the people Nu wa made of mud became the poor. This myth explains many aspects of human life. It explains how the social classes came to be and also human emotions.
Nu wa shows human emotions like honor, when she was determined to let P’an-gu’s death not be in vain; in compassion, she breathed her divine breath into each and every human. This myth represents human relations because Nu wa put ideas of love and procreation into the human race’s mind. These Chinese myths explain how the good and bad came to be and how a person should live a happy a fulfilling life. Mythology is not a subject that should be ignored. It is an important subject that should be learned and understood by all cultures so that as a world, we can come to understand each other better.
The first step in hatred is fear. Fear of the unknown can generate more hate than anyone could possibly fathom. If everyone became educated about other culture, there would be little to know unknown, and there would probably be less hate in the world. Mythology, the study of myths, gives people an insight to others dreams, hopes, and their fears. We all have hopes, dreams, and fears. By learning about other cultures’ hopes, dreams, and fears we can feel more connected to each other and reach out. Mythology is a key element in keeping peace without shedding blood. Work Cited Cotterel, Arthur.
Ancient China. Kirk, Geoffrey Stephen. Myth: its meaning and functions in ancient and other culture California; University of California Press. 1970 Lansford, Tyler. “Mythology” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2002. Microsoft Corporation, 2002 Owens, D. W. “Ancient Chinese Mythology: Gods and goddess folklore” Google. com. November 5, 2003 Schafer, Edward H. Ancient China. New York; Time Inc. 1967 Williams, Brians. Ancient China. Middlesex, England; Reed Educational and Professional Publishing, Ltd. 1996.
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