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Heroes in Chinese Mythology. The largest category of Chinese myths concerns hero myths, describe by Derk Bodde as “those of the culture heroes who enjoy supernatural birth, are sometimes aided by protective animals, become sage rulers or otherwise perform great deeds for mankind.”

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Heroes in Chinese Mythology


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  1. Heroes in Chinese Mythology • The largest category of Chinese myths concerns hero myths, describe by Derk Bodde as “those of the culture heroes who enjoy supernatural birth, are sometimes aided by protective animals, become sage rulers or otherwise perform great deeds for mankind.” • Bodde, “Myths of Ancient China,” p. 370

  2. Derk Bodde, a famed sinologist • Derk Bodde (9 March 1909 – 3 November 2003) was a prominent 20th century American Sinologist and historian of China. He authored pioneering work in the history of the Chinese legal system. • Bodde was an emeritus Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and former president of the American Oriental Society (1968-69). • Bodde received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1930. He spent six years (1931-1937) studying in China on a fellowship. He earned a doctorate in Chinese Studies from the University of Leiden in Amsterdam in 1938. When the Fulbright scholarship program was initiated in 1948, Bodde was the first American recipient of a one-year fellowship, which he spent studying in Beijing (formerly Peking).

  3. Scholars used to the mythology of the Ju’deo-Christian tradition observe that China lacks myths in general and creation myths in particular. However in pri’mordial antiquity there were a small number of supernatural creatures who were involved in a transformation process of a cata’clysmic nature. 盘古【pángǔ】 Pan Gu, creator of the universe in Chinese mythology

  4. 盘古【pángǔ】 Pan Gu, creator of the universe in Chinese mythology • According to Xu Zheng 徐整 of the Thee Kingdoms period (early 3rd century A. D.), Pan Gu transformed the world in two ways. One of these myths says that the world was opaque like the inside of an egg, and Pan Gu was born inside it. • In 18,000 years, Heaven and Earth split open; the Yang, which was clear, became Heaven, and the Yin, which was murky, became Earth. Pan Gu was in the middle, transforming himself nine times every single day [and he performed] like a god in Heaven and like a sage on Earth. Heaven rose by one Zhang (a unit of length =3.333 meters) every day, Earth thickened by one zhang every day, and Pan Gu grew by one zhang every day. It was like this for 18,000 years. Heaven was exceedingly hight, Earth exceedingly deep, and Pan Gu exceedingly tall…Thus, heaven’s distance from Earth was 90,000 li (a Chinese unit of length (=0.5 kilometer).

  5. Ancient Heroes and Their InventionsThe Cambridge History of Ancient China, 69 • Sui Ren 燧人, Chinese Prometheus--first use of fire; • Fu Xi 伏羲--the Eight Trigrams, Wedding rituals, se-zither 瑟; hunting and fishing nets; • Shen Nong 神农, also known as Yan Di 炎帝—Qin 琴 -zither, medical plants; • Huang Di 黄帝--Cooked meals, crown; • --Xihe 羲和--Divination by the sun; • --Changyi 常儀--Divination by the moon; • --Qu 區--Divination by the stars; • --Linglun 伶倫--Musical notes; • --Darao 大橈 --Calendar by Jiazi; • --Lishou 隶首--Arithmetic; 算盤【suànpan】 abacus. • --Quyong 沮誦and Cangjie 倉頡—Writing, 象形文字 Hiero’glyphic • --Shi Huang 史皇--Graphics

  6. Ancient Heroes and Their InventionsThe Cambridge History of Ancient China, 69 • Yong Fu 雍父--Stone and wooden mortars, pestles; • Hai 胲--Domesticated cattle; • Xiangtu 相土--Horse carriage; • Nǚ Wa 女媧--The Jew’s harp; • Hui 揮--Bow; • Yimou 夷牟--Arrow; • Chiyou蚩尤 --The five weapons; • Zhurong 祝融 --The market; • Hou Ji 后稷 --Plant cultivation; • Wu 巫 /Peng彭 --Medicine; • Wu Xian 巫咸 --Yarrow divination; drum, 蓍属(Achillea)植物;尤指:the common 蓍(Achillea millefolium) • Shun 舜 --Pottery; • Chui垂--Wooden digging sticks; bell; • Gun 鲧 --The town wall; • Yao 堯--The Palace;

  7. 龙的传人【lóngde chuánrén】Descendant of the Dragon • In the beginning there was as yet no moral or social order. Men knew their mothers only, not their fathers. When hungry, they searched for food; when satisfied, they threw away the remnants. They devoured their food hide and hair, drank the blood, and clad themselves in skins and rushes. Then came Fu Xi and looked upward and contemplated the images in the heavens, and looked downward and contemplated the occurrences on earth. He united man and wife, regulated the five stages of change, and laid down the laws of humanity. He devised the eight trigrams, in order to gain mastery over the world. • – Ban Gu, Baihu tongyi • Fu Xi on a mural in Peterborough

  8. Shen Nong/Flame EmperorShennong‎ ploughing the fields. Mural painting from Han dynasty • Shennong counterattacked the Busui/Fusui over resources to protect his people. This is the earliest military battle indirectly inferred from Sun Bin’s Treatise on the art of war. • 神农/ 神戎伐补遂/斧遂 • 这次战争见于银雀山汉墓竹简《孙膑兵法.见威王》和《战国策.秦策》。据记载:孙膑为了说服齐威王用兵,列举了许多古代战例,首先就谈及“神戎战斧遂”。苏秦说秦惠王连横,同样以“神农伐斧遂”作为最古老的战争讲述

  9. 炎黄子孙【yánhuáng zǐsūn】Yandi and Huangdi's children and grandchildren; descendants of Flame the Emperor and Yellow Emperor

  10. Emperor Huang (Huang Di) • Huang-di, 黃帝or the Yellow Emperor, is a legendary Chinese sovereign and cultural hero who is considered in Chinese mythology to be the ancestor of all Han Chinese. Tradition holds that he reigned from 2697 BC to 2597 BC. His personal name was said to be Gōngsūn Xuānyuán (公孙轩辕). He emerged as a chief deity of Taoism during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE).

  11. The South Pointing ChariotReconstruction of a South Pointing Chariot

  12. A Vehicle/Chariot a non-magnetic compass • The South Pointing Chariot is widely regarded as one of the most complex geared mechanisms of the ancient Chinese civilization, and was continually used throughout the medieval period as well. It was supposedly invented sometime around 2600 BC in China by the Yellow Emperor, yet the first valid historical version was created by Ma Jun 馬鈞 (c. 200–265 AD) of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms. The chariot is a two-wheeled vehicle upon which is a pointing figure connected to the wheels by means of differential gearing. Through careful selection of wheel size, track and gear ratios, the figure atop the chariot will always point in the same direction, hence acting as a non-magnetic compass vehicle. According to Records of the Grand Historian, the Yellow Emperor defeated Chi Youduring the Battle of Zhuolu (~2500 BC) with the help of this invention on a foggy day—fog created by Chi You.

  13. Chinese Mythology Studies山海经【shānhǎijīng】 the Classic of Mountains and Rivers • The Shanhai jing has beenvariously classified as ageographical treatise and as a work of fiction. It is a rich collection of myths and legends, some of which may be of early date. Many of the entries are of supernatural and fabulous occurrences. The present edition is divided into eighteen sections, each of which is named by the general geographical area purportedly described in the section. • The Shanhai jing traditionally has been attributed to the sage emperor Yu 禹 or his assistant Boyi. The work now is considered to be a composite text of materials from different periods, the earliest of which may have been put together around the fourth century. B. C. The existence of Han time place names indicates that material was still being added to the text in the Han period.

  14. Kua Fu chasing the sun (夸父追日) • One day out of the blue, Kua Fu (literally means a bragging father) was perplexed by the Sun's whereabouts at night and decided to chase and catch the Sun. He followed the Sun from the East to the West, draining all rivers and lakes crossing his path as sources of water to quench his burning thirst. • However, he wasn't able to finish his quest because he died of the extreme thirst and exhaustion. • The wooden club/staff he was carrying grew into a vast forest…(peach trees)

  15. In modern day Chinese usage, the story of Kua Fu chasing the sun (夸父追日) is used to describe a person who fails to obtain his goal because he greatly overestimates himself. In its positive sense, the story praises someone for his grand aspiration/ambition/ideal. Two Interpretations

  16. Nüwa女媧 is a goddess in ancient Chinese mythology, best known for creating mankind and repairing the roof of heaven. Later traditions attribute mankind's creation to either Pangu or Yu Huang. 龙的传人 Descendants of the Dragon; “Foot” in Chinese culture the original measurement of the English foot was from King Henry I (c. 1068/1069 – 1 December 1135) , who had a foot 12 inches long; he wished to standardize the unit of measurement in England. Nüwa and Fuxi as depicted from murals of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)

  17. Houyi Shot Down Nine Suns • Houyi (Chinese: 后羿), also simply called Yi, was a mythological Chinese archer and the leader of Dongyi 東夷 . He is sometimes portrayed as a god of archery descended from heaven to aid mankind, and sometimes as the chief of the Youqiong Tribe (有窮國) during the reign of King Xiang of Xia Dynasty. His wife, Chang'e, was a lunar deity. • In Chinese mythology, the sun is sometimes symbolized as a three-legged bird, called a Sun-bird.

  18. Mural from the Han Dynasty period found in Henan province depicting a three-legged bird. According to folklore, there were originally ten sun birds who perched on a red mulberry tree called the Fusang (Chinese: 扶桑; pinyin: fúsāng) in the East at the foot of the Valley of the Sun. Three-legged Sun Birds

  19. 淮南子【Huáinánzǐ】, literally means"The Masters/Philosophers of Huainan" • The Huainanzi is a 2nd century BCE Chinese philosophical classic from the Han dynasty that blends Daoist, Confucianist, and Legalist concepts, including theories such as Yin-Yang and the Five Phases/Elements. It was written under the patronage of Liu An, Prince of Huainan, a legendarily prodigious author. 刘安(前179-前122),汉高祖刘邦的孙子,袭封淮南王。The text, also known as the Huainan honglie淮南鸿烈 ("The Great Brilliance of Huainan"), is a collection of essays presented as resulting from literary and philosophical debates between Liu and guests at his court, in particular the scholars known as the Eight Immortals of Huainan 淮南八仙 .

  20. The Eight Immortals of Huainan (淮南八仙 • The Eight Immortals of Huainan (淮南八仙; Huáinán bāxiān), also known as the Eight Gentlemen (八公 bāgōng), were the eight scholars under the patronage of Liu An (劉安 Liú Ān), the prince of Huainan during the Western Han Dynasty. They are not deified in any religions and the xian "immortal" is used metaphorically to describe their talent. Together, they wrote the philosophical collection Huainanzi (淮南子, Huáinánzǐ, literally "The Masters of Huainan"). • They are: • Jin Chang (晉昌 jǐn chāng), • Lei Bei (雷被 leí beì), • Li Shang (李尚 lǐ shàng), • Mao Bei (毛被 máo beì), • Su Fei (蘇非 sū feì), • Tian You (田由 tián yoú), • Wu Bei (伍被 wǔ beì), and • Zuo Wu (左吳 zǔo wú). • The "Bagong Mountain" ("Eight Gentlemen Mountain") in China is named after them.

  21. 塞翁失马,焉知非福 【sāiwēngshīmǎ, yānzhīfēifú】 Misfortune may be an actual blessing. 《淮南子· 人间训》 The parable goes that one day an old man lost his horse. When his folks remarked, “That’s too bad,” he replied, “How do you know whether it’s not a blessing?” When his horse was retrieved, the old man commented, “How do you know if it is not a curse?” 【塞】边塞,指长城一带; 【翁】老翁;【失】丢失; 【马】马匹; When the horse was returned, his son broke his leg from horse riding. “That’s too bad,” his folks shook their heads. The old man responded, “How do you know if it is not a blessing?” Before long, a war broke out. His son did not get drafted due to his disability. 塞翁失马A blessing in disguise

  22. Ancient Sage Kingshttp://ctext.org/shang-shu • Often extolled as the morally perfect sage-king, Emperor Yao 's benevolence and diligence served as a model to future Chinese monarchs and emperors. • Consult “The Canon of Yao”

  23. Yu the GreatTaming the Yellow Riverhttp://ctext.org/shang-shu/tribute-of-yu • Yu the Great (大禹 Dà-Yǔ), was the legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty that began in 2205 BCE. He is best remembered for teaching the people techniques to tame rivers and lakes during an epic flood.

  24. Three Ancient Sage Kings--Rule by Virtue Yao/Shun/Yu What is the limit of this model? How to pass the throne to the next generation? Moral strengths vs. blood line Rule by VirtueHow to Pass the Power