Chinese Pangu (盘古 Pángǔ)

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Traditional Creation Accounts


Pangu (Pángǔ)

In some Chinese creation accounts, Pangu is the first living being. He is described as creating all other living beings. The earliest account of Pangu is during the Three Kingdom periods (184 – 228), after the Han and before the Jin dynasty. Our earliest account of Pangu comes from Xu Zheng, an eastern Wu official and a Daoist author.

The primordial chaos.

As in other creation accounts, including the Genesis account found in the Judeo - Christian scriptures, in the very beginning the cosmos was characterized by the total chaos. It took exactly 18,000 years for this cosmos to coalesce into a cosmic egg. Many cultures utilize the image of a cosmic egg to describe the earliest condition of the universe. The common theme is that a type of primordial being emerges from the egg. This egg is often viewed as floating on the surface of the ocean. We find versions of this primordial chaos in the creation accounts of India, Greece, Egypt, in the Middle East.

Pangu’s role.

In the Chinese creation account it was Pangu who was hatched inside the egg during the 18,000 years when it was formed. Inside the egg two forces of Yin and Yang were perfectly balanced. When he emerged, he swung an ax and broke the egg into two parts. Thus he separated Yin and Yang. Yin became the Earth and Yang became the sky. He pushed upwards and made the sky grow thicker. As he pushed upwards and the sky grew thicker he himself grew taller. The same thing happened when he pushed downwards. The earth became thicker and he grew even taller. This process also took 18 thousand years. In some of the accounts, Pangu was assisted by the four most important animals of Chinese mythology: the Dragon, the Turtle, the Phoenix, and the mythical Qilin, which is similar to the unicorn of western mythology.

Pangu himself was half human and half animal in his form. His body had here like an ape and he had horns on his head. Because he grew along with the sky and the earth , Pangu eventually became a giant .

Pangu died after 18,000 years and his body parts turned into different parts of the earth. Clouds and wind emerged from his breath. The sun came from his left eye and the Moon from his right eye. Rivers were formed from his blood. Thunder came from his voice. Mountains were formed from his head. The stars were formed from the hair on his face. His bones became minerals and diamonds.

Nuwa (nỳ wá)

Another origin accounts focuses on the female deity Nuwa. When Nuwa comes on the scene, the world had already been created. She was not present during the period of primeval chaos. Instead, the world had already been formed. However the battle between two powerful enemies created chaos. It was not the primeval chaos, but rather a chaos that came later and destroyed the original harmony in the world.

The story about Nuwa actually comes before the story of Pangu. It is found in the collection of writings called the Huainanzi that were composed more than 100 years before the earliest accounts we have of Pangu.

The battle between two hostile deities, Gonggong and Zhuanxu had catastrophic results for the earth. Though these are described as deities, the rule is demonic. They function as though they were evil spirits. They upset the dual balance in the cosmos. There were four pillars that supported the earth. And the earth in turn, along its conference, supported the sky. The battle between these demonic forces caused the pillars of the earth to topple and fall over. As a result , heaven and earth shifted away from each other. The sky no longer covered the earth. Therefore earth could no longer support the sky along its circumference. Thus the support of the earth had been removed, and as a consequence the earth could no longer support the sky. They were fires and floods. Innocent people were being eaten by animals. Ferocious flesh eating birds were killing old and weak people.

Nuwa saw all of this and decided to intervene. She fixed the sky by joining together five precious colored stones, symbolizing the five basic materials in the cosmos: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. She restored the blue color of the sky. She utilized the great turtle to fix the earth; she cut off the turtle’s legs and fashioned them to become the four pillars of the earth. She killed the black dragon and created vegetative barriers to stop the flooding.

Thus Nuwa emerges as a merciful female deity who felt compassion for humans who were being killed because of the battle between hostile deities. This female deity did not create the earth; she repaired it. (There is an analogy between the role of Nuwa In Chinese tradition and that of the Virgin Mary in Roman Catholic tradition. Neither were creators; both were restorers.)

Later, In the middle of the 9th century, there emerged other accounts that depict Nuwa as marrying her older brother Fuxi. Their dwelling was on the top of a mountain (K’un-lun). No other ordinary people yet lived on the earth. The two siblings were embarrassed to marry each other. So they preyed on the top of the mountain. The deity that they addressed was Heaven. They asked heaven to show approval for their marriage by sending mist. If heaven disapproved, then the mist should disappear. They thus became a husband and wife. But they were still ashamed, so the hid from each other’s faces by placing a fan between them. Some interpret that to be the origin of the Chinese custom of holding a fan at a wedding.

In another account, around the 10th century or later, it is said that Nuwa creative people out of the yellow clay.

Just as Pangu is depicted as part human and part animal, so also Nuwa and Fuxi are depicted as being snakelike in the lower parts of their bodies. In a novel written during the Ming dynasty, Nuwa is referred to as the snake goddess.

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