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Myths and Legends of China

Page: 26

To set forth in detail the various phases through which Chinese myth has passed would involve a technical description foreign to the purpose of a popular work. It will sufficiently serve our present purpose to outline its most prominent features.

In the earliest times there was an ‘age of magic’ followed by an ‘heroic age,’ but myths were very rare before 800 B.C., and what is known as primitive mythology is said to have been invented or imitated from foreign sources after 820 B.C. In the eighth century B.C. myths of an astrological character began to attract Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu

It is unnecessary to labour the point further, because after the Sung epoch we do not meet with any period of new mythological creation, and its absence can be ascribed to no other cause than its defeat at the hands of the Sung philosophers. After their time the tender plant was always in danger of being stunted or killed by the withering blast of philosophical criticism. Anything in the nature of myth ascribable to post-Sung times can at best be regarded only as a late blossom born when summer days are past.

Myth and Doubt

It will bear repetition to say that unless the myth-builder firmly believes in his myth, be he the layer of the foundation-stone or one of the raisers of the superstructure, he will hardly make it a living thing. Once he believes in reincarnation and the suspension of natural Page 74laws, the boundless vistas of space and the limitless æons of time are opened to him. He can perform miracles which astound the world. But if he allow his mind to inquire, for instance, why it should have been necessary for Elijah to part the waters of the Jordan with his garment in order that he and Elisha might pass over dryshod, or for Bodhidharma to stand on a reed to cross the great Yangtzŭ River, or for innumerable Immortals to sit on ‘favourable clouds’ to make their journeys through space, he spoils myth—his child is stillborn or does not survive to maturity. Though the growth of philosophy and decay of superstition may be good for a nation, the process is certainly conducive to the destruction of its myth and much of its poetry. The true mythologist takes myth for myth, enters into its spirit, and enjoys it.


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