Myths and Legends of China

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Early Cosmogony Dualistic

The period before the appearance of the P’an Ku myth may be divided into two parts; that from some early unknown date up to about the middle of the Confucian epoch, say 500 B.C., and that from 500 B.C. to A.D. 400. We know that during the latter period the minds of Chinese scholars were frequently occupied with speculations as to the origin of the universe. Before 500 B.C. we have no documentary remains telling us what the Chinese believed about the origin of things; but it is exceedingly unlikely that no theories or speculations at all concerning the origin of themselves and their surroundings were formed by this intelligent people during the eighteen centuries or more which preceded the date at which we find the views held by them put into written form. It is safe to assume that the dualism which later occupied their philosophical thoughts to so great an extent as almost to seem inseparable from them, and exercised so powerful an influence throughout the course of their history, was not only formulating itself during that long period, but had gradually reached an advanced stage. We may even go so far as to say that dualism, or its beginnings, existed in the very earliest times, for the belief in the second self or ghost or double of the dead is in reality nothing else. And we find it operating with apparently undiminished energy after the Chinese mind had reached its maturity in the Sung dynasty. Page 84

The Canon of Changes

The Bible of Chinese dualism is the I ching, the Canon of Changes (or Permutations). It is held in great veneration both on account of its antiquity and also because of the “unfathomable wisdom which is supposed to lie concealed under its mysterious symbols.” It is placed first in the list of the classics, or Sacred Books, though it is not the oldest of them. When exactly the work itself on which the subsequent elaborations were founded was composed is not now known. Its origin is attributed to the legendary emperor Fu Hsi (2953–2838 B.C.). It does not furnish a cosmogony proper, but merely a dualistic system as an explanation, or attempted explanation, or even perhaps orly a record, of the constant changes (in modern philosophical language the “redistribution of matter and motion”) going on everywhere. That explanation or record was used for purposes of divination. This dualistic system, by a simple addition, became a monism, and at the same time furnished the Chinese with a cosmogony.

The Five Elements

The Five Elements or Forces (wu hsing)—which, according to the Chinese, are metal, air, fire, water, and wood—are first mentioned in Chinese literature in a chapter of the classic Book of History.6 They play a very important part in Chinese thought: ‘elements’ meaning generally not so much the actual substances as the forces essential to human, life. They have to be noticed in passing, because they were involved in the development of the cosmogonical ideas which took place in the eleventh and twelfth centuries A.D. Page 85


As their imagination grew, it was natural that the Chinese should begin to ask themselves what, if the