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THE CHINESE MYTH of PAN GU

By: Rycha Susanto

Over the course of hundreds of years, from generation to generation stories and myths have been passed down. They tell us how the earth was created and men came to their existence. Each civilization described its origins in different ways.

We just celebrated the Lunar New Year and started the Year of the Tiger.
Each culture has its own stories; Chinese culture is no exception, so why don’t we look at this famous Chinese myth?

It was told that:
In the beginning, there was nothing but chaos. And from the broiling mixture, in the darkness, grew an enormous black egg. Inside this egg, the sleeping giant, Pan Gu, was formed. For eighteen thousand years he slept and he grew and grew. One day, he found himself surrounded by chaos, and he was not even able to breathe anymore. He then thought it was time to come out of this ‘cosmic egg’. Pan Gu stretched his enormous limbs and broke the egg in two.

The top half was lighter and flew up to become the heavens and the heavier bottom half sank down to become the earth, thus forming the Yin (earth) and Yang (sky). Pan Gu was pleased with what had happened but also concerned, lest the two parts should come together again and remake Chaos. Thus he stood, growing and growing, pushing the sky and earth further and further apart for another 18 thousand years.

Once sure they would never come together again and now exhausted by his efforts, Pan Gu lay down and died. However, his whole being started to form the world. His last breaths became the wind and clouds and his voice the rumbling thunder. One eye became the sun, the other the moon. His body and limbs became the five biggest mountains in China, his blood formed the rivers and seas. The hairs on Pan Gu’s head turned into the myriad stars twinkling in the skies, whilst his skin and other hair became the plants and the trees growing in the good earth created from his flesh. His sweat flowed like the rain and dew, nourishing all things on earth, while his teeth and bones turned into precious stones and minerals. Finally, from the numerous small creatures that had lived on his body, came mankind. All creatures spreading out over the earth into every corner of the world were then, a part of Pan Gu himself.

Like other myths, there are many versions of the Pan Gu story and how he had brought order to the universe. Others mention that Pan Gu’s mood had affected the earth: the sky became clear when he was pleased and clouds would overcast when he was angry. Rain fell when Pan Gu cried, and when he sighed, the wind blew.

This myth corresponds to Chinese culture in which the role of men is dominant. Thus, Pan Gu, the first being, is a man, not a woman. This first male held the responsibility to separate Yin and Yang and create order, something that is exactly what each father in the patriarchal culture is expected to do—being able to separate good from evil, performing sacrifices, and becoming the pillar of his family.

There is a lot to learn from an old-day myth and how it relates to present practices. What about the myths in your country? Do you see any relevance to your today’s practices?

Compiled by author from various sources