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What Is the Chinese Creation Myth?

Angela Farrer
Angela Farrer

The Chinese creation myth is a narrative that details one view of the origin of the world and all that it includes such as the land, water, skies, and human inhabitants. This legend attributes the beginnings of the earth to the work of a god and goddess similarly to creation stories from other cultures. Several views of the Chinese creation myth exist, but the most popular one can be traced to the teachings of Taoist monks that date back to about the year 200 Common Era (CE). The story tells of an omnipotent giant named Pangu who was born inside an egg that eventually became too small as he grew, so he cracked open the upper and lower halves of the shell to form the basic structure of the earth. A goddess named Nu Wa later carried Pangu's work even further.

Once the two halves of Pangu's egg formed the sky and the land, other parts of this god's body formed the details of the world according to this Chinese creation myth. Pangu lived and grew tall enough to separate the heavens and earth further over a span of 18,000 years. After he died, his limbs became mountains, his muscles turned into farmland, and his tears, sweat, and blood formed rivers. Some versions of the Chinese creation myth tell that early human ancestors came from the fleas and lice on Pangu's body. Other versions attribute human creation to the work of Nu Wa, who came to earth several centuries after Pangu's death and formed people out of clay to keep her company.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

The legend of Nu Wa recalls the common mythology of a diety creating humans in her own image. This part of the Chinese creation myth also details how people were first separated into nobility and commoners. Those that Nu Wa made by hand became the wealthy ruling class while the lower classes came from droplets of mud that the goddess had flung through the air. Nu Wa is also credited in this narrative for saving the world from ruin due to fires and floods that happened when the sky started to collapse. She made patches for holes in the sky from melted rock, used the legs of a giant turtle to support the rest of the collapsing heavens, and died soon after this work was complete.

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