Creation Stories – China

China has a rich, ancient, complex history. There are several creation myths common in China. One of the more recent one is the tale of Pan Gu.

At the beginning of time, chaos ruled. The heavens and the earth had not yet separated. The universe itself resembled a large black egg; Pan Gu was encased inside. He slept for 18,000 years. When he awoke, he used a broad ax to crack the egg open. The egg whites floated up, creating the heavens. The remainder stayed down low and became the earth. In the middle stood Pan Gu, feet on the earth and head in the sky. The earth, the heavens, and Pan Gu himself began to grow, adding 10 feet every day. Eighteen thousand years passed, and Pan Gu stood like a statue nine million li in height. There he remained, preventing the earth and sky from joining together again.

Eventually, Pan Gu died. His arms, legs, and trunk became five huge mountains, and the roaring waters came from his blood. His muscles turned to fertile land, joined by the far-reaching roads created by his veins. His hair and beard turned into stars in the sky, while flowers and trees spring forth from his skin. The very marrow of his bones became pearls and jade. His breath became the wind and the clouds, and in the rolling thunder you can still hear his voice. The sun always shone when he was happy; when angered, black clouds would gather in the sky.

The Chinese have a saying, “Since Pan Gu created Earth and the heavens”, which is understood to mean “for a very long time”. Still, the first mention of Pan Gu is in a text on Chinese mythology written by Xu Zheng (220-265 A.D.), relatively late in Chinese history.

Over time, there have been several versions of the Pan Gu myth. In one, Pan Gu is the dog-headed ancestor of all mankind. The god King Gao Xin was in charge of the earth. He adored his spotted dog. Since he reared the dog on a plate (Pan, in Chinese) within a gourd (hu, similar to gu), the dog was named Pan Gu.

King Gao Xin had a deep and abiding hatred for his rival, King Fang. So deep was his hatred that he offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to the men would bring him the head of King Fang. Despite the tempting offer, no man would attempt an attack on the well-guarded King Fang. Fang had strong soldiers and fast horses, and was at dangerous adversary.

Pan Gu, the dog, overheard Gao Xin. When his master was sleeping, the dog left the palace and ran to the home of King Fang. Fang greeted the dog with open arms, certain that this was a sign of Gao Xin’s bad fortune. When even a man’s dog leaves him, it is a terrible situation! Fang ordered a banquet in the dog’s owner to celebrate.

After hours of feasting and drinking, Fang passed out in a drunken sprawl on his bed. Pan Gu jumped onto the bed and bit Fang’s head off, then ran swiftly back to his master. King Gao Xin was overjoyed, and brought Pan Gu tasty morsels of fresh meat as a reward. But the dog ate nothing. He curled up in the corner and slept.

After three days and three nights, Pan Gu had not eaten, nor moved from his corner. The worried king asked, “Is this because I failed to keep my vow allowing you to marry my daughter?”

To his surprise, Pan Gu answered. The dog told the man to cover him with a golden bell. In seven days and seven nights, the dog would become a man. The king hastened to do as he was told.

Day after day, the King waited. On the sixth day, he was in a frenzy of anticipation. The dog had neither moved nor eaten, and both King Gao Xin and his daughter were terrified that Pan Gu might starve to death. On the sixth night, fearing the worst, the Princess lifted the bell to check. Pan Gu’s body had transformed into the body of a man; only his head was still dog. By lifting the bell, she broke the spell, and he remained a dog-headed man for the rest of his life.

Pan Gu and the princess were married. However, many people stared and she was uncomfortable. They moved from the kingdom, settling in a mountain range in southern China. Their four children, three boys and a girl, are the ancestors of all mankind.

Portrait of Pangu from Sancai Tuhui. Courtesy Wikipedia.