Sunday, November 13, 2011

THE COSMOLOGICAL CONCEPTION IN CHINESE TRADITION





In the Chinese literature there are several versions of the Creation story. According to the most familiar one, creation was generated in a cosmic egg. At the beginning there was neither heaven nor earth; only chaos, in the shape of a gigantic egg that contained everything that had ever existed in the past and everything that would ever happen in the future. Everything, all material, space and energy, were compressed into this egg as an amorphous mass from which there emerged a giant named Pan Gu (pán)(). The yellow yolk (the yin (yīn)) that fell from this chaos became the earth and the white of the egg (the yang (yáng)) became the heavens. It was now that yin and yang, the two opposite principles, became balanced. The giant Pan Gu grew bigger and bigger, for 18,000 years, and the gap between heaven and earth increased. Finally, Pan Gu died. His heavy tears became the Yellow River and the Yang Zi; his hair put down roots from which plants grew. His eyes became the sun and moon, his voice became thunder and his breath became winds and storms. When he looked around, lightning erupted from his eyes. When he was in a good mood, the weather was good. From his bones were created mountains and rocks. From his flesh, fields and fertile soil were created and from the tiny fleas that covered his body, human beings were created.
This humble origin of humanity testifies to its inferior position in nature and to how distant humans are from the center of creation.
Out of Pan Gu's body were created the five sacred mountains of China that represent the five directions (the four cardinal points and the center). His head became Tai Mountain (tài)(shān)(in Shandong (shān)(dōng) ) in eastern China, his torso became Song mountain (sōng)(shān)  in central China, his right hand became Heng Mountain (héng)(shān) in northern China, and his left hand became Heng Mountain (héng)(shān)(in Hunan ()(nán)) in southern China. His two legs became Hua mountain (huà)(shān)(in Shan Xi  (shān)西()) in western China.
The five mountains that originated from Pan Gu serve as centers for worship. Their tops are crowned with Daoist temples that are still active today. All five mountains are forested – a rare phenomenon in China.
The legendary story of Pan Gu seems to have originated from an ethnic minority (non-Han) group in southern China. According to their version, Pan Gu was a cosmic entity, whose hands and legs, after his death, became animals, plants and all other elements of nature. According to another version, a dragon, turtle, phoenix and unicorn all helped Pan Gu to create the world out of the chaos. 
Images depicting Pan Gu also have several versions, among them a figure carving the world on a rock, a dwarf with horns on his head, and a man holding the sun in one hand and the moon in the other.
Another of the Chinese myths tells that the Earth lies on the back of a turtle and whenever the turtle moves, an earthquake occurs.
As for the creation of humans, in addition to the version telling that they originated in fleas, there is another version - the legend of Nu Wa ()(), sister and wife of the legendary King Fu Xi (the third millennium BCE). This legend recounts that Nu Wa created humans out of clay that then dried. Another version of the same legend tells that she fired the figures that she had molded out of clay. Some were burnt and became black; some were not burnt enough and were white. A third of the figures had a beautiful yellow color, and that is how the Chinese people were created. A complementary legend tells that while the figures were drying, rain started to fall and some of them were damaged. This explains how the handicapped came into the world.
Yet another Creation story tells that the Chinese people are the descendents of Fu Xi and his sister, who were turned into snakes and mated.
The Chinese cosmology perceives the earth as square with eight pillars connecting it to the round sky. In the unroofed areas of the earth there is eternal darkness, where sub-humans live. Heaven and earth (tiān)() together constitute the whole world.
The square-shaped earth is echoed in areas planned by man, such as fields, houses, farms, cities and walls.

In the book "The Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor" (huáng)()(nèi)(jīng), man is conceived of as a microcosmos. His head is circular, being analogical to the sky, and his feet are rectangular, in analogy to the earth. The sun and the moon are analogical to man's two eyes, and the wind and rain - to joy and anger.
Chinese mythology explains why there is only one sun in the sky. The Goddess of Heaven and her husband the Emperor God Di Jun ()(jūn) had ten sun-sons, who each appeared on his own day in the sky through the ten days of the Chinese week. Every day the ten suns moved with their mother to the valley of light in the east. There the mother would wash them in a lake and put them to dry on a strawberry tree. Every day one of the son-suns would move from the tree to the sky on a chariot harnessed to six dragons and, in a journey of one day in the sky, would reach a mountain in the far west. The son-suns tired of this routine however, and decided to all appear together at the same time. The strong heat that they thus created on the face of the earth was unbearable. In order to prevent the destruction of life on earth, the legendary Emperor Yao asked their father to convince them to appear separately. The sons failed to obey their father and he, following their disobedience, called the archer Yi  羿() , who was armed with a magic bow, to frighten his disobedient sons. Yi, instead, shot and killed nine of the sons and only one remained. Di Jun was very angry with Yi for killing his sons and punished him by making him mortal. 
The Dao version of Creation is more abstract. It contends that before the creation there had been a great emptiness. The Daoist philosopher Huai Nan Zi (huái)(nán)() (179-122 BCE) wrote that Dao began in the brightening of the void that created the universe. The universe produces qi. The clear ethereal qi (yang) formed the heavens, and the heavy qi (yin) formed the earth. The hot qi of yang, in accumulating, produced fire and the essence of the fire-qi became the sun. The cold-qi of yin, in accumulating, produced water and the essence of water-qi became the moon.
Lao Zi summed up Chinese cosmology in the words: "From one come two, from two come three, from three come ten thousand things".
In addition to the various theories and myths concerning the creation of the world, the Chinese people developed analogies that link the physical world with the human social structure. According to Chinese tradition, the role of the mountains resembles the role of the emperor in society: they both ensure the cosmic order and its permanence.

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