P'an Ku / Pan Gu vs. Lao Tzu : A Chinese Creation Myth

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Tuesday, 7 July 2009
The Chinese creation myth, as most others serves as the explanation of the birth of the world, and equivalent Heaven and Earth, as in many other cultures. There are several creation myths in China, however Pan Gu, previously traslated as P’an Ku (盘古) is most widely known as the Creator, whilst Lao Tzu puts forward a more philosophical approach to creation.

The term creation myth here, refers to the imaginative expression in narrative form, of the beginning of things, whether by the will and act of a transcendent being, by emanation from some ultimate source, or in any other way. Here are the two most popular and influential of the Chinese Creation Myths.

The most influential of these two creation myths is included in Tao Te Ching written by Lao Tzu, who says of the universe;

“There was something undefined and complete, existing before Heaven and Earth. How still it was, how formless, standing alone and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere with no danger of being exhausted. It may be regarded as the mother of all things. Truthfully it has no name, but I call it Tao. (or The Way).”

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 25.

Tao is often compared to water: clear, colourless, unremarkable, yet all beings depend on it for life, and even the hardest stone cannot stand in its way forever. This way of thought has spawned Taoism, Chinese Buddhism as well as philosophical schools of thought.
The creation though for most is described in the tale of Pan Gu and the creation not only of heaven and earth, but of the separation of Yin and Yang.

The P'an Ku Creation story though there are many many translations and versions, goes something like this:

"In the beginning the heavens and earth were still one and all was chaos.

The universe was like a big black egg with Pan Gu asleep inside.
After 18 thousand years Pan Gu woke from his long sleep. He took a
broad axe and swung it with all his might to crack open the egg. The light part of it floated up and formed the heavens and the other, colder matter stayed below to form the earth. Pan Gu stood in the middle, his head touching the sky, his feet planted on the earth.

The heavens and the earth began to grow and Pan Gu grew with them. After another 18 thousand years the sky was higher and Pan Gu stood between the heavens and earth so they would never join again.

When he died, he filled in the rest of the world. His breath created the wind and clouds. His flesh became soil, his bones rock, and his blood filled the rivers and seas. His limbs and body became the five major mountains in China. His hair became the stars in the sky. From his sweat came the rain to nourish the land. His eyes became the sun and the moon. And finally, from the small creatures on his body, which has been equated to parasites in some translations, came man.

Others say that the half-dragon goddess Nuwa was born after Pan-gu died, from part of the mixture of yin and yang that he had separated. She decided to create humans to have some other beings to talk to and share ideas with, but mostly just to love.

Nuwa went down to the edge of the Yellow River where there were vast, soft mud banks. She began forming figures out of clay. She decided that it would be much more practical for her creations to have legs instead of a dragon tail, thus her humans were not made in her image.

No sooner did she set the first little mud man on the ground did he start to jump, and dance and sing. He began to speak. “Look at me!”

Nuwa was delighted and began making more and more humans.

She made hundreds and hundreds of mud humans, but soon realized that it would take centuries for her to make enough people to fill the vast earth completely. Nuwa grabbed hold of a muddy stick and flung drops of mud across the land.

As the sun dried each drop, it became a new man or woman. Some say that these humans were the less intelligent ones. Those formed by Nuwa’s own hands became great leaders.

She told them to go and populate the earth. As they grew she loved them and protected them, and was revered as the mother of all humans."

The Pan Gu or P’an Ku myth is similar to that of Lao Tzu’s theory, as the egg or planet was still, and undisturbed, prior to Pan Gu awakening. Both of which could be seen to have existed prior to what we know now as Heaven and Earth. This creation story is one of many told across China, because of its dis-separate tribal history.

If you have any further creation stories that are told in China, please let me know andi will try to include them in a further post.


Mythic Journeys

Living Myths
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  1. 约翰 Says:
  2. Interesting. I find Chinese philosophy and language to be so intriguing. I'm hooked and appreciate you making this blog.

  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. this is so great and interesting.

  5. Jane Says:
  6. I think this is a really good version of a Chinese creation story. I am doing a project on this and found it a great help. Keep it up!

  7. Hi, I like the word tao, and it's translation to 'the way', I use it on my website Bodhi torque , I also like your pic of the yin yang at the top of this post...would it be o.k. to use this in an upcoming post or on facebook?...thanks


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