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The History of China: The Beginning(?)

China is easily one of the most impressive civilizations in the world, there are few other cultural groups/political entities that have managed to survive to the modern day while staying as coherent as China has. Unfortunately, not very many people in the West are as knowledgeable about Chinese history as they are knowledgeable about the histories of the Greeks, Romans, British, etc… Thus, I seek to help spread knowledge of Chinese history with my own layman’s understanding of it. So, where else to start but the beginning—the very beginning.

The Forbidden City as taken from above, notice the modern architecture in the background.
A cosmic egg floating in the void of space.

In the beginning, there was nothing but a great egg. Inside that egg contained chaos which encompassed all the opposing and complimentary pairs of forces and concepts that composed the yin-yang like male-female, light-dark, hot-cold, aggression-passivity. A great giant named Pangu would be birthed from the egg, also resulting in the creation of the earth and sky. And as the giant grew for 18,000 years, so did the earth and sky grow in thickness and height respectively.[1]

The Yin-Yang and examples of what each of the halves represents.

Depending on the version of the creation myth, however, the world would gain its various aspects and features in different ways. In one version, the giant would labor to place the celestial bodies around Earth, divide the great sea into four smaller seas, as well as shape and chisel the land into valleys and mountains. In the other version, the giant would eventually die with his body turning into the various aspects of the lands:

The mighty giant Pangu shapes the Earth.

From his skull—the top of the sky, from his eyes—the sun and moon, from his hair—all the plants of the world, from his torso and limbs—five great mountains, from his skin—the soil, from his blood—waterways, from his bones— metals and jewels. His sweat drops would turn into the rain that nourished the lands, winds and clouds drifted out from his breath, his voice would continue to boom as the roiling thunders, his blood would become the water to fill the world’s rivers and oceans, and stars would spring forth from his beard and hair. Some even say humanity descended from the fleas and lice that lived upon his body.[2] [3] Others say that a goddess named Nüwa created humanity from clay with the higher quality, hand-sculpted ones becoming nobility and the lower quality ones resulting from blobs of clays swung from a rope turning into commoners.[4]

Nuwa creates and shapes the first humans.

However, this is ultimately just the China’s folkloric explanation for the origins of the world and humanity. But despite being fiction, it still showcases certain prevalent themes in Chinese thought philosophy for millennia to come such as the ideas of social class, the importance of harmony, the Yin-Yang. So, next time let’s take a look at what this newly risen humanity has been up to in this world inherited from the gods—but actual history.

Featured Image, Chinese Architecture, Cosmic Egg, Yin-Yang, Pangu, Nuwa

  1. Khan Academy. Chinese Origin Story: Pan Gu and the Egg of the World.
  2. Khan Academy.
  3. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Pangu.
  4. New World Encyclopedia. Nuwa.

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