The title of this article has not been chosen at random, Chinese mythology is the longest written mythology and civilisation of all times, so it would seem rather pretentious and naive to try explaining it on just few words. Instead, it is the purpose of this article only to mention few features of the formation of Chinese mythology.
During the Neolithic, mongoloid nomadic groups from north Asia influenced China and the New world. Those nomadic groups passed through the Bering strait to America and also moved south to China from Siberia. These groups believed on the cycle of life and the eternal return (Mircea Eliade), death and resurrection… just as its ancient Indian neighbours beliefs rooted at the cradle of their civilisation. The mongoloid not just influenced life in China, but also ornamentation seeing in objects such as knives with beautiful handle reliefs or box shape bronzes. Shamanism was also present in the area, crossing afterwards to America.
In Chinese myth we find the theme of the end and re-beginning of an eon, which reflects the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian stories of Tammuz and Osiris. There is a lot of influence from the West to the East on tomb and burial rituals which links with the migration of knowledge towards the Far East. The Mesopotamian story of the king that is sacrificed for the coming of his son, the ritual of resurrection and inheritance of the Empire, the story of the deluxe, the great plan of heaven bringing the hero to stage in confucian style and in cosmic order with nature, are just but few examples of the West influence in China. Stories such as he mulberry tree and the elements of death and resurrection by a holy tree are also reflecting that influence, just as “The Golden Bough” by Dr. Fraser tells the story of the Nemi oak tree at Rome.
It is with Han dynasty China when the civilising of this region started, when princely cities competed among themselves. The earliest men were the lords of the bird nests, the lord of fire drillers and the deluge of Kung Kung, when virtue consisted in respecting natural conditions and competence. Virtue was in making good use of them.
During the Chou time China brings myths concerning primeval heroes. This was a time when predominantly agriculture was practised, not herding. This was a period of warfare, when philosophical books from previous periods were burnt, a period when despotism was implemented. During these times order was required and villainy was defined as the cultivation of goodness, the practice of music, poetry and history, filial pity, respect for the elders, sincerity and truth, purity and integrity, detraction of warfare and shame of taking part of it. These were times of plough and fight.
During the Chou dynasty the system of government was based on the leadership of kings, not priests, a worship directed towards the ancestors, not towards the powers of gods of the natural world. This comes in contradiction with India when “time thinking” was primordial, where worship was given to the gods of earth, air and sky. In China it focused on “space thinking”, the statesman sets his seal on the civilisation, not the priests as in India. China had a rich mythological material, in which it was found a great stress on oracles investigating destiny, the Tao. On the other hand, India was a system with unchanging laws, eternal truth, Dharma.
All of this though will change afterwards, in the Classic period, when Chinese turned concerns over thought and the implementation of political reforms: the central problem being of the true seat of earthly influence and power. The belief during this time was a mutual influence operating between heaven, earth and man. How man could be helped to live together in harmony with good order. The book of the changes discussed how to link the Yin and Yang in all things. It was a kind of geometry of mythology, referring particularly to the present – the moment of the casting of the Yarrow stalks, which related the individual to the order of the outer world.
Regarding to the inner world, the question of the most effective force within the competence of the individual for the harmonisation of life on earth, there originated three different views which I will discuss in other articles: Confucianism, Motzu and the Taoists.