The Wonderful World of Pangu


There are several different Chinese creation myths, but there seems to be a general theme of the universe coming into existence without help from an intelligent being. Some of the popular ones involve a being called Pangu, who hatched from a cosmic egg along with Heaven and Earth.

In order to separate the two, he spent thousands of years growing. I’ve never been entirely sure why so many myths speak of the importance of separating the earth from the sky. How far up did people think you had to go before your location would be considered sky? I guess it could have something to do with how the sky essentially looks like a huge dome, which is reflected in many creation myths. Heaven, I suppose, would be what’s above the sky. Anyway, some stories make Pangu a very hands-on creator, chiseling out the physical features of the world.

In others, he’s more like the Norse giant Ymir or the Babylonian Tiamat, in that his body actually BECOMES the world after he dies. Humans are descended from the fleas in Pangu’s shaggy hair. The being (I’m not sure whether it would be appropriate to call him a god or not) is often depicted with two horns, two tusks, and a hairy body clothed in leaves.

The leaves might well be simply for the sake of art, since the only living thing in the entire universe presumably wouldn’t have a need for modesty, and where would he have gotten the leaves before the trees sprang from his corpse?

I’ve also seen another Pangu creation myth that appears to be largely unrelated to the creation myths, in which he’s not a giant, hairy humanoid but rather a dog. The heavenly King Gao Xin, who raised the dog, said that anyone who killed his rival could marry his daughter. Pangu succeeded in this, and when the princess didn’t want to marry a dog, the canine said he would become humanoid if he kept a golden bell on his head for six days. (Please don’t try this with your dog at home.) Fearing that he might starve, the princess removed the bell prematurely, and he ended up as a man with a dog’s head. The two of them were then the ancestors of humanity, most of whom did not inherit the canine head. I wonder if he was also the ancestor of the Moblins from the Zelda games.

From what I understand, this myth is specific to the south of China, and I’m not sure you can really say it’s the same Pangu. Still, it’s an interesting story, so it’s definitely worth including here. The earliest known written version of a Pangu myth comes from around the second century, and scholars have noted similarities to other creation myths that could have influenced it.

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