To Chop the Unchoppable Tree

I was already familiar with some of the Chinese myths retold in Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but there were others I’d either never or rarely come across. One of these is the story of Wu Gang, which bears some clear similarities to the myth of Sisyphus and other Greek tales of never-ending torment in Tartarus. Wu Gang’s punishment is trying to chop down a tree that constantly heals itself. Oh, and the tree is on the Moon, which the ancient Chinese must have thought was a lot more fertile than we know it to be today.

I played on the idea of the Moon once having supported life in an Oz story I wrote that incorporated aspects of Chinese mythology, although I didn’t use Wu Gang or his tree in it. The lunar tree might originally have been an attempt to explain the lunar phases, with the tree growing and then losing its leaves every month. That Wu Gang was chopping this particular tree might well be the result of merging two different myths, but it’s not like I have any actual proof for this. The tree is over a mile high, and is often identified as either a cherry laurel or an osmanthus. Wu Gang’s crime varies from one version of the legend to another. The most common seems to be that he lost interest in everything very quickly. He sought to become immortal, but gave up his Taoist studies after a few days. The Jade Emperor, who was annoyed by his attitude, said he could become an immortal when he finished chopping the tree, which of course was impossible. I suppose this DOES give him eternal life of a sort, but certainly not the kind he could enjoy. An possibly earlier legend has it that the chopping was a punishment for his murder of the man with whom his wife was having an affair. Since NASA has never been able to find the guy, perhaps the Emperor finally relented, or maybe Wu and the tree were just relocated.

This entry was posted in Chinese, Greek Mythology, Mythology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to To Chop the Unchoppable Tree

  1. Pingback: Counting Kallikantzaroi | VoVatia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s