Pangu Creates Heaven and Earth
What is the origin of the universe? How did the sun, the moon and the stars come into being? Who created the rivers, mountains and lands? How was mankind originated? Human beings have been pondering such questions from the earliest days. Our ancient ancestors tended to give answers through mythical tales. What was the traditional Chinese explanation for the beginning of the universe? Among the many creation myths found in China, the one featuring Pangu is the most widely known.
Legend has it that in remote antiquity when the universe was yet to take shape, everything was chaos. The universe was like an egg, carrying Pangu, the first ancestor of humankind, exactly in the center of its yolk. Nurtured in this round hollow for 18,000 years, finally he picked up a handmade huge ax and wielded it with all his might to crack open the egg. The light, clear part of it floated up and formed the heavens, while the heavy, turbid matter stayed below to form earth. Pangu began to grow at a rate of three meters per day, and soon became a formidable giant.
Pangu was the only human being living in the universe he had just created. When he was happy, the sun shone; but when he was angry, black clouds gathered in the skies. When he cried, his tears turned into pouring rain. When he sighed, air puffed from his mouth to become gusts of wind.
At last, the giant died, sprawled out on the ground with his head to the east and feet to the west. His head transformed into Mt. Tai in today's Shandong Province, his feet into Mt. Huashan in today's Shaanxi Province, his stomach into Mt. Songshan in Henan Province, his left arm into Mt. Hengshan in Hunan Province, and his right arm into Mt. Hengshan in Shanxi Province, the five most famous mountains in China. His hair turned in to trees, flowers and grasses covering the different lands.
Although nobody still believes this myth today, the Pangu story is firmly fixed in Chinese tradition. There is even an idiom relating to it: "Since Pangu created the heavens and earth," which means "for a very long time." This is perhaps because it symbolized the human aspiration to triumph over nature, and our most fertile creativity.