December 17, 2004

An Introduction to Chinese Mythology and Folklore

The writing of mythological tales began in the Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420), when various writers, influenced by the alchemist's ideas and Taoist and Buddhist superstitions, were interested in inventing stories about gods and ghosts. Some of them show their unusual imagination and master of the written language.
In the middle of the Tang Dynasty many well-known writers and poets began story writing. Their stories incorporate a wide range of subject matter and themes, reflecting various aspects of human nature, human relations and social life. In form they are not short notes like the tales produced before them, but well-structured stories with interesting plots and vivid characters, often several thousand words in length. Among them are many tales whose main characters are gods, ghosts, or foxes.
In Song Dynasty, mythical stories show strong influence of Tang fiction, but hardly attain the Tang level. Large portions of the seven thousand stories are about gods, deities, fairies, and ghosts.
In the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties that followed the best-known works of fiction were novels in the vernacular, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, Pilgrimage to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber.
In the early period of the Qing Dynasty there appeared an anthology of short mythical stories written in the classical style-- Strange Stories from Happiness Studio by Pu Songling.
As with other cultures, Chinese mythical stories are tangled with history. The history of the long period before recorded history began is partly based on legend, which is interlaced with mythology. Such ancient heroes and leaders as Fuxi, Shennong, Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) and Yu are both historical figures according to legend and important characters in mythical stories.
As in other cultures - myths reflect creation, the importance of true love and balance, self-sacrifice, encourage good deeds and warn against sin, rebellion versus oppression.
All these features add up, to one prevailing characteristic, China's mythical stories, either those created by the common people or those written by later scholars, are full of human feelings. Gods, ghosts, foxes and spirits are commonly described as living things with human qualities and human feelings. The inventors of myths describe gods the way they describe man, or treat them as if they were human, and give them with human nature.
There are also stories that try to illustrate fatalism, recreation, and all sorts of feudal ethical principles. This is only natural, because literary works inevitably reflect the beliefs of the age in which they are produced.
In style and art of writing, both early and later mythical stories are excellent. Classical Chinese is extremely concise. A few hundred, even a few dozen words are enough to tell a story complete with dialogue and behavioral and psychological descriptions.

Posted by HuiLin at December 17, 2004 06:11 AM

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at December 19, 2004 10:13 PM
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