This is the first in a series of articles by an Epoch Times research team describing the foundations of Chinese civilisation, and setting forth the traditional Chinese worldview. The series surveys the course of Chinese history, showing how key figures aided in the creation of China’s divinely-inspired culture. The series preface follows.
In ancient times, Chinese called their land Shen Zhou (神州)—the land of the divine.
Legends record how the Creator established the Three Realms—heaven, earth, and the underworld—and gave life to many beings within. Gods laid down and ordered the environment for human beings to survive and prosper. They taught humanity civilisation and cultivation, as well as moral regulation. Later, different gods and Buddhas descended to the mortal world by order of the Creator to spread the Buddha Law and a culture of cultivation. Through self-cultivation, human beings would strive to return to their original positions in the heavens.
Heaven and earth were created by the god Pan Gu (盘古), who divided the two out of a primordial chaos. Following this, other gods created humanity in their own image. Chinese legends record how the goddess Nü Wa crafted humans from mud using her own figure as a model, and the Bible tells of man’s creation by God. Different legends from different cultures around the world record the creation of people from all races while gods refined the world of the early days.
Different legends from different cultures around the world record the creation of people from all races while gods refined the world of the early days.
In the beginning, nature was wild and turbulent. Harsh winds and thunder pounded the earth, which knew neither rain nor snow. Over eons, gods tempered and rectified the chaotic natural forces, preparing the earth for civilised life.
Early man was ignorant and did not understand his environment. He did not have the ability to cope with nature or his neighbours. But gods watched over humans and taught them to work and thrive. They enriched human thought and taught man independence.
Gods taught humanity to live in tribes, master fire, and protect themselves from the elements. Chinese legends record the accomplishments of divine rulers who laid the foundations for human civilisations.
Fu Xi (伏羲) brought order to the universe and created the two forces of yin and yang following a catastrophic flood that devastated the earth. He left behind the Eight Trigrams for future people to use in divination. Shen Nong, the Divine Farmer, taught people how to work the land, plant grain, and trade goods. He also left behind indispensable knowledge of herbal Chinese medicine.
The reign of Emperor Xuanyuan (轩辕), also known as the Yellow Emperor, is regarded as the dawn of Chinese civilisation 5,000 years ago. This monarch unified the ancient tribes and consolidated state authority through his civil and military accomplishments. He set up governmental positions, formulated decrees and regulations, and gave structure to human society while following the Dao or Way.
Under the rule of the Yellow Emperor, the scholar Cangjie created Chinese writing. The pronunciation and appearance of the thousands of characters corresponded to celestial patterns and were thus first used by oracles who inscribed them on the bones of animals for divination.
Other intellects, under the emperor’s guidance, designated the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, a system of astrological symbols that connote cycles of time, direction, season, and the Five Elements. They made advances in engineering, medicine, music, and developed the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
As a Daoist cultivator, legends record that the Yellow Emperor achieved Consummation and rode a dragon that carried him to the heavens. The monarch had created a culture of cultivation, by which humans could become divine beings.
With the passage of time, humanity became distanced from gods. For convenience of administration, the legendary ruler Zhuanxu severed the connections between heaven and the world of mortals.
Emperors Yao, Shun, and Yu the Great led the effort to tame great floods and rebuild civilisation after these cataclysms.
Qin Shi Huang, the first historical emperor of China, centralised imperial power in a system of government that lasted for over two thousand years. Following Qin’s reign, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty enshrined the teachings of Confucius as the official state ideology.
The 5,000 years of divinely-inspired culture was the process by which gods tempered and instructed humanity. Throughout the dynasties, different heavenly beings descended to the world to form karmic ties with the Creator.
Fu Xi Brings Order to the Cosmos
The progenitor of today’s world and civilisation was the god Fu Xi. In accordance with the laws of creation, he brought order and stability to heaven and earth. Legends about this process are recorded in ancient texts such as the unofficial history written by Song Dynasty-era scholar Luo Mi or the Annals of Three Emperors and the Book of Jin from the Tang Dynasty.
The period of Fu Xi saw great changes and cataclysms. A global flood that ravaged the world for many years exterminated the civilisations that existed in the legendary lands of Mu and Atlantis. Only those living in the Kunlun mountains survived.
Following the great flood, heaven and earth were mixed together in primeval chaos. Using his divine power, Fu Xi brought the world to a state of order in a process recorded in the Silk Manuscript of Chu. He married the goddess Nü Wa and had four children with her. These became the gods of the seasons and directions. Through their balancing of heaven, earth, and the stars, days were divided into day and night, the year into four seasons, and the world into four directions.
Fu Xi also created the dual forces of Yin and Yang and the Eight Trigrams, a tool that future generations would use for divination.
Paintings of Fu Xi and Nü Wa from the Han Dynasty depict the divinities holding carpenters’ tools, reflecting their roles in crafting the universe. Other portrayals show them holding the moon and sun.
After this process of creation, the universe again fell into imbalance. Five spirits of the wood element were dispatched to support the earth’s four directions and restore order to the universe. Following Fu Xi, Nü Wa became ruler of the universe, but was defied by Gong Gong, god of water. Gong Gong rebelled and Zhu Rong, the god of fire, was dispatched on a punitive expedition to subdue him.
Though Gong Gong was defeated, the god collided with Buzhou mountain in his fury, collapsing it and the pillars that held up the sky and the binds that held earth in place. The heavens, sun, moon, and stars began to slant in a southwards direction.
In writings from the early Han Dynasty, it is recorded that heaven was breached and the earth’s crust was cracked. Fires burned and rivers flooded. Nü Wa smelted a boulder of five hues and used it to mend the gaping wound in the sky, then used the legs from a giant heavenly sea turtle as pillars to stabilise the firmament. Her work rectified the orbits and paths of heaven and earth, allowing humans to live and work in peace.