Chinese mythology refers to those myths found in the historical geographic area of China: these include myths in Chinese and other languages, as transmitted by Han Chinese as well as other ethnic groups (of which fifty-six are officially recognized by the current administration of China). Chinese mythology includes creation myths and legends, such as myths concerning the founding of Chinese culture and the Chinese state. As in many cultures' mythologies, Chinese mythology has in the past been believed to be, at least in part, a factual recording of history. Thus, in the study of historical Chinese culture, many of the stories that have been told regarding characters and events which have been written or told of the distant past have a double tradition: one which presents a more historicized and one which presents a more mythological version.
The dozens of ethnic minority groups of the country of China have their own languages and their own folklore, and many have their own writing: much of which contains valuable historical and cultural information as well as many unique myths. Some myths are widely shared across multiple ethnic groups, but may exist as versions with some differences (Wikipedia)
"Nine Dragons" handscroll, by Chen Rong, 1244 AD, Chinese Song dynasty
You may need to click on the picture and use the scroll to view complete image. (13,450x500 pixels, file size: 2.0 MB )
The "Nine Dragons" handscroll (九龍圖), painted by the Song-Dynasty Chinese artist Chen Rong (陳容), 1244 AD, Ink and some red on paper. The entire scroll is 46.3 x 1096.4 cm. Located in the Museum of Fine Art - Boston, USA.
Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.
The legend has it that one night when Lü Yan was in Chang'an or Handan, he dozed off as his yellow millet was cooking in a hotel. He dreamed that he took the imperial exam and excelled, and thus was awarded a prestigious office and soon promoted to the position of vice minister. He then married the daughter of a prosperous household and had a son and a daughter. He was promoted again and again, and finally became the prime minister. However, his success and luck attracted jealousy of others, so he was accused of crimes that caused him to lose his office. His wife then betrayed him, his children were killed by bandits, and he lost all his wealth. As he was dying on the street in the dream, he woke up.
Although in the dream, eighteen years had passed, the whole dream actually happened in the time it took his millet to cook. The characters from his dream were actually played by Zhongli Quan in order to make him realize that one should not put too much importance on transient glory and success. As a result, Lü went with Zhongli to discover and cultivate the Dao/Tao. This dream is known as "Dream of the Yellow Millet" (Huang Liang Meng) and is described in a writing compiled by Ma Zhiyuan in Yuan Dynasty.
It is of a young Chinese scholar, Chu, who went with a friend for a stroll in the mountains. There they chanced on the ruins of a temple, where among the broken walls an old monk had established his hermitage. Catching sight of the two arriving, the old fellow, adjusting his robe, came toddling forward to show them around.
There were some statues of the immortals, as well as, here and there on the remaining walls, a number of lifelike paintings of people, animals, and flowery scenes. Both Chu and his friend were enchanted, and particularly so when, high on one of the walls, they noticed the view of a pretty little town with a lovely girl standing in the foreground, holding flowers in her hands. Her hair was down, which meant that she was unmarried, and Chu no sooner saw her than he was lost altogether in love. His imagination was holding him to the lovely smile on her lips, when, before he knew it – by the power of the foxy old monk, who thought to teach him a lesson – he was there in that little town street himself, and there too was that lovely girl.
She gladly greeted him and led him to her home. And they became engaged immediately in a passionate affair of love that went on for several days. Her friends, discovering them living that way together, laughed and teased and said to her, “Oh, oh! And your hair is still down?” They brought enabled hairpins, and when her hair had been nicely put up, poor Chu was more in love with her than ever. However, a day came when there was heard out in the street a very frightening noise of voices, rattling chains, and heavily tramping boots, which brought them to their window, and they saw a company of imperial officers coming to scout out unregistered aliens. The terrified girl told Chu to hide, which he did. He hid beneath the bed. But then, on hearing a still greater commotion outside, he leaped out from under and, rushing to the window to look, felt his sleeves suddenly fluttering and found that he had passed right out the picture and was coming down through the air to his friend and the old monk below. The two were standing where all three had been but a few brief moments before; and when Chu, coming down, rejoined them, both he and his friend were amazed. They turned to the monk for an explanation.
“Visions are born and die in those who behold them,” he said simply. “What can an old monk say?” But he raised his eyes, and they theirs, to the picture. And what do you know? The girl’s hair was up.
Legend of the White Snake 白蛇傳
Legend of the White Snake 白蛇傳
Image from the Long Gallery at Summer Palace, Beijing, China, depicting the meeting at the West Lake Broken Bridge in Hangzhou - The pick-up line from the lady was "Can we borrow your umbrella?"(中国北京颐和园中的长廊画，表现的是白蛇传中游湖借伞的故事)
Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals, disguises himself as a man selling tangyuan at the Broken Bridge (斷橋) near the West Lake in Hangzhou. A boy called Xu Xian (simplified Chinese: 许仙; traditional Chinese: 許仙; pinyin: Xǔ Xiān; Jyutping: Heoi2 Sin1) buys some tangyuan from Lü Dongbin without knowing that they are actually immortality pills. He does not feel hungry for the next three days after eating them, so he goes back to ask why. Lü Dongbin laughs and carries Xu Xian to the bridge, where he flips him upside-down and causes him to vomit the tangyuan into the lake.
In the lake, there is a white snake spirit who has been practising Taoist magical arts in the hope of becoming an immortal after centuries of training and cultivation. She eats the pills and gains 500 years' worth of magical powers. She therefore feels grateful to Xu Xian and their fates become intertwined. There is another terrapin (or tortoise) spirit also training in the lake who did not manage to consume any of the pills; he is very jealous of the white snake. One day, the white snake sees a beggar on the bridge who has caught a green snake and wants to dig out the snake's gall and sell it. The white snake transforms into a woman and buys the green snake from the beggar, thus saving the green snake's life. The green snake is grateful to the white snake and she regards the white snake as an elder sister.
Eighteen years later, during the Qingming Festival, the white and green snakes transform themselves into two young women called Bai Suzhen (Chinese: 白素貞; pinyin: Bái Sùzhēn; Jyutping: Baak6 Sou3-zing1) and Xiaoqing (Chinese: 小青; pinyin: Xiǎoqīng; Jyutping: Siu2-cing1), respectively. They meet Xu Xian at the Broken Bridge in Hangzhou. Xu lends them his umbrella because it is raining. Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen gradually fall in love and are eventually married. They move to Zhenjiang, where they open a medicine shop.
In the meantime, the terrapin spirit has accumulated enough powers to take human form, so he transforms into a Buddhist monk called Fahai (Chinese: 法海; pinyin: Fǎhǎi; Jyutping: Faat3-hoi2). Still angry with Bai Suzhen, Fahai plots to break up her relationship with Xu Xian. He approaches Xu Xian and tells him that during the Duanwu Festival his wife should drink realgar wine, a wine associated with that festival. Bai Suzhen unsuspectingly drinks the wine and reveals her true form as a large white snake. Xu Xian dies of shock after seeing that his wife is not human. Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing travel to Mount Emei, where they brave danger to steal a magical herb that restores Xu Xian to life.
After coming back to life, Xu Xian still maintains his love for Bai Suzhen despite knowing her true identity. Fahai tries to separate them again by capturing Xu Xian and imprisoning him in Jinshan Temple (金山寺). Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing fight with Fahai to rescue Xu Xian. Bai uses her powers to flood the temple and drowns many innocent people. However, her powers are limited because she is already pregnant with Xu Xian's child, so she fails to save her husband. Xu Xian later manages to escape from Jinshan Temple and reunite with his wife in Hangzhou, where Bai Suzhen gives birth to their son, Xu Mengjiao (Chinese: 許夢蛟; pinyin: Xǔ Mèngjiāo; Jyutping: Heoi2 Mung6-gaau1). Fahai tracks them down, defeats Bai Suzhen and imprisons her in Leifeng Pagoda.
Twenty years later, Xu Mengjiao earns the zhuangyuan (top scholar) degree in the imperial examination and returns home in glory to visit his parents. At the same time, Xiaoqing, who escaped when Bai Suzhen was captured by Fahai, goes to Jinshan Temple to confront Fahai and defeats him. Bai Suzhen is freed from Leifeng Pagoda and reunited with her husband and son, while Fahai flees and hides inside the stomach of a crab. There is a saying that a crab's internal fat is orange because it resembles the colour of Fahai's kasaya.
There are many tales about Chang'e, but there's well-known story regarding the origin of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. In a very distant past, ten suns had risen together to the heavens, thus causing hardship for the people. The archer Yi shot down nine of them and was given the elixir of immortality as a reward, but he did not consume it as he did not want to gain immortality without his beloved wife Chang'e. However, while Yi went out hunting, Fengmeng broke into his house and forced Chang'e to give up the elixir of immortality to him, but she refused to do so. Instead, Chang'e drank it and flew upwards towards the heavens, choosing the moon as residence to be nearby her beloved husband. Yi discovered what had transpired and felt sad, so he displayed the fruits and cakes that his wife Chang'e had liked, and gave sacrifices to her.
Space travel - The Search for Chang'e
Chang'e was mentioned in a conversation between Houston Capcom and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first Moon landing in 1969:
Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.
Michael Collins: Okay. We'll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.
In 2007, China launched its first lunar probe, a robotic spacecraft named Chang'e 1 in the goddess' honour. A second unmanned probe, named Chang'e 2, was launched in 2010. A third Chang'e spacecraft, a robotic lunar rover dubbed Chang'e 3, landed on the moon on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at about 9:12 p.m., Beijing time, making China only the third country in the world to achieve such a moon feat after the former Soviet Union and the United States. The lander also delivered the robotic rover Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") to the lunar surface to begin its months-long driving mission. It has performed the first lunar soft landing since the Russian Luna 24 mission in 1976.
The general tale is about a love story between Zhinü (織女; the weaver girl, symbolizing Vega) and Niulang (牛郎; the cowherd, symbolizing Altair). Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (symbolizing the Milky Way). Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month (Chinese Valentine's Day), a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day. There are many variations of the story. The earliest-known reference to this famous myth dates back to over 2600 years ago, which was told in a poem from the Classic of Poetry.
The tale of The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd has been celebrated in the Qixi Festival in China since the Han dynasty. The story is now counted as one of China's Four Great Folktales, the others being the Legend of the White Snake (Baishezhuan), Lady Meng Jiang, and Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai.
The tale has been alluded to in many literary works. One of the most famous one was the poem by Qin Guan during the Song dynasty:
"Meeting across the Milky way"
Through the varying shapes of the delicate clouds, the sad message of the shooting stars, a silent journey across the Milky Way, one meeting of the Cowherd and Weaver amidst the golden autumn wind and jade-glistening dew, eclipses the countless meetings in the mundane world. The feelings soft as water, the ecstatic moment unreal as a dream, how can one have the heart to go back on the bridge made of magpies? If the two hearts are united forever, why do the two persons need to stay together—day after day, night after night?