Chinese Civilization: The Great Beginning and the Origin of Man

Nuwa repairing the wall of heaven

~ Nuwa repairing the wall of heaven

The Great Beginning

The story of the creation of the world by the ancient Chinese is vague and seldom brought to light. Rather than an almighty creator creating something out of nothing, the ancient Chinese believed that the universe has always existed albeit being formless and opaque. ‘In the tale of the Yellow Emperor, revered by many Chinese as the legendary founding ruler,’ wrote Kissinger, ‘China seems already to exist’ (Kissinger, 2012). Of the various myths and legends, most of them involved a spirit deity called Pan Gu.

A version of the ancient Chinese story of creation can be found in the classic of Huainanzi:

Before Heaven and Earth had taken form all was vague and amorphous. Therefore it was called The Great Beginning. The Great Beginning produced emptiness, and emptiness produced the universe. The universe produced qi (vital life-force), which had limits. That which was clear and light drifted up to become Heaven while that which was heavy and turbid solidified to become earth…The combined essences of Heaven and Earth became the yin and yang (Bary & Bloom, 2000).


This seems to be in line with Chapter 42 of the Tao Dejing (Ryden, 2008):

The Way generates the Unique (non-being);

The Unique generates the Double (yin and yang);

The Double generates the Triple (qi);

The Triplet generates the myriad of things.

The myriad things recline on yin and embrace yang

While vacuous qi holds them in harmony.


Translation of Chapter 42 of the Tao Dejing by James Legge (Legge, 1962):

The Tao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced All things. All things leave behind them the Obscurity (out of which they have come), and go forward to embrace Brightness (into which they have emerged), while they are harmonized by the Breath of Vacancy.


Another version of the story of creation involves the totality of all things being within an egg-shaped mass. When the egg cracked, the white and yolk separated. The white then became yang and ascended to form the Heavens while the york became yin and descended to form the Earth. Legend is that in between the white and yolk is a deity or spirit called Pan Gu. Pan Gu’s head was in the Heavens while his feet were placed firmly on the earth.

Both versions of the creation of the world involved things falling into place or being set into motion. The ancient Chinese believed that the primordial state of the world has always existed.


Origins of the Ancient Chinese

“According to legends, Pan Gu, the Chinese creator of the universe, separated heaven and earth and after 18,000 years the various parts of his body were transformed into the sun and moon, the earth, wind, mountains and seas with all their minerals and living creatures; the parasites which infected his body became the human race (Paludan, 2003).”

‘(his) breath became the wind and the clouds; his voice became thunder; his left eye became the sun, and his right the moon. His four limbs and five torsos became the four poles and the five mountains; his blood became the rivers; his sinews became geographic features; his muscles became the soils in the fields; his hair and bear became stars and planets; his skin and its hairs became grasses and threes; his teeth and bones became bronzes and jades; his essences and marrow became pearls and gemstones; his sweat became rain and lakes; and the various worms in his body, touched by the wind became the black-haired commoners (Keay, 2009).’

Another version claims that as the Heaven and Earth were separated, a goddess by the name of Nüwa appeared. Seeing the world barren and empty, she made the first human beings from clay. Some legend claims that Nüwa was the wife of Fuxi.

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