Hong Shui Man Tian

My informant CH is a 47 years old Chinese animation film director. He was born and lived in southern part of China, especially Changshu and Nanjing for many years before she moved to the north, Beijing at age 34.

The conversation is in Chinese.


Main piece:

“Hong Shui Man Tian” is the creation myth of Dai people. Dai is a group of minority people live in Xinpin village, Yunna province in China. “Hong Shui Man Tian” can be directly translated as “flood over the sky”, and refers to the flood punishment given by the sky god to the evil human.


CH: “The Dai people, they believe that “there are 99 floors up on the sky, and 99 floors down in the ground”. So on the sky, there is this sky god whose name is Pi Fa, while on the ground, there is the earth god Mei Wo. So Pi Fa controls the sky and Mei Wo rules the ground of earth.

Long long time ago, each of the people on earth only has one leg, and they are really bad, morally. They kill their own parents and eat them. And they do a ton of extremely evil things. The sky God Pi Fa hears about the people on earth and decides to punish them. He plans to drown the evil earth people by flood. However, the god of the ground, Mei Wo, he still has faith that there are good people on earth. So he goes to the human world and tries to find the good people. He arrives this village of Dai people, and finds there are this twin brother and sister in the village. The brother is very hardworking and diligent, and the sister is pretty and smart. Mei Wo follows the brother and sister around, and notices that when they are walking on the street, there is a poor, dirty homelessman asking for food. While all of the other human avoid having any contact with this homeless old man, the brother and sister come close and give food and water to the old man. Mei Wo sees this and thinks, “these two will be new generation of human after the flood.”

Mei Wo disguises himself into a old woman and talks to the brother and sister. He tells the two to find a huge tree and make the tree into a wood boat. He also tells them to use bamboo to make a flute, and to play the flute to attract all animals in the forest.

The sky god creates the flood and punishes the earth people. But the brother and sister, with animals in the forest survive on their boat.

After the earth is dried, they start to seed the ground and recreate life on earth. At the same time, human also need to have reproduction. A pair of ravens come and send the gods will to the brother and sister, that they need to get married and reproduce new human. So they follow, and have three children. The oldest brother is the Dai people now, and the second brother is the other minority groups, and the youngest is the Han people now.”


Context of the performance:

My informant CH went to the Xinpin village, in Yunnan province in China to visit a family member. He learned this story through a conversation with the village head. He also took note in the conversation. This is the story that he told me after he came back from the village.


My thoughts about the piece:

This creation myth of Dai people in China is really interesting. The motifs of evil human, of gods’ punishment, of flood, and of wood boat all remind me of Noah and the punishment in the Bible in Occidental culture. Also, this creation myth deals with many taboo elements, like the evil human eating their parents, as cannibalism, or the brother and sister need to get married, as incest. This resonates with many epic stories, like the Odyssey, or Oedipus Complex where there’re prevalent examples of cannibalism and incest. Nevertheless, this creation myth is really specified to this minority group, Dai. And at the end of the story, the three brothers turn to be the ancestors of three groups of people in China, Dai people, other minority people and the Han (90% of Chinese are Han people).