Tag Archives: chinese myth

The Monkey King


AX: “There’s this old story about something called the Monkey King, and how he goes from being… he goes through all these trials and training, like Hercules and the twelve trials. He goes from this little monkey who goes through all these problems, solving some and causing others, he ends up achieving godhood and he’s the savior. He has a trusty staff that can expand in size. It was very special that we had to remember that he has 72 transformations. It’s him, a pig, and like a sage, and there’s a monk that all of them follow. A journey to the West. If you go west enough, further west, you’ll hit mount Olympus, or the equivalent of that: enlightenment. So they try and go to the West and everything. It was important that the monkey king had 72 transformations, his little brother had 36, and then his youngest brother had 18, it was very important that we remember that. So this Monkey King has a band around his head, it’s gold and it’s enchanted, so his monk, his master can chant something whenever he’s misbehaving and it’ll tighten around his head in punishment. So like as they journey to the west, he always has this headband on him, so when they finally reach the west and everything, Buddha takes off the golden band and replaces it with a halo to represent how he’s gone from being imprisoned from his thoughts to him being enlightened, above that. When it was on his head, it was in contact with his skin, but when it was replaced, it hovered slightly above it.”

Context: AX is a freshman at USC studying English—she’s a fellow student in our folklore class and knows the material well. She grew up in Chino, a small suburb outside of Los Angeles. She’s of Asian descent.

AX: “My mom always called me her little monkey king, and would threaten me. Don’t make me put a red band around your head! Like, yes ma’am. I cannot misbehave!”

Analysis: The Monkey King is a common story, common enough for me, a white Californian, to have heard of it. Right off the bat, she compared her story to Hercules and the twelve trials. In Western society, Hercules is more commonly known, partially due to academic emphasis on Greek/Roman mythology and the popular Disney movie Hercules. AX’s childhood in California may have resulted in this association, almost a need to preface with a comparison to Western culture. I wonder if AX’s knowledge of the folklore class impacted her interpretation. The numerology of the story itself is interesting, especially since AX knew they were important but didn’t know what they mean. All of the numbers AX said are multiples of 2, 3, 6, and/or 8, which are all lucky numbers in China. And, of course, each is a multiple of the other. 18 times 2 is 36, and 36 times 2 is 72. 72 in particular is frequently used in Chinese folklore, occurring across a vast number of stories, and it’s the base of calculation in the ancient Chinese calendar.

Nuwa repairs Heaven


H is a parental figure of mine who grew up in China and is currently living in California. 

This conversation took place over a weekly phone call with my parents after I asked them about stories that they knew from China. 


H: So basically, Nüwa is the goddess in China, well not China but in heaven. She’s a goddess in heaven but she was supposed to keep an eye on Earth. But in very old ancient times, somehow the heaven collapsed because the four pillars that hold heaven collapsed and the Earth was not covered because heaven collapsed. And fire went out of control and water flooded the earth and in order to patch the heaven, Nüwa had to do something. So she melted five different colored stones to patch up the sky and she also cut off the legs of a great turtle. I guess the turtle is also a god, you know, and set those legs as pillars to support the sky. And she also helped to put out the fire and drain the flood, you know the water, and basically she helped save the Earth.

Me: Hmm Okay.


I think this story is really interesting because it is about a feminine figure who has a lot of power in the world of gods, which is not something very typical in Western culture. It is also interesting because I do not remember this specific goddess, but I do remember that these pillars are part of other tales in Chinese mythology that surround Sun Wukong, a character in Chinese mythology that I learned a lot about as a child. This story also seems to build on the myths that have turtles in which a city or island is on the turtle’s back, although this story is using the turtle’s legs rather than its back. According to other sources, Nuwa also created humans which is why she is so protective of them and rushes to patch up heaven in order to prevent the fall out onto Earth. In some versions of this story, the five different colored stones that were used to patch the heavens explain why the clouds can be multicolored in our sky. 

Greenberg, ByMike. “Who Is the Chinese Goddess Nuwa?” MythologySource, 5 July 2021, https://mythologysource.com/nuwa-chinese-goddess/. 

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival and Myth about the Moon

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Mid-Autumn festival?

A: Okay, so Mid-Autumn festival is a festival that is closely tied to Chinese traditions of celebrating the harvest. It’s in the fall, typically in late September or October usually September. And so, a large part of the Mid-Autumn festival is the celebration of family gatherings as well because the roundness of the moon is supposed to be symbolic of everyone sitting around the table at family gatherings. There’s also another huge component, which is moon worship that comes from a Chinese myth.

IC: Okay, can you tell me about that myth?

A: Yeah, so there was this man called Hou Yi who was really good at archery. One day, there was a huge drought because there were ten different suns in the sky, and he shot down nine of the suns and left the only last one up so we could still have sunlight.

IC: Wait, I feel like I’ve heard this before.

A: Yeah, you probably heard it in like high school.

IC: Probably. Anyway, continue.

A: Right, so this immortal was impressed by Hou Yi, so he gave him an elixir for immortality, but he didn’t want to be immortal without his wife and it was only a one-person kind of deal. He decided to not take it and instead kept it and have his wife, Chang’e be the keeper of the elixir to guard it. But one day when he was out doing something official like, official business or whatever, Chang’e was approached by Hou Yi’s apprentice who demanded that she give him the elixir. Instead of handing it over she took the potion herself and became immortal. Then, she ascended to the moon and so now people worship Chang’e as a kind of goddess of the moon to commemorate her bravery and quick thinking.

My family doesn’t worship her, but I guess it depends on other people or what you believe in, like I’m sure many people still worship gods in China, especially in more rural communities.

IC: What does your family do in mid-Autumn festival to celebrate it?

A: So, we gather together as a family and a popular tradition in China is eating mooncakes. Mooncakes are like… I’m going to call them pastries or like cakes that are made with really dense white lotus paste and most of the traditional ones have an egg yolk in the middle. Recently, there have been a lot of creative kind of recreations over the years. For example, recently, there have been mochi ones and like sesame flavoured ones.

IC: I miss mooncakes, like the ones without yolk. The ones with yolk are gross. Is there anything else your family does?

A: Same, we’re the minority. Uh, not really. It’s just mostly a nighttime celebration but lanterns are a part of the celebration, I think. When I was younger, I would go outside with an electric paper lantern and play around and hang them up. The reason why lanterns are important is not very well known. It seems to be that lanterns have become a symbol of the festival.


My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong.


I asked her about this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for Mid-Autumn Festival during Chinese class in high school. I also remember eating mooncakes in Hong Kong, even though my family didn’t celebrate it the same way. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks designed for speakers learning it as a second language.


Hearing my friend talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was informative to learn about the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e and although worshipping the moon goddess is something everyone does, it was still interesting to learn about the tradition and the importance of the moon.

The Story of Pan Gu–A Chinese Creation Story

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

A: There is this one popular creation story in Chinese mythology that centers around a deity called 盤古 (pan gu). At first, he wasn’t really he wasn’t regarded as a deity. The world was in this free existence stage where nothing really existed yet. All of this nothing, like condensed into an egg which broke open and pan gu emerged. He pushed the sky out while he kept the earth down with his legs, so that’s where we get sky and earth.

Then, after like 18,000 years of us holding it like this he finally died, and his body decomposed to become different things. His breath became the wind; voice became thunder; left eye became the sun and his right eye, the moon.

His head became the mountains and his blood became like rivers another liquid stuff. His facial hair became the stars and he also had fur, so its fur became bushes and forests. The fleas on his fur were carried by the wind and became animals.

IC:  So, before he died there was nothing on the earth except for the sky and the earth?

A: Yeah, and the creation of man is that many years after pan gu had died a god came around earth and thought, “wow, it’s so lonely here” and because she was a God, you know she just created clay figures and animated them with life and thus man was born.

IC: Wow, okay. That’s strange. I don’t think I’ve heard this before.


My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong.


She said she read about this story in a book somewhere and she brought this story to my attention when I was having a casual conversation about traditions and myths that she knew about. She says she doesn’t particularly believe this was how the world was created but it’s just a form that exists since different cultures have their own creation stories.


I hadn’t heard this before but hearing it was interesting, since different religions and cultures have their own way of explaining how the world came to be. For Christians, God created the world in seven days, and there’s the theory of Big Bang. I know that there is a creation myth in Korean culture, which I’m not very familiar with. I remember vaguely reading about it when I was younger. Seeing different creation stories for cultures show how they interpret something as simple yet prominent as the creation of the world.

Annotation: For another version of this myth, refer to

“Pan Gu: Chinese Tale of Creation .” Shen Yun Performing Arts, www.shenyunperformingarts.org/explore/view/article/e/URQuh8K0ciI/pan-gu-creation-china.html.