Chinese Ancient Tales (3)
 
 
                                            NUWA REPAIRS THE HEAVENS (Nuwa Bu Tian )

This is a myth about the struggle of the ancient Chinese against Nature.

In remote ages , it says , the pillars which supported the vault of heaven along the four borders of the earth were broken, causing a cataclysm in the land of Shenzhou ( as Chian was called ): there were conflagrations in some parts and great floods in others; wild animals ran rampant, playing havoc with the people . In this chaos emerged a great heroine by the name of Nuwa. She melted down stones of five colors to repair the vault of heaven, cut off the legs of the Great Tortoise to support the borders of the sky, put out the big fires , subdued the torrential floods and killed the fierce birds and beasts. The people once again lived in peace and happiness .

It is a beautiful myth which sings praise of Nuwa as courage and wisdom incarnate and embodies the aspirations of the ancient people to control the nature elements . That is why it has become a favourite subject for Chinese poets, painters and sculptors.

Incidentally, according to another classical source, Nuwa is said to be the daughter of the Water Spirit, born three months after her brother Fuxi. Brother and sister were married and begot all of mankind . So, they are said to be the ancestiors of the human race. Later , such marriages were forbidden and wedding customs and ceremonies were introduced, according to which men and women had to be of different parentage in order to marry. From this legend one can see the vestiges of ancient matriarchal society.

 
 
 
                                              Pangu Creates The Universe (Pangu Kai Tian Pi Di)

Pangu, according to ancient Chinese mythology, was the creator of the universe. His Great Exploit first appeared in writing in a work of the Period of theThree Kingdoms about the third century A.D.

It is said that before the Great Beginning, the universe was like an egg and Pangu was formed inside, out of the two great principles Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine). He underwent nine metamorphoses a day, affecting all around him. The clear and bright went up to become the sky, while the dirty and dark sank down to form the eath. The sky kept moving up, th earth becoming thicker and Pangu himself growing taller--by ten feet a day. It went on like this for 18,000 years and the result was that thesky was immensely high, the earth immensely thick and Pangu himself immensely tall.

Another millennium passed, Pangu grew old and died. Different parts of his body disintegrated to become the sun, the moon, the stars, wind and cloud, mountains and rivers, land, grass and wood, metal and stone--in short, all that we find in the visible universe.

Pangu, therefore, is the Hero of the Chinese Genesis, well known and liked by the people. He is usually taken as a subject by the painter or handicraftsman. His image, however, may be different according to the fancy of the artist: a dwarf dressed in animal skin or fig-leaves or a human figure with two horns on his head, carrying a hammer and a chisel.

 
 
 
                         A DIVINE MAIDEN SCATTERS FLOWERS ( A divine maiden scatters flowers)

This story originates from a Buddhist scripture. According to "The Sutra of Vimalakirti", in the hall of this great master there was an ethereal maiden ( devi in Sankrit, meaning a female deva ), who scattered divine flowers. The flowers would fall off the Bodhisattvas, but they would stick on the chief disciple, showing that he still had a long way to go before the attainment of supreme wisdom. The devi said of him, " The flowers do not fall off his person because his deep-rooted habits are not yet fully eliminated. " .

Later Chinese writers and story-tellers gave a twist to the original religious message of this simple Buddhist tale and Tian Nu San Hua came to mean that when spring comes divine maidens will scatter flowers from on high to embellish the human world.

Works of art created on this theme strive to convey the feeling of renewed vitality and exuberant beauty.

 
 
 
                                                            ZHONG KUI ( Zhong Kui Da Gui )

You probably will meet him in a shop dealing in old paintings. There he is, an ugly, friendish-looking man, with glowering eyes and bristling beard, usually perched on one leg brandishing a sword-- painted on a scroll.

Just as the ancient beauties provide the artist with scope for painting what is extremely beautiful, Zhong Kui gives him an opportunity to revel with his paint-brush in what is ferocious and grotesque.

A legendary figure first mentioned in a Song dynasty book, Zhong was supposed to have lived during the region of Emperor Xuan Zong of the Tang dynasty.

One night he had a dream in which he saw two ghosts. One was small in stature, clad in red, with one foot bare, holding a large paper fan. The spirit, it seemed, wanted to steal the emperor's jade flute and musk bag of the favourite imperial concubine Yang Guifei. Jumping and circling the palatial hall, he was chased by another ghost of great height and powerful build. The latter wore a hat and blue clothes, with small one, gouged out both of his eyes, split him into two and ate him up.

Astounded, the emperor asked him who he was. The big ghost replied, "Zhong Kui is the name. I died after failing in the imperial examination for military officers. I have, anyway, long resolved to wipe out all demons and monsters. So I am at it now."

As soon as he woke up, the emperor felt well again. Wu Daozi the famous painter was summoned for an imperical audience and told about the dream. By imperical order, he set about painting Zhong Kui's portrait according to the emperor's description. The result was the exact likeness of the ghost seen in the dream.

For later generations, therefore, Zhong Kui became an idol thought to be capable of eliminating ghosts and demons; and as mentioned above, he also became one of the favourite themes for painters. In the old days, people used to hang his portrait up in their homes on the Dragon Boat Festival ( the fifth day of the fifth lunar month ) to keep off evil spirits.

 
 
 
                                                         Wu Song Kius Tiger (Wu Song Da Hu )

Wu Song is yet another hero of the Robin Hood type. A man of iron, of stupendous strength and courage, he goes through many ups and downs in life---avenging a murdered brother, suffering injustice and persecution, committing murders in vengeance---before he becomes throughly disillusioned and joins the band at Liangshan Mountain.

The following episode describes one of his early adventures.

Wu Song was on his way back to Yanggu country to join his elder brother after an absence of many long years. There was only one more mountain, the Jingyang Ridge, to cross before he would be home. Stopping at a wine shop for a meal, he noticed a sign with the warning: "Three Bowls and You Cannot Top the Ridge."

Hungry and thirsty, he ordered meat and drink. After he had eaten a hearty meal and drunk three bowls of wine, the shop-keeper would not sell him any more, explaining to the annoyed customer that although a country brew, his vintage had the taste and potency of old wine; that's why it had acquired another name: "Wine That Knocks You Down outside the Door". At the insistence of Wu Song, whose thirst had just been whetted by the first three bowls, the shop-keeper had to serve another, and then another, until the hero had finished eighteen bowls of the potent booze, six times the limit!

He picked up his bundle to continue his journey, only to be stopped by the wine seller again with the warning that in recent months a tiger had been roaming the ridge and had taken the lives of around twenty people or so. The local magistrate, he said, had stipulated that passersby could only cross the ridge during the few hours before and after noontime, and must do so in large groups.

Wu Song took little notice of the warning and set out alone late in the afternoon, suspecting the shop-keeper of trying to get some extra business by making him spend the night at his inn. Halfway up the slope he came across an offical notice confirming what the shop-keeper had said, but he was reluctant to turn back now, for it was a question of saving face.

Heady with wine, he slumped down on a rock for a rest. In a flash, a slant-eyed, white-browed tiger burst out like a howling whirlwind. Ravenous, it sprang at Wu Song, who jumped aside to dodge it. Raising the club that he carried, he aimed a blow at it but missed, swinging the club onto a tree and breaking it in two. The ensuing life-and-death struggle lasted for some time. At length he managed to grasp the tiger by the scruff of the neck and press its head down. With all his might he kicked the beast in its face and eyes. The tiger set up a terrible roaring and pawed the ground beneath its body. The scraping and scuffling wore away the dirt, and Wu Song pressed its muzzle down into the pit. The tiger began to show hand, Wu Song clenched his right fist into a very hammer of iron and with all the strength he could muster he struck and struck again. After some fifty to seventy blows, blood flowed out from the great beast's eyes, mouth, nose and ears. That is how Wu Song killed the tiger with his bare hands.

Quickly the news spread and exhausted Wu Song was given a hero's welcome by the people of his native town.

 
 
 
                                                           WATER MARGIN ( Shui Hu Zhuan )

One of the great four novels of the Ming Dynasty, Water Margin (also translated freely as All Men Are Brothers) written by Shi Nai'an (c.1296-1370) is another almost inexhaustible source of inspiration for playwrights, artists and craftsmen.

There are a hundred and eight brave men and women in this epic novel. The majority are peasants, fishermen or other working folk, but some are small functionaries, army officers, merchants, scholars or even landowners persecuted by the higher authorities. They are all robust characters with a strong sense of justice and tremendous courage, capable of fighting to the death. Each one of them is compelled for one reason or another-corrupt officials, oppressive government or other injustices-to flee society and take refuge on Liangshan Mountain in Shangdong province. They form a strong insurgent peasant army and pit themselves against the ruling dynasty. The adventures of these men are knit into an integral whole, and yet each episode can be singled out to compose an independent drama or story or as the motif for artistic creation. The author's characterization is so superb that the heroes have lived in the hearts of millions generation after generation to this day, and their struggles are appraised and re-appraised as history marches on.

 

 
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