Pangu and the beginning of the universe

Another story for liberal religious kids; this time, from Chinese mythology.

At the beginning, there was little difference between heaven and earth. All was chaos, and heaven and earth had no distinct forms, like the inside of a chicken’s egg. Within this chaos, the god Pangu was born inside the egg.

Pangu grew and grew inside the egg. After 18,000 years, the egg somehow opened up. Some say that Pangu stretched himself inside the egg, and shattered the egg’s shell into pieces.

Once the egg had shattered open, the lightest part of it, the part that was like the white of a chicken’s egg, rose upwards, and became the heavens. The heavier part of the egg, like the yolk of a chicken’s egg, sank downwards and became the earth. Pangu took a hammer and an adze, and cut the connections between earth and the heavens. Then to keep earth and the heavens from merging together once again, Pangu stood between them, serving as the pillar that kept them apart.

Pangu lived within earth and the heavens, standing between them. And one day he began to transform. He became more sacred than the earth, and he became more divine than the heavens. The heavens began to rise, going up one zhang, or about ten feet, each day. The earth began to grow thicker, thickening by one zhang each day. And as the heavens rose, so too Pangu grew; he grew one zhang taller each day. And this continued for 18,000 years: each day, the earth grew thicker, and the heavens rose higher, and Pangu grew taller.

At the end of 18,000 years, the heavens had grown very high, the earth had grown very thick, and Pangu had grown into a giant. He was now 90,000 li (or 87,000 miles) tall, the distance between earth and the heavens. Finally, all had become stable. The heavens had stopped rising. The earth had stopped growing thicker.


Not everyone agrees what Pangu looked like. Some say he had a dragons’ head and the body of a serpent. But most say he loooked like human beings, except that he was a giant, and he had a horn on his head.

After uncounted years, Pangu felt that he was dying. As he was dying, his body began to transform itself. His left eye became the sun, his right eye became the moon, and his hair and beard became the sky and the stars. His breath became the winds and clouds, and his voice became the thunder. His arms and legs became the four extremes or borderlines of the earth, and his torso became the Five Mountains. His blood became the rivers, his teeth and bones became the rocks and minerals, and his flesh became the fields and the soil. His skin became plants, and his sweat became the rain and the dew.


First part of the story: the Sanwu Liji, or San Wu Li Ji, translation and retell-ing from Handbook of Chinese Mythology, Lihui Yang and Deming An (Oxford University, 2005), pp. 64-66, 170-176; with reference to Classical Chinese Myths, Jan Walls and Yvonne Walls (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1984); and Chinese Myths and Legends, Lianshan Chen (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 6-7.

Second part of the story: Wuyun Linianji, or Wu Yun Li Nian Ji, Yang and An, Chen.

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