Top 3 Classic Chinese Myths and Legends

Much of Chinese culture involves Chinese myths. To understand the many festivals and holidays of China, here are 3 popular Chinese myths that you might find interesting:  


The New Year Legend

The Chinese New Year legend begans in a small village thousands of years ago. Every winter, a monster with the body of a bull and a head of a lion would enter this village and attack the villagers. The monster is called a “Nian.”

The villagers were scared and didn’t know what to do. Until a wise old man came up with an idea! The next time the Nian appeared to attack their village, the people would use fireworks and drums to scare of the monster!

The plan worked perfectly and the monster fled into the hills. From today onwards, every year on the day they scared off the monster, they would light fireworks and celebrate their victory. This day was the start of the Chinese New Year and the Spring Festival.

Top 3 Classic Chinese Myths and Legends  

Houyi and Chang’e - The Mid-Autumn Festival

Houyi and Chang’e is an immortal couple living in heaven, according to the legends. One day, the ruler of all heavens, the Jade Emperor, orders Houyi for help after his 10 sons transformed into suns. Houyi, with his legendary archey skills, shot and killed 9 of the sons and left one remaining to be the sun. But the Jade Emperor was not happy. After all, Houyi killed 9 of his sons! In punishment, he banished Houyi and his wife, Chang’e to become mortals on earth.

After they became mortal, Houyi noticed that Chang’e became extremely miserable. He decided to take a long and dangerous journey to find an immortal pill to make them immortal again.

At the very end of the journey, Houyi meets the Queen Mother of the West who agrees to give him the pill, but warns him that only half of the pill is needed to become immortal.

Top 3 Classic Chinese Myths and Legends

After Houyi came home, the took the pill and put it into a case. He left home for a while, but not before warning Chang’e not to open the case. But Chang’e was too curious- she opened the case just as Houyi returns home. While trying to hide from Houyi that she opened the case, she accidentally swallowed the pill whole.

Immediately after swallowing the pill, Chang’e started to float from the overdose. She began to float and float and float until she finally landed on the moon. All Houyi could do was watch- he could not bear aim his arrow at her.

To this day, it is believed that Chang’e is still on the moon, with the company of a pill-making jade rabbit and a woodcutter named Wu Gang.

Top 3 Classic Chinese Myths and Legends


The Chinese Zodiac Legend

Note: there are multiple versions of this legend, and this is just one of them.

A long time ago, the Jade Emperor wanted 12 animals to be his guards. He spread the message that the quicker the one got to the heavenly gate the higher the rank they would receive.

On the day of the competition, the rat woke up very early and headed to the heavenly gate. However, on his journey, the encountered a river with very fast currents. After waiting and hesitating for a long time, he noticed an ox about the cross the river and quickly hopped onto his back. The kind-hearted ox did not mind and continued on his way. However, as he raced toward the gates of the heavenly emperor, the rat jumped off his back and finished first. The ox came second.

The tiger and the rabbit, who were both very fast, finished third and fourth. The dragon, who flew his way to the gates, was very fast, but because he stopped to help a few animals along the way, was delayed on his journey. It came fifth. The snake came sixth and the horse and goat arrived next at seventh and eighth. Lastly, the monkey arrived after jumping from trees and stones and the rooster, dog, and pig finishes the race as tenth, eleventh, and twelveth.

Here is a quick overview of the ranks:

  1. Rat
  2. Ox
  3. Tiger
  4. Rabbit
  5. Dragon
  6. Snake
  7. Horse
  8. Goat
  9. Monkey
  10. Rooster
  11. Dog
  12. Pig

Top 3 Classic Chinese Myths and Legends

Before I end this article, I would also like to say why the cat was not among the list of winners of the race. There is two stories about why:

  1. When the cat heard about the race, it told the rat to wake it up when the race starts. Because the cat was supposedly a bully to the rat, in revenge, the rat did not wake up the cat on the day of the race. It is said that is the reason the cats today always preys on the rat.
  2. In other stories, the kind ox gave both the rat and the cat permission to ride on its back. However, when they were about to reach the shore, the rat pushed the cat off the ox’s back. The cat drowns and was not able to make it in time.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it taught you a little bit more about Chinese myths. I know that there is many versions of the same story, so feel free to share them in the comments below! Thanks!

Top 3 Classic Chinese Myths and Legends

Thank you for reading this and I hope to see you next time! (Maybe >.<)

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6 Comment(s) A文章作者 M管理员
  1. ivoci


  2. pelangis821

    Sungguh menarik ceritanya

  3. pelangis821

    Bisa diceritakan sebagai dongeng pengantar tidur,

  4. pelangis821

    Terimakasih artikelnya

  5. Merriel

    I had a version where the cat was so excited about the next day's race that he drank a lot and the rat in the morning tried but failed to wake the drunk cat ^^

    • Lingli

      That’s really cool! Thanks for sharing!