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Chinese Mythology & Gods

 

Throughout antiquity, Ancient China was one of the most cultivated and powerful empires in the world. Its first semi-legendary dynasty was founded in 2,000 BC, well before ancient Greece rose to power. By 200 BC, the emperors of Ch’in dynasty controlled an area of 500,000 square miles. they had also completed one of the most impressive civil engineering projects ever undertaken, the Great Wall of China, which runs for more than 1,500 miles along the nation’s northern frontier. By the 7th century AD, the Chinese had developed both paper and printing, crucial inventions which were not to reach the west until more than 700 years later. The list of technological advances made by the Chinese goes on and on, but includes the invention of the clock, development of gunpowder, and the spinning of silk. Considering these impressive achievements and its physical location, it is no wonder that China thought of itself as "Middle Kingdom." To its inhabitants, the Middle Kingdom was the center of the world and a beacon of civilization in a shadowy world of barbarism. They believed that the people to the north of China were fierce nomads who lived herding sheep, horses, and camels. Those to the south, they considered headhunting savages who fed themselves by slithering about in rice paddies. The kingdoms to the west were jealous, hostile rivals, and to the east lay vast seas populated by the isolated island cultures.

The Middle Kingdom’s great civilization developed in the vast plain of northern China. This plain was a dry prairie covered many yards deep with yellow dust that had been blowing out of Mongolia for thousands of years. Through the middle of this plain wound the Yellow River, a great sluggish river so choked with silt that it frequently overflowed its banks and flooded the farmlands along its length. This dusty basin might seem an unlikely birthplace for one of the greatest cultures man has witnessed, but it was here that the first Chinese city-states arose, relying upon the waters of the Yellow River to irrigate their fields of millet and barley, and to water their herds of pigs, goats, and oxen. It was also here that Yu the Great, the founder of the legendary Hsia dynasty, established the first Chinese empire. Although it remains unclear whether Yu the Great was an historical or legendary personage, it is clear that his reign was followed by a long series of vigorous dynasties.

From about the sixth to third centuries BC, the central power of the empire declined and the feudal city-states enjoyed a great deal of independence. Although this situation, eventually led to a prolonged civil war, it was also during this period that two of China’s most prominent philosophies, Confucianism, and Taoism, were developed. Both were founded by sages who, as was the custom during this period, wandered from petty king to petty king offering their advice and wisdom. Although neither philosopher received much acclaim during their own times, both had an impact on China that is still evident today. The heart of Confucianism, which was founded by K’ung Fu-tzu, is an ethical and moral system rooted in the venerated traditions of China’s earliest ages. Basically, K’ung Fu-tzu taught that people, especially rulers, should be unselfish, courteous, respectful of the opinions of others, loyal to family and prince, humble, virtuous, and bold in the cause of right or good. Strictly speaking, Confucianism is not a religion, for it is not concerned with the supernatural or spiritual matters. It is more a philosophy that guides men in their everyday lives.

In many ways, Taoism is the opposite of Confucianism. Where Confucianism is concerned with the art of government and social morality, Taoism is concerned with otherworldly mysticism. Taoists believe in a oneness-of-being. To them, life is the same as death and all things are part of the same harmonious state of existence. The only way to achieve knowledge of this mystic state is to enter a trance and merge with the infinite. The Taoists believe that any order imposed on nature is destructive and bound to create unhappiness, so they are generally opposed to law and government. Needless to say, this did not make Taoism popular with the ruling class, but it did not stop Taoism from becoming the most popular religion of the lower classes. It eventually became organized into a church, complete with a formal hierarchy, rites, festivals, and an escape to the Mystical Garden for the faithful. Both Taoism and Confucianism were influenced by a concept from another school of philosophy, that of yin-yang. Basically, yin-yang is a dualist view of the cosmos which posits the existence of two opposing forces, yin (female, dark, weak) and yang (male, light, strength). It is through the interaction of these two forces that everything in the universe is created.

Sometime between around 100 AD, another important influence came to China from distant India: Buddhism. This new religion taught that suffering was indistinguishable from life. The only way to reach salvation was to extinguish all sense of self, which would lead to a state of illumination beyond both suffering and existence. Despite these foreign ideas, there were many surface similarities between Taoism and Buddhism, such as its emphasis on meditation as a means of enlightenment. Therefore, Buddhism found a ready reception in China, and it was not long before Buddhist schools peculiar to Chinese culture appeared and flourished. Because of the influence of these three schools of thought, it is often said that China has three religions: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. This is not to say that a single individual practices all three religions. Rather, it means that there is room in China for followers of all three religions. Early in Chinese history, the Emperor ruled the land through a network of noble lords not too terribly different from that of feudal Europe. But as the empire grew and became increasingly concentrated in huge cities (some had more than a million inhabitants), it became necessary to develop an efficient system to administer it. In response to these needs, China developed the world’s first massive bureaucracy

Political power quickly passed from the hands of the nobility to the prefects and governors employed by the Imperial bureaucracy. These civil servants reported to the Emperor through an elaborate chain of command that ensured an efficient delegation of power and responsibility. In theory, any intelligent man could rise to a position of power in this system of government. Bureaucrats were chosen not through heredity or nepotism, but on the basis of scores earned on a rigorous civil service examination which tested the prospective employee’s knowledge on a wide variety of subjects, especially Confucianism and religion. In reality, however, only the children of the well-to-do could afford to invest the time and money necessary to ensure an acceptable examination score. Despite these flaws, the Chinese bureaucracy worked reasonably well. There were many problems with corruption and betrayal of the public trust, but the system could not have been too seriously flawed, or it would not have survived as long as it did. The last emperor ruled an area of over three million square miles and was not formally deposed until the 20th century. In addition to China’s efficient bureaucracy, there are many reasons for the longevity of its Imperial government. One of the most important, however, is certainly the Emperor’s special relationship with the deities of his culture.

Chinese Emperors ruled by a Mandate from Heaven. In the earliest times, it was believed that the kings were direct descendants of a heavenly deity. As such, these "Sons of Heaven" were endowed with extraordinary spiritual power which enabled them to establish hereditary lines of sacred Emperors who ruled in the country’s best interest. As the dynasties grew older, this precious spiritual power dissipated until the rulership was passed on to someone devoid of this sacred power. At that time, heaven would bestow its mandate on another hero, who would displace the current Emperor and found a new dynasty. One of the most important duties of a Son of Heaven was to act as an intermediary between heaven and the entire world, known as "Under Heaven." The Chinese believed that everything in nature was endowed with a supernatural spiritual force. In the earliest times, it was the king’s duty to use his spiritual power to ensure that these spirits provided for mankind’s needs. Natural disasters, such as drought, flood, famine, etc., were seen as a sign that the emperor had lost his mandate to rule.

The Chinese also practiced ancestor worship. They believed that when a person died, his spirit lived on in the upper regions and influenced the fate of his descendants Under Heaven. To invoke the blessings of these ancestors, and to sustain them so they would not become evil spirits, every citizen from the lowest to highest offered his ancestors food and wine. In return, the ancestors were expected to provide and look out after the welfare of his descendants. The earliest kings had questions written down on pieces of polished bones (later called "dragon bones"). These bones, which contained questions about nearly every aspect of ruling a society, were held over a fire until they cracked. The answer to the question was divined from the pattern of the cracks. These primitive beliefs did not fade away as Chinese society advanced and as the pantheon grew more complicated. Instead, the old beliefs and the new became parallel religions that complemented each other. The duty of appeasing the nature spirits passed into peasant hands, while the duty of worshipping the new, more powerful gods (and his own divine ancestors) became the province of the Emperor. The pantheon of these new gods was similar to the organization of the empire. At the head of the bureaucratic order was Yu-Huang-Shang-Ti, the supreme emperor of Heaven and Under Heaven. He ruled from a splendid palace, and had a full set of courtiers, family, army, and civil servants at his disposal. These subordinates were charged with certain duties and responsibilities, and had to report to Shang-Ti once a year. If the supreme emperor was not pleased, as was a the case, they could be removed and replaced by another who would do a better job. Although the deities of the Chinese pantheon inhabit many different planes, they may be found together at least once a year at Shang-ti’s palace in the Seventh, or Illuminated, Heaven. Normally, only lawful good beings are admitted into this plane, but any Chinese deity may come and go here through Shang-ti’s power.

The Chinese had a god for everything and as a result well over a thousand different gods. Presented here are a small selection of game related ones

 

Chu Jung

God of fire and celestial executioner

Sphere

Fire

Alignment

Unprinicipled

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Fire, Pyrokinesis
Bestowed Minor Powers Fire Expulsion, Solar Expulsion

 

Chung Kuei

Protector of those who travel

Sphere

Travel

Alignment

Anarchist

Bestowed Major Powers

Teleport, Sonic Speed, Sonic Flight

 

Heng O

Goddess of the moon

Sphere

Night

Alignment

Anarchist

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Shadow and Void
Bestowed Minor Powers Ghost Stealth, Hypersensitive Touch

 

Hou T’u

A god of the earth

Sphere

Earth

Alignment

Unprincipled

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Stone, Terrakinesis
Bestowed Minor Powers Plant Abilities, Poison Breath

 

Kuan Ti

God of war and upholder of justice

Sphere

War and Justice

Alignment

Anarchist

Bestowed Major Powers

Invulnerable, Super Strength, Cosmic Awareness

 

Lei Kung

God of thunder and the storm

Sphere

Air

Alignment

Unprincipled

Bestowed Major Powers

Celestialkinesis, Alter Physical Structure Electricity
Bestowed Minor Powers Electrical Expulsion, Flight

 

Shan Hai Ching

God of the ocean

Sphere

Water

Alignment

Anarchist

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Liquid, Hydrokinesis, Reflect

 

Yum Chen Mo

Goddess of wisdom

Sphere

Intelligence

Alignment

Scrupulous

Bestowed Major Powers

Cosmic Awareness, Photographic Reflexes, Genius

 

 

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