Long, long ago—not in a land before time, but a time before land—there was nothing in the universe except an enormous egg-shaped entity.
Inside the “egg,” the opposite forces of yin and yang were all scrambled; it was a complete mess. But over time, the interactions between various substances and energies eventually conceived a being—a shaggy, horned giant named Pan Gu.
For 18,000 years, Pan Gu (pan goo) slept and grew. One day, he suddenly awoke. He opened his eyes, but saw only pitch-blackness. He strained his ears, but heard only unnerving silence. Pan Gu found his dreary surroundings highly disturbing.
The Egregious Egg
Flustered, Pan Gu conjured a magical ax and landed upon the egg a mighty chop. The egg split into two with a thunderous crack. Slowly, yin and yang began to separate. Everything dark and heavy sank down to form the Earth. And the rest, light and clear, drifted up to form the heavens.
But Pan Gu was anxious that the halves would close up again, and so he stood between the two halves to keep them apart. With each passing day, the sky rose 10 feet further above him, the Earth thickened 10 feet below him, and Pan Gu himself grew 10 feet just to keep up with the growing expanse and hold on.
It was a lonely and strenuous job. This toil, the conscientious giant endured for another six million five hundred and seventy thousand days, or another 18,000 years, until he was certain that the realms were finally stabilized. Then with a great crash, Pan Gu lay down and died.
An Ultimate Sacrifice
As the weary Pan Gu collapsed, a miraculous transformation took place: his final breath turned into winds and clouds; his voice into rumbling thunder; his left eye blazed into the sun and right eye gleamed into the moon; his hair and beard became stars of the Milky Way; his limbs and hands and feet transformed into great mountains and the blood running through his veins into flowing rivers; his flesh converted into fertile farmlands, his bones turned to precious gems and minerals; his teeth and nails became lustrous metals; the hairs on his skin burgeoned into lush vegetation; and the sweat from his extended labors fell as rainwater for the mortal world.
Some say that Pan Gu’s spirit never ceased but turned into humans, which accounts for the ancient Chinese belief that humans are the soul of all matter.
Pan Gu sacrificed his life to create the world and his body to enrich and beautify it. Now the skies are graced with luminous celestial bodies, the Earth, contoured by great mountains and rivers and flora and fauna galore. And Pan Gu, the giant-god who came out of an egg, is nowhere, yet everywhere to be found.
Ancient China was a land where gods and mortals lived in tandem and created a divinely inspired culture. And so it became that early Chinese history and mythology are wholly intertwined. Our new “Mythistory” series introduces you to the main characters of the marvelous legends of China.