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The 10 best Chinese legends (and their meaning)

The 10 best Chinese legends (and their meaning)

April 16, 2021

The East has always been for the Westerners a mysterious and beautiful land, of beautiful places and very diverse and ancient cultures. One of the countries that in this sense has always aroused greater fascination and that in turn has had a greater impact and relationship with Europe throughout history is China, since the time of Marco Polo and even from the Ancient Age.

This country has a millenary culture in which through the ages great myths and traditions have been elaborated. In order to exemplify this wealth and understand a little more about its idiosyncrasy Throughout this article we will see several Chinese legends , with your explanation.

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10 great Chinese legends

Below we show you a small selection of a dozen well-known Chinese legends.


1. The legend of the Monkey King

One of the great legends of China, and probably one of the best known worldwide, is the legend of the Monkey King. This character has a very broad history, which tells us about the search for immortality.

The Monkey King Sun Wukong was born from a magical stone, coming from chaos, in the Huāguǒ-shān mountains. After joining a clan of apes, Sun Wokong he showed his courage by jumping into a waterfall and finding a new home for the monkeys , who appointed him king. However, the Monkey King became conscious after the death of a fellow who would one day reach the time, which decided to start in search of immortality, disguising himself in human clothes.


After leaving he would find a great Buddhist teacher, who despite his initial reluctance ends up welcoming him, giving him his name and showing him great skills such as the ability to transform or to give impressive jumps of almost a hundred kilometers.

But one day, and after seeing how the Monkey King used his gifts as a show, the master decided to throw him out of the temple. After finishing his training this being He made numerous trips in order to achieve immortality . Among them, travel to the Dragon King Palace of the East Sea, from which he would steal the Ru Yi Bang rod that maintained the balance of the seas that will later become his weapon (something that generated serious cataclysms) and with which he forced the great Dragon Kings to give him magical equipment. He also traveled to Inferno to cross out his name and the name of the rest of the monkeys in the book of life and death.


It is then when to try to control him the Jade Emperor decides to take him to grant him a noble title. First it grants him the title of Protector of the Horses of the Imperial Stables, but after a conflict he decides to add him as Keeper of the Garden of the Peach of Immortality. Even so, when he is denied access to a banquet in honor of Empress Sun Wukong, he becomes angry and decides to steal the immortality peaches and immortality pills of Lord Daoist Laozi, also destroying the garden.

Then, the emperor sends one hundred thousand warriors to stop him, but the Monkey King manages to defeat them . Finally he is captured and his execution is ordered, but after consuming the pills and peaches of immortality, nothing could kill him. Sun Wukong was locked in the Oven of the Eight Trigrams, where it burned until the instrument exploded. But that was not enough to finish him off.

The emperor requested the help of Buddha, who challenged the Monkey King and bet with him that he was unable to jump beyond the palm of his hand. If he succeeded, he would be named emperor, and if not, he would be locked up. Sun Wukong accepted the bet and jumped , until what he believed was the end of the Universe in which he could only see five columns. He urinated on them to mark where he had arrived. Upon descending, however, he discovered that these pillars were Buddha's fingers; He had lost his bet. He tried to escape, but Buddha sealed him on the Mountain of the Five Elements for all eternity.

Centuries later he would be freed by the monk Tang, whom he would help in his journey to recover the sacred scriptures for China (yes, and with the help of a magical band that made the monk could generate great pain in case of need) .

2. The legend of the dragon's pearl

Dragons are very admired creatures in China. In this country they are usually creatures of great power but also of great wisdom, often linked to the climate. However, you can also find pleasure in material possessions, some of which have been coveted by man. As in this legend.

Legend has it that there was once a dragon that lived on Kinabalu Island , which was generally peaceful and who wanted and played throwing in the air and collecting a huge pearl which was his most valuable possession.

This was coveted by many, and there came a time when the emperor wanted to incorporate it into his treasure.For this, he entrusted his firstborn son with the task of taking her, embarking with his crew. The young prince elaborated a plan to get hold of the pearl , asking his men to make him a kite capable of supporting the weight of an adult man and a flashlight.

When the comet was built, the prince waited until it was dark for the dragon to fall asleep and with the help of the comet he could fly to the position of the dragon and exchange the pearl for the lamp. After that it was picked up by the crew. However, the dragon soon woke up and made a future he pounced on the prince's ship in order to claim his possession .

The prince and his sailors, desperate before the attack of the serpent, decided to charge the guns and shoot. With the first shot the dragon thought that they were throwing his pearl, so he ran to catch it, but the weight of the bullet dragged him down, falling into the sea. The prince managed to return to his home with the jewel, which became part of the imperial treasure, and eventually he would become the new emperor.

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3. The legend of butterfly lovers

Some of the existing legends in China tell us about a more modern vision of the traditional one for the time in which they were written. They tell us about the search for true love over family impositions , as well as the search for knowledge in a population that at that time had not allowed school: women.

Legend has it that there was a young woman named Zhu Yingtai in antiquity who had a deep desire to learn, be educated and gain knowledge. But at that time the woman was not allowed access to education beyond that received in the father's home, with what the intelligent girl decided to disguise herself as a man to fulfill her dream.

In this way and with the consent of her father, the young woman was able to start her studies. During his training he met another young man, Liang Shanbo , with whom I would share a room for years and with whom I would initiate a friendship that little by little would become deeper and deeper. So much so, that Zhu Yingtai ended up falling in love.

However one day Zhu Yingtai would receive the news that his father had fallen ill and that he had to return home. The young woman handed one of her trainers a fan so that the moment came she would give it to Liang Shanbo and tell her that she wanted to marry him.

After that, the young woman prepared to return home, and Liang Shanbo accompanied her. Zhu Yingtai tried on the way to make him see who he really was, without success. Not knowing what to do, the young woman tried to convince him to marry a supposed twin sister. The young man ended up agreeing to meet her later, and after having accompanied Zhu Yingtai for a distance, he separated from her to return to his studies.

Upon arriving home, the young woman saw that her father was recovered. But he also found bad news: her father had arranged a marriage for her . Later Liang Shanbo received the fan and guessed who Zhu Yingtai was, so he came quickly to visit Zhu Yingtai and his family. However, there the young woman told him what happened. Both cried and sworn eternal love, before what the father ended up throwing the young man. Liang Shanbo returned home and after a short time became ill and died.

When the date arrived Zhu Yingtai had to prepare for their arranged wedding, and while they were taking her in a palanquin to the place where the procession was to be found, she found a grave. A grave with the name of Liang Shanbo. The woman approached and wept for the lost love, but suddenly the grave opened at the same time that a great storm appeared. Zhu Yingtai smiled and launched himself into the pit.

When he had done it the sudden storm subsided, and the members of the bridal party they could see how two beautiful butterflies emerged from the tomb , where the souls of Zhu Yingtai and Liang Shanbo lived, who flew away and flew together forever.

4. The creation of the Universe

One of the types of myths that we can observe in almost all mythologies and cultures refer to something that has awakened the curiosity of humanity since the beginning of it times: how the universe was formed. Chinese mythology offers us in this sense the legend of Pangu or P'an-Ku as a possible explanation.

The legend says that at the beginning there was only chaos, with heaven and earth united and the universe concentrated in a black egg. Within it slept a single being, Pangu or P'an-Ku . When he was awakened he found himself trapped in the egg, and he proceeded to break it. This made part of the egg, the lighter and clearer, the sky farewell and conformity, while the lower and darker part would make up the Earth. The gigantic being would have the head in the Sky and the feet in the Earth, and with the step of the millenia both would go enlarging.

After that, four beings were born: the Dragon, the Feng Huang (similar to the phoenix), the Turtle and the Qilin. By joining forces with Pangu, they formed the seasons and the five elements.

But P'an-Ku was not immortal, and there came a time when he died. His death would give light to a large number of elements of the world From his breath came the wind and his eyes would become the Sun and the Moon. His beard the stars and his bones the minerals. Its extremities would configure the pillars that separate Heaven and Earth, and its blood the seas.

5. Nüwa and the creation of man

In antiquity China also possessed a series of ancient creative gods, often related to the imperial hierarchy. One of them is Nüwa, the first deity , a feminine entity that among its multiple attributions some legends consider the creator of humanity.

Legend has it that once the universe and stars, seas and mountains, forests and animals were created, the first goddess, Nüwa, was born. It was a being of torso up human and torso down dragon with the ability to transform. This deity traveled the world, astonished at its wonders.

However, the deity considered that the world lacked life, to the point that she herself felt lonely after a while. After standing in front of a river, she could see her reflection on the water and began to think about creating beings similar to herself . He started to extract mud and shape it until he achieved something in a way that he liked. He gave her legs and arms, and when he finally finished his work decided to breathe life. This is how the first human being was born.

The goddess began to create more and more people, but seeing that she would need many to populate the world she decided to place a wicker cane in order to remove the clay, so that when it was extracted small fragments would emerge that in turn would be transformed into other people . Also, and given that I had not given them the gift of immortality, I believe the man and the woman so that they could conceive and generate more beings with whom to populate the world.

6. The Legend of Gun and Yun and the Great Flood

Chinese culture, like many others of great antiquity, have legends that tell us about a great flood at a universal level. Originally it was considered that the Earth was flat while the Sky was spherical, being held the second by four pillars that allowed the balance and functioning of both worlds. Based on this there is a legend that tells us about Gun, the hero who stole the earth, and his offspring .

Legend has it that there was once a great war in the Heavens between the water god Gong Gong and the fire god Zhuan Xu, the first being defeated and in his rage giving a powerful headbutt to a mountain which came to knock it down. But this mountain was one of the four pillars that supported the sky, which caused such an inclination that affected the waters of the world. This led to a flood that flooded all the known land and caused serious problems for human subsistence.

Seeing this the emperor Yao ordered Gun to try to stop the effects of the great flood, for which he took from the god of Heaven the secret of the xirang (sacred ground that grew and multiplied by itself). Gun used this power to create reservoirs in flooded lands, thanks to the fact that the land grew at the same speed as water to the point of blocking its passage. But the god of Heaven claimed the xirang and ordered the god Zhu Rong to retrieve it . Gun collected all the land he had created (with which the waters flooded the previously saved areas) and hid it. After almost a decade trying unsuccessfully to stop flooding with this method, and with the arrival of a new emperor, Gun was imprisoned on Mount Yu Shan and was finally executed.

However after three years his body remained uncorrupted, something that caused Zhu Rong to open a gash in his belly to see what happened. From there arose Yun, son of Gun. He was also assigned the same duty as his father, but in his case he finally understood that it was not enough to stop the waters: he generated, with the help of several celestial beings, channels that allowed water to drain and after thirteen years (in which he did not visit his house because of the fear of losing his concentration) he achieved what his father had not been able to do.

7. The Legend of the White Snake Lady

Forbidden love is another theme that can be seen in many Chinese legends, one of the best known being the White Serpent. He also tells us not to generalize our beliefs, from the vision of a benevolent and loving snake.

Legend has it that on Mount Emei lived two large snakes, one white and one green, which had magical powers. With them they became a woman and explored the region. One day White Snake, taking the name of Bai Suzhen, found a young man named Xu Xien on the road . The contact between the two gave rise to a deep love, both marrying in a short time and opening an apothecary between them.

But one day, a priest named Fa Hai told Xu Xien that his wife was a snake demon. Initially she did not believe him, but during some celebrations the woman agreed to drink wine so as not to upset her husband. This made him lose control, something that caused him to run to his room and there to transform.When Xu Xien entered and saw her as a White Serpent, she died of terror. This made the great Serpent begin the search for magical herbs capable of returning to life, herbs that the god of longevity granted him to feel sorry for their situation.

Come back to life, Xu Xien initially thought that he had lived a hallucination, but I ended up going to the Fa Hai temple and becoming a priest. Bai Suzhen went with her sister to look for her husband, something that after refusing Fa Hai unleashed a magical combat in which the ladies caused the waters to flood the temple at the same time that the monk generated land that prevented this from happening. With the White Serpent pregnant and her forces diminished, the White and Green Ladies withdrew.

But the time came when Bai Suzhen gave birth and Xu Xian decided to visit her and meet her son. There the woman confessed her husband the truth. Enjoying the moment Fa Hai cast a spell that caused the White Lady to be trapped in a golden vessel , arguing that his union with a mortal was prohibited.

However, over time the sister of the White Lady, the Green Lady (her human form called Xiao Qing) gained more power and managed to free her sister and the priest was devoured by a crab. With this the couple was able to meet again, this time accepting and loving themselves as they were.

8. The legend of Jing Wei

Some Chinese legends have a sad background, but they in turn tell us about effort and perseverance. An example of this is the legend of Jing Wei, a mythological being that learned to hate the sea and tries to dry it by all means .

Legend has it that there was once a young princess named Nu Wa (in honor of the deity), daughter of Emperor Shen Nong. The young woman loved the sea and navigated its waters, something she did with skill and passion and with the confidence that nothing bad would happen to her. But one day the current took his boat, with such luck that a storm broke out and the great waves caused him to sink and die.

However, her soul returned to the world in the form of Jing Wei, a beautiful bird in which the old love for the sea had been transformed into a deep hatred for having killed her. And he wanted revenge. He went to the sea and told him that he intended to kill him, something that he mocked. The bird then went to the mainland, and there he collected everything he could to throw it into the waters and thus fill the sea in such a way that no one else could drown, ready to spend as much time as necessary, even thousands of years. And this is something that the young woman continues to do day by day, carrying and throwing with great perseverance all the stones, branches and elements that she can to dry it.

9. The legend of the four dragons

The dragon is a mythological animal of great popularity in China, being a being deeply associated with culture and linked to the rains and the river. In addition to the legend of the dragon pearl these beings are part of many others, including some that refer to the origin of the main rivers of China .

The legend says that formerly there were no rivers or lakes in China, only the sea. There lived four great dragons: the Negro who loved to fly through the air, the Pearl who owned the fire, the Yellow focused on the earth and the Great Dragon who worshiped the water.

These beings flew and were happy, until one day they saw how on earth the human beings begged the gods for rain, without which they could not obtain crops to feed themselves. The dragons, distressed, they decided to go to the Jade Emperor and they asked him to make it rain. He was irritated by his interference, but promised to rain the next day and told them to go back to the sea.

However, neither the next day nor many days later a single drop of rain fell, something that increased the despair of humanity. The dragons were saddened by the emperor's lack of action and his lack of concern for the man. Since the emperor was not going to do it, the dragons decided to take action. The Great Dragon He proposed to take the sea water and throw it from the sky to water the fields , something that the four did with haste.

But the god of the sea warned the Jade emperor, who was furious at not having had his permission and ordered the dragons captured. The emperor ordered the god of the mountains to put a mountain on each of them in order to imprison them forever. Not regretting their actions, the dragons transformed the Yangtze, Heilongjiang, Huanghe and Zhujiang rivers.

10. The legend of Meng Jiang Nü's tears

A famous traditional Chinese legend tells us about the power of love and anger at the death of loved ones, in addition to referring to the harsh conditions and risks run by the builders of the Great Wall of China.

Legend has it that at the time when the Qin dynasty held power in China and the Great Wall was under construction, two families were separated by this: The Meng and the Jiang . These, in order to symbolize their friendship, planted two climbing plants (one on each side) so that they were on top.Once the plants were united, both families saw that this union had produced an enormous fruit.

Both families discussed who it was, but decided to divide it in half equitably. But nevertheless, inside the fruit they found a girl, who decided to raise together with the name of Meng Jiang Nü . This girl grew up and became a woman, and one day she met a man named Wan Xiliang who was being persecuted for execution (since a sage had told the emperor that sacrificing ten thousand men would prevent the collapse of parts of the wall, and the name Wan means precisely ten thousand). After telling her the situation she decided to hide him in her case, but over time both fell in love and finally got married.

But precisely on the day of the wedding Wan Xiliang was captured. In principle he was forced to perform forced labor: participate in the construction of the Great Wall of China. Meng Jiang Nü did not lose hope and waited for her husband to return to her. However, when winter arrived, it did not return. The woman proceeded to weave clothes so that her husband could take shelter from the cold, and then take her to the place on the Great Wall where Wan Xiliang was supposed to be.

However, when arriving, a very bad news awaited him: during the construction, the man had died and had been buried somewhere in the Great Wall. The woman wept and wept for three days and nights with such force that the Wall took pity on her, leaving about 400 kilometers of it to sink. Among them was the place where Wan Xiliang was buried , something that allowed the woman to see her beloved again.

Bibliographic references:

  • Christie, Anthony (1968). Chinese Mythology Feltham: Hamlyn Publishing.
  • Wu, K. C. (1982). The Chinese Heritage. New York: Crown Publishers.
  • Yang, Lihui and Deming An, with Jessica Anderson Turner (2005). Handbook of Chinese Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Top 10 Terrifying Chinese Legends (April 2021).


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