The Story of Pan Ku

At the beginning of time only Chaos existed. The chaotic universe had the shape of an egg, when the giant Pan Ku appeared out of nowhere. While he slept, he began to grow. His head became a huge globe, and his limbs legs grew broad and elongated until they reached unimaginable dimensions. Then, one day, Pan Ku awoke and his enormous eyes blinked open, but all he could see was darkness and disorder. In a fit of annoyance, he lifted his mountain of a fist and smashed the egg of chaos into a myriad of countless pieces. The shattered fragments of chaos floated gently apart. The pieces that were "yang" (those which were light and bright and hot) flew upward and became the sky. The pieces that were "yin" (those which were hard and dark and cold and heavy) dropped downward to form the earth. Pan Ku drew himself to his fullest height and stood between them. His feet were planted firmly on the ground and his immense head supported the dome which was the heavens. Between the two, the giant Pan-Ku continued to grow about three meters (ten feet) each day, increasing the distance between the sky and the Earth. He stood there holding the sky and earth apart for eighteen thousand years and, all the time, the sky rose up higher and higher and the earth became thicker and heavier, until finally they set in their places. During this time, Pan Ku carved the universe into a pleasing shape. When Pan Ku was finally satisfied with the appearance of the earth and was comfortable that the celestial spheres were fixed and firm, he set a massive sky-supporting mountain at each of the four corners of the world. (which is why China has four holy mountains) After 18,000 years Pan-Ku died. His breath became the white, fluffy clouds that sailed across the sky and also became the winds that swept the earth, keeping it fresh and sweet. His booming voice turned into the thunder. His eyes lived on as the moon and the sun, and his blood flowed into all the waters of the world--the oceans, the seas, the lakes, and the rivers. Pan Ku's skin and hair became the plants and the trees, while his bones and teeth dissolved into metals, minerals and precious and cinnabar, jade and diamonds, pearls and rubies, iron and salt. So glorious did Pan Ku's world become, that the gods deigned to leave paradise and visit the earth. One visitor, the dragon goddess Nu Kua, was dissatisfied. The earth was certainly beautiful but there was something missing. It seemed lonely. Nu Kua knelt upon the ground and scooped up a lump of yellow clay. She toyed with it for a long while, tapping it with her curved dragon's claws, rubbing it into a ball in the palms of her hands, squeezing it...and pressing it...and molding it. She shaped a head with a broad brow, two eyes, a straight nose and a smiling mouth--much like her own. But, instead of bestowing a replica of her own sinuous, serpentine body upon the tiny figure, she sculpted a torso, two arms and a pair of legs. She put the little clay doll carefully on the ground and breathed a cloud of warm, heavenly incense over it. Suddenly, the small arms flexed, the minuscule head swiveled, the tiny legs kicked out and the figure began to dance. Gathering more clay, Nu Kua made another figure...and then another...until the earth was full of people. For a while, she sat entranced as she watched her creations explore the world around them, but soon it was time for Nu Kua to return to her own universe. She was reluctant to leave, but had one final task to perform before she was compelled to go. Although Nu Kua might be immortal, her small artifacts were not. They were made of clay and would eventually age, wear out and then die. So, she lifted them up, two by two, and whispered into their ears, instructing them, very delicately, in the art and purpose of marriage. Then, confident that the human race would now be able to perpetuate itself, she flew home to her magnificent palace in the sky.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative