Chinese Myths and Fantasies Critical Essays

Cyril Birch


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Chinese myths are the most valuable part of Cyril Birch’s book. The images of P’an Ku as a superman and of Nü-kua as the overmother are associated with the human power of creation. They also share the same spirit of sacrifice. P’an Ku gave up everything, including his breath, to create the universe. Nü-kua died of exhaustion from mending the sky. The other two myths develop around the conflicts between sons and fathers. When the ten sons (suns) ignored an order from their Supreme Father and came out to play all at once, the world suffered disaster. Yi, under the order of Emperor Yao, shot nine sons. The killing signifies the ultimate triumph of the father over the son. Similarly, Kun was punished with death by his grandfather, the Yellow Emperor, for stealing the Magic Mould to stop the flood. His own son, Yü, could harness the flood only by abandoning Kun’s rebellious spirit and observing the codes of obedience to the Yellow Emperor. Comparing this outcome with the Western myth of Prometheus, who was punished for stealing fire for humankind, it seems that Chinese myths, as told in this collection, are much influenced by Confucian ideology. The heroic deeds of Yi and Yü are dimmed by their obedience to authority.

The fairy tales, ghost stories, and magic adventures reflect universal moral concerns: The good and the kind will be rewarded, and the bad and the evil will be punished. These stories, like the myths, are also pervaded by...

(The entire section is 563 words.)