Why humans pushed heaven farther away
April 13, 2018
In Chinese myth, men could freely communicate with the gods as heaven and Earth were connected. But an invasion of monsters from heaven changed everything.
Inspired by divine birds, humans were busy building houses under the guidance of the world’s first man, Fuxi. The houses were built half underground as caves and half above ground with nest-like roofs.
A tribe led by Zhi, called Shaohao by later generations, was divided into four groups, with flags of a phoenix, a black bird, a dark blue bird and a red bird respectively. They stripped the bark off the trees, cut the wood, moved the materials and built the houses.
Ban, son of Zhi, tried breaking off a branch with his hands. But it was so pliable that it flung Ban into the air. That intrigued Ban. He took a smaller branch and, with both hands, bent it slowly to make a curve. As he let one hand go, the branch immediately swung back.
Fuxi gave Ban a silk string from his se (a traditional musical instrument). Ban attached the string to the two ends of the branch and twisted it tightly. Thus the first bow was made. Then Ban took another small branch, carved a cross groove in one end and sharpened the other. He took two feathers from his headdress and attached them to the cross end, making the first arrow.
He pulled back the bow and tried shooting the arrow to the sky. With a screech, a nine-headed bird fell to the ground with a small goat in its claws. People approached in awe at the scene, yet witnessed a heavy cloud drifting by. Fuxi warned Zhi and Ban to put everybody on alert as well as to make more bows and arrows.
At sunset, Fuxi had people set up rock walls all around. Wise man Zhuanxu stood guard in the north, his grandson Zhong in the south. Zhi defended in the west, with Fuxi himself watching in the east, while Nuwa protected the young and the elderly in the middle. The gods of nets, Zhumao and Mang, wove a huge trap in front of the rock wall. Ban led the bowmen and Li, another of Zhuanxu’s grandsons, led the torch bearers behind the walls.
Suddenly, the wind howled and sand swirled in the air. In the midst of the darkness appeared a massive shadow with a wolf’s head and human body, spreading its huge bat wings. It was the fiend Sirius. He had smelled changes on Earth and had sent the nine-headed bird to investigate.
Sirius swallowed the moon in one bite and left the sky in complete darkness. A great number of monsters dashed down through the huge Jianmu trees on the Kunlun Mountain that linked heaven and Earth.
The first monsters got trapped in the huge net, while others were stopped by the rock walls. On Fuxi’s order, arrows and torches whirled in the air, slaying monsters in their path.
Four demon fowl swooped down toward the children and the elderly. Nuwa calmly ordered the torch bearers to ignite ricks while herself playing music to call the phoenix. In no time, a golden phoenix came and beat all the evil fowl into the fire.
Sirius angrily charged his way toward Fuxi, who stretched his massive bow with a golden feathered arrow, shooting directly into Sirius’ left rib. Screaming with pain, Sirius fell into the trap.
Just then, Supreme Deity Haotian’s voice came, suggesting Sirius be let go as long as the fiend returned the moon. The humans did so, and Sirius fled back to heaven.
Fuxi and Nuwa were clear that the demons got down to Earth through the Jianmu trees.
Fuxi suggested that if heaven was further separated from Earth, the demons wouldn’t be able to approach the people. Yet Nuwa was concerned that would prevent humans hearing from the gods.
“One day we will have to rely on our own strength,” said Fuxi.
Zhuanxu offered a way to realize the separation. At daybreak, thousands of giants came from the Longbo and Kuafu tribes, and thousands of giant tortoises went into the rivers.
Li and Zhong, grandsons of Zhuanxu and gifted with huge strength, stood in the center of the land. While Li adopted a squat position, Zhong leaped on his shoulders.
“Grow!” shouted Zhuanxu.
The two young men grew quickly, as majestic as mountains. With a deep breath, Zhong raised Heaven higher, while Li pressed the ground lower.
To the sound of thunder, the clouds that once lingered half way up Kunlun Mountain were now at the top. The tip of the huge Jianmu trees, once hidden in the clouds, was exposed. The gods of wind blew from eight directions, filling the space.
As Zhi waved his flag, eight giant tortoises swam toward the ends of the eight directions, while eight teams of giants ran in the same direction with huge woods. They stopped at the end of the world in eight directions. The giant tortoises retracted their heads and feet, while the giants erected a huge wood on each tortoise’s back. The eight woods became sturdy and firm columns to support Heaven and Earth.
Since then, Heaven has been farther from Earth. Fuxi called to Heaven, yet never again heard from the Supreme Diety Haotian. But he was sure that the god was always watching over the Earth.
Under Fuxi’s orders, Zhuanxu went to explore the north and Zhi marched in the west. Fuxi supervised the sunrise in the east, while Shaohao has been in charge of the sunset ever since. The dragon and the phoenix, totems of Taihao and Shaohao, became the symbols of the Chinese nation.
The Jianmu tree is said to be a sacred tree worshipped by the ancient Chinese. It stands in the center of the world, connecting Heaven and Earth, gods and humans.
A delicate bronze tree with leaves, flowers, fruit, birds, animals, dragons and bells was discovered in the Sanxingdui Relics. It is thought to be a Jianmu statue for the purposes of worship. The term Jianmu was widely used in Chinese literature referring to tall trees.