《山海经》 《The Classic of Mountains and Seas》 ~200 BCE

By Xah Lee. Date:
Mountains and Seas 4 ears 9 tails goat
4 ears, 9 tails goat, eyes on back. 猼訑,中国古代传说兽类。载《山海经》(南山經之首):有獸焉,其狀如羊,九尾四耳,其目在背,其名曰猼訑,佩之不畏。 Date: 明朝 《山海经图》 (AD 16C). Picture author: 胡文焕 (1596-1650).

山海经

《山海经》是中国先秦古籍,一般认为是主要记述的是古代神话、地理、动物、植物、矿物、巫术、宗教、历史、医药、民俗及民族等方面的内容。《山海经》原来有图,称为《山海图经》,于魏晋后失传。《山海经》记载了许多民间传说的妖怪与诡异的怪兽以及光怪陆离的神话,长期被认为是一部怪异的书[1]。有些学者则认为《山海经》不单是神话,而且是远古地理的描述,其中包括了一些海外的远古山川鸟兽,是一本具有历史价值的著作[2]。

山海经

The Classic of Mountains and Seas

The Classic of Mountains and Seas or Shan Hai Jing, is a Chinese classic text and a compilation of mythic geography[2][3] and myth. Versions of the text have existed since the 4th century BC,[4][5] but the present form was not reached until the early Han dynasty a few centuries later.[5] It is largely a fabulous geographical and cultural account of pre-Qin China as well as a collection of Chinese mythology.[citation needed] The book is divided into eighteen sections; it describes over 550 mountains and 300 channels.

Authorship

The exact author(s) of the book and the time it was written are still undetermined. It was originally thought that mythical figures such as Yu the Great or Boyi wrote the book. However, the consensus among modern Sinologists is that the book was not written at a single time by a single author, but rather by numerous people from the period of the Warring States to the beginning of the Han dynasty.

The first known editor of the Classic was Liu Xiang from the Western Han, who among other things cataloged the Han imperial library. Later, Guo Pu, a scholar from the Western Jin, further annotated the work.

Overview

The book is not a narrative, as the "plot" involves detailed descriptions of locations in the cardinal directions of the Mountains, Regions Beyond Seas, Regions Within Seas, and Wilderness. The descriptions are usually of medicines, animals, and geological features. Many descriptions are very mundane, and an equal number are fanciful or strange. Each chapter follows roughly the same formula, and the whole book is repetitious in this way.

It contains many short myths, and most rarely exceed a paragraph. A famous ancient Chinese myth from this book is that of Yu the Great, who spent years trying to control the deluge. The account of him is in the last chapter, chapter 18, in the 2nd to last paragraph (roughly verse 40). This account is a much more fanciful account than the depiction of him in the Classic of History.

Purpose

Earlier Chinese scholars referred to it as a bestiary, but apparently assumed it was accurate. In fact the information in the book is mythological. It is not known why it was written or how it came to be viewed as an accurate geography book.

Contents

The Classic of Mountains and Rivers has 18 chapters (巻). Chapter 4 has 12 subsections (次一), 2 and 4 have four, and chapters 1 and 3 have three.

All 18 chapters can be classified into 4 categories: Classic of the Mountains (contents 5 chapters), Classic of the Seas (contents 8 chapters), Classic of the Great Wilderness (contents 4 chapters), and Classic of Regions Within the Seas (contents 1 chapter). It recorded more than 100 diplomatic related realms, 550 mountains and 300 rivers; along with the geographic and cultural information of the nearby realms. The Classic of Mountains and Seas also recorded up to 277 different animals. Scholars believe the records of animals in Classic of the Mountains are somewhat exaggerated due to the long history of people compiling them in different dynasties; yet still have a certain degree of authority, because they were generally written by sorcerers and Fangshi based on the experiences they gained from their trips.

The ancient Chinese treated the Classic as a record of geography.[6] The Classic was classified under the category of geography in both Book of Sui and Comprehensive Examination of Literature of Duanlin Ma. It was also an important reference material of Chinese historians through the long history of China.

The Classic of Mountains and Seas is also the source and origin of the ancient Chinese mythology. Some of them are popular and well known in Asian culture, such as Kua Fu, Nüwa, Houyi and Yellow Emperor. There were up to 450 gods and deities mentioned in Classic and they used something called Jingmi (精米) or Jing (糈) which is similar to sorcery.

Chinese scholar Ming Hua Zhang claimed that the Zhulong, which was a mythical creature mentioned in Classic of the Great Wilderness: North, is symbolizing the aurora (northern light).[7] The Zhulong is (according to Classic) “red, with a human face and a snake body that is thousand mile long. It is the god of Zhong Mountain.” He believes that this description matches with the characteristics of aurora.

Classic of Mountains and Seas