East Asian Mythology: China and Japan

Historicizing Chinese Myths: Confucism and Taoism

How did Confucius affect Chinese mythology?

Many of the myths of pre-Buddhist China are known to us primarily through the work of Confucian scholars, who have placed the old stories in a historical context and used them for their own purposes. Confucius (Kong Qiu, Kongfuzi, 551–479 B.C.E.) himself replied to a question about the four faces of Huang Di by asserting that the four faces referred to the four directions. A good example of Confucius’ historicizing tendency is pointed out by the contemporary scholars Lihui Yang and Deming An in their valuable Handbook of Chinese Mythology (Oxford, 2005, 33–34) in connection with a myth about Kui, a one-legged monster who lived on Mount Liubo and caused a storm whenever he dove into the sea. The storm made a large thunderous noise. Huang Di caught and killed the monster and made a drum of its skin. As Thunder god, Huang Di used the drum well to demonstrate his dominance. Confucius explained that “one-legged” really meant “one is enough” and that Kui was actually a state official and that because he was so talented it was agreed by all that one such official was enough.


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