Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Culture / Books

Ancient work inspires modern world

By WU YANBO | China Daily | Updated: 2022-09-07 07:28
Share - WeChat
The exhibition Imaginary Encounter-Divine Comedy Dialogue with Shan Hai Jing was staged in Shanghai from November to February. [Photo/CHINA DAILY]

Legendary Chinese collection resonates with producers of online literature, TV series, video games

Chang'e, China's lunar probe, is named after a legendary goddess in ancient fairy tales, but few people know that she first appeared in the book Shan Hai Jing, or The Classic of Mountains and Seas, which is thought to have been written during the late Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

The goddess, the epitome of beauty, lived on the moon with her pet rabbit.

Another debutant in the book was Zouwu, a five-colored mythical creature who features in the movie series Fantastic Beasts directed by David Yates.

Shan Hai Jing, a compilation of mythic geography and beasts, took shape before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), which built China's first empire. An encyclopedic account of people's views of the world at that time, the 30,000-word book documents some 40 states, 550 mountains, 300 waterways, more than 100 historical figures and 400 mythical monsters.

The work, and others featuring ancient myths and monsters, have inspired artists and authors throughout history. In recent years, it has also become a source of inspiration for pop culture, cross-cultural exchanges and comparative studies.

Liu Zongdi, professor at the College of Humanities and director of the Institute of Cultural History at Beijing Language and Culture University, has studied Shan Hai Jing, comparing it with The Histories by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.

The Histories documented geography, people, natural resources, different customs, birds and animals. "In particular, some of the eastern monsters described by Herodotus are quite similar to those in Shan Hai Jing," Liu said.

He added that in some European maps from the Middle Ages, areas close to India were often painted with monsters, the equivalents of which can be found in Shan Hai Jing.

"I wonder whether in ancient Greece during the Middle Ages, knowledge of Shan Hai Jing was spread through trade exchanges with the Western world. This is an interesting academic topic," Liu said.

According to studies, copies of Shan Hai Jing were taken to Japan during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties, or much earlier. In Japan, the work was popular as a geographical chronicle of China's mountains and rivers, and was once regarded as a guidebook for traveling in China. The book's monsters were also popular because of mysticism among Japanese folklore at the time.

Liu said that many types of mythical monsters in Japan derive from Shan Hai Jing. They include the nine-tailed fox, known for its silver-white fur and nine tails, and which according to folklore can transform into any human form.

"Although I do not agree with simply defining Shan Hai Jing as a book of monsters, it does catalogue a large number of strange birds and monsters, and has had a profound impact on the culture surrounding mystery worldwide," Liu said.

1 2 3 Next   >>|
Most Popular
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349