Chinese Legends

There are many ancient Chinese legends that explain the traditions and phenomenons of the modern world. With a great collection of ancient love stories, legends about the creation of the world and festival traditions – story time in China is never boring. Here is a summary of 5 famous Chinese legends.

1 The White Snake

Legend has it that there were once two snakes (a white and a black one) who changed into beautiful girls, Bai Su Zheng and Xiao Qing. Together they traveled to the West Lake of Hangzhou and met a man, Xu Xian. Upon seeing Xu Xian, Bai Su-Zheng immediately fell in love. They married after a short courtship and openend a traditional medicine store together.

An abbot, Fa Hai, from a nearby temple found out that Bai was actually a snake and went to warn Xu Xian. Fa told Xu that he should let his wife drink alcohol during the dragon boat festival to show her true self. On the day of the festival, Xu offered his wife Bai the alcohol and she could not refuse. She immediately fell ill and when Xu went to check on her, he found a white snake in her place. Xu was so shocked at the discovery that he fell to the floor and died.

Chinese legend

When the power of alcohol faded from Bai’s body, she regained her human form and discovered her husbands body. She quickly went to Kunlun Mountain where she knew she could find a herb protected by the gods that could save his life. Bai had to beg to the Immortal to give her the herb to save her husbands life. Touched by her sincerity, they allowed her to take the herb. When Xu regained life, he still wished to be separated from his wife and took to the abbots temple to become a monk. As he did this, Bai followed and begged the temple to let him free. Once Xu was secretly released, Bai explained her story to him and they returned home together.

The abbott however was convinced the two were to be separated and took to the heavens to ask for help. Here, a lantern was commanded to imprison Bai Su-Zheng. Once the abbot returned to earth, he saw Xu buy a hat and ensured that the lantern took the form of that hat. When Bai placed it on her head, she was captured in the Thunder Peak Pagoda by the West lake. It was only years later that she had enough strength to destroy the pagoda and reunite with her husband.

2 Nian

Chinese legend

The story of Chinese New Year(新年xin1nian2) is one of the Chinese legends that is heard around the world.

A long, long time ago there was a monster named Nian who visited a small village in China each year to scare everyone he saw. On the day the monster was to appear, the villagers took to the mountains. On that day, an old beggar wandered into the village to scare away the monster. An old lady was surprised to see him and offered him her house as she too fled to safety.

Around midnight, the monster appeared. He was so surprised to see that the old ladies house was illuminated and that there was a red paper stuck to her door that he gave out a loud cry. As he approached the house, he heard loud banging and was too scared to come closer.

This is how the old man figured out what scared the monster: light (fire), red and loud noise. The next day was the 1st day of the 1st lunar month. The villagers returned from the mountains and heard about the old mans discovery. The tale spread to other villages and this is why, every year on New Year’s Eve, people stick red papers to their doors, blow up firecrackers and keep their houses brightly lit.

3 Butterfly Lovers

Zhu Yingtai, a Chinese woman from the Jin Dynasty, disguised herself as a man to be able to pursue her studies in Hangzhou. Here she made a friend, Liang Shanbo, and fell in love with him after 3 years. She invited Liang to her house to convince him to marry her sister and when he did,  Zhu Yingtai confessed her feelings to him. Liang finally understood his deep love for Zhu and he rushed to her family to propose to her. Unfortunately, her father had arranged for her to marry another man and on the way home, he died of sadness.

The day of her marriage it was raining with thunder flashing in the sky and Zhu went to visit Liang Shanbo’s grave. The tomb flew open because of the wind and Zhu Yingtai jumped in. When the storm cleared, a pair of beautifully colored butterflies flew out together into the rainbow filled sky.

4 Panku

Chinese legends

This is a short story, about the creation of the earth.

According to Chinese mythology, the universe was initially the shape of an egg. When the egg cracked, Pan-Ku came out along with two basic elements: yin and yang.

Yang formed the sky why Yin formed the earth.

18 000 years passed before Pan-Ku died. After his death, his head created the sun and the moon, his blood created the rivers and seas, his breath created wind and his voice thunder. The human beings, you ask? They came from the fleas on his body.

5 Star Crossed Lovers

The 7th day of the 7th month is considered to be Valentines Day in China (Qi Xi Festival) as a commemoration to the story of the cowherd and the weaver girl.

Zhinu was the daughter of a Goddess. She was a skilled weaver and lived in the skies with her sisters. Zhinu was bored of her duties and went to Earth where she met Niulang, a cowherd. They fell madly in love and proceeded to get married and have 2 children together.

Chinese legends

Upon hearing this, the Goddess became very angry as fairies were not allowed to marry mere mortals. She ordered Zhinu back to the heavens and back to work. Niulang was lost without his wife, so he journeyed to the heavens in search of her.

The Goddess however, saw him approaching and used a hairpin from her hair to scratch a deep river in the sky, which formed the milky way (Silver River in China). Zhinu sits on one side of the river and Niulang on the opposite. They are always apart aside from once a year when the magpies would take pity on them and fly up to the sky to form a bridge to join the two lovers on the 7th day of the 7th month.

If you want to read more about Chinese folklore, take a look at our article about the origin story of the Chinese zodiac, or our post about the story behind the Lantern Festival!

And if you want to get an immersive experience of Chinese culture and language, consider applying for one of our programs in China!