Pan Gu: Humans from Parasites

David Leffman Uncategorized 1 Comment

A while back I posted about the Reverend Henry Galloway Comingo Hallock, who in the late 1920s sent stacks of woodblock prints of Chinese gods, bought in Shanghai, back to the US, along with letters describing the deities and seeking funds for his various Church-led causes.

I’ve picked these prints up here and there but recently received a cache of eight from the US, which had been stuck in a drawer and pretty forgotton about for decades. Most of the letters had survived too, typed in purple ink, along with the typically small, narrow envelopes that Hallock used. I’m told that the recipient had no connection to China and it’s a mystery why Hallock singled them out for so much attention. The letters all date to the Great Depression when the family, while religious, were struggling financially and could not possibly have made any contibutions to some unknown missionary’s cause in China.

The prints are all bright and crisp, though the rubbish tissue paper they were printed on has aged despite being kept away from light. My favourite was of Pan Gu, central to one of China’s creation myths where human beings were transformed from Pan Gu’s parasites. Here’s what Hallock has to say about him:

“The male and femal principles, yang and yin, gave birth to Pan-Ku. He had two horns and was a short stubby fellow, but endowed with the ability to grow. He grew six feet every day, and as he lived 18,000 years you can see how big he got. He in some way got possession of an axe, and with that he managed to ‘t’ian di k’ai p’ih’ [天地開辟], hew out the universe. This was seemingly out of nothing or at least out of chaos. He was eighteen thousand years doing the work and to complete it all he had to die. His head is said to have become the mountains; his breath the winds and clouds; his voice the thunder; his limbs the four quarters of the world; his blood the rivers; his flesh the soil; his beard the constellations; his skin and hair the herbs and trees; his teeth, bones and marrow became metal, rocks and precious stones; his sweat the rain; and (most suggestive of all to evolutionists) the insects crawling over his body became human beings. I hope we are proud of our ancestry!”

Pan Gu wearing his clothes of leaves, separating the sun (日) and moon (月). The red square seal stamps, talismanic script and bagua-taiji symbols at the top are all protective Daoist motifs.

“Chinese speak of three kinds of insects that delight in man’s ‘fellowship’ – the crawlers, the jumpers and the smellers. I asked a Chinese to which race he belonged. He said he did not know, but that the ‘foreigners must belong to crawlers, for they are white!'”

“The picture I send shows Pan-Ku and his apron of leaves and his axe. In his hands he holds the sun (red) and the moon. He failed to put them in their proper places and they went away into the sea and the people were left in darkness. A messenger was sent to ask them to go into the sky and give light. They refused. Pan-Ku was called, and at Buddha’s direction wrote the characters ‘ri’ sun, in one hand and ‘yuih’ moon, in the other, and going to the sea he stretched out his hands and called the sun and the moon, repeating a charm devoutly seven times, when they ascended into the sky and gave light day and night.”

“In the creation Pan-Ku made 51 [levels to the universe]. Of these 33 were for heaven and 18 for hell below the earth. The heavens were graded for good men and the floors below the earth were for bad men. If one is the very best of all he can go to the 33rd heaven and be worshipped as a god. If one is very bad he’ll go down to the 18th hell.”

“Even in 18,000 years the work of creation was not completed, but a cavity was left through which many fell to the bottom. After a long time a woman, Nu-Kwa, was born, and she took a stone and blocked up the hole and so finished the work of creation. They say, though the body of Pan-Ku died, his soul lives and will live for ever. Just after the beginning of the Chinese Republic [in 1912] the ‘Philosophers’ said that a revelation had come from heaven saying that the king of the gods had asked Pan-Ku to build a new heaven for him – the thirty-fourth. This was done, and the king of gods with his retinue moved into this.”

All I’d add to Hallock is that the idea of a folk deity having to seek help from Buddha, along with the notion of heaven and hell, are Buddhist additions to the tale. Buddhism arrived in China from India during the first century AD, and the earliest mention of Pan Gu is from about a century later.

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