Chinese Legends



Nameof Student

Legendsare traditional stories that are believed to be true but lackauthentication. In the olden days, the stories were passed from onegeneration to the other verbally. The invention of books and pensmade it possible for many legends to be saved in written word. Thelegends are present in all communities. For example, among theGreeks, there is the legend of Hercules and among the English wehave the legend of King Arthur. In this article, I will focus on theChinese community. I will discuss three legends at length, namely:the legend of Dongyong, Mulan, and Mulian saving mother. The attemptis made in this article to analyze the common aspects in the threelegends. The aspects include: the functions of the dominantcharacters, transgression, and morality. These are but some of theissues that stimulated me when I was reading the legends.

of the stories

Thelegend of dongyong is written in a very simple plot. It is the storyof a poor young man who sells himself in order to give his father adecent burial. The gods feel pity on the man and they are moved tosend the weaving maiden to earth in order to become a wife to theyoung man and help him cover his debt. The maiden later returns toheaven. The story is traced back to the final decades of the Handynasty between 25 and 220 C.E. The story has grown and developedover the years and later versions told that the couple gave birth toa child who became very much interested in knowing the whereabouts ofhis absent mother. Many claim that the weaving maiden had defied heremperor in order to save the poor man. After helping Dongyong, thetwo fell in love. However, she was snatched into the heavens by thegods since a marriage between a goddes and man would not beacceptable. The legend is very popular in the rural area of China andhas always been the theme of popular literature and films[ CITATION Ide l 1033 ].

Unlikethe other Chinese legends, the story of Mulan lacks supernaturaldemonstrations and interventions. It is one of the most mundanestories in China. Even without the use of supernatural powers, heroicdeeds are prevalent. A heroine such as Mneg Jiangui successfullydestroys the great wall with her tears of grief at the news of herhusband’s death. The white snake assumes the human form and pursuesa worthy scholar. The snake is later punished to eternal imprisonmentin Thunder Peak Pagoda, for her vain glory. The lovers, Zhu Yingtaiand Liang Shambo are transformed into butterflies after their deaths.They are able to go and live together in lepidopterous love. On theother hand, Mulan wears her father’s armor thus assuming a maleidentity and heads on to battle. According to other versions, Mulandoes this because her father is ill and he is called to battle. Herbrother is too young to represent their father in battle. Since womenwere not allowed to fight, she wears her father’s armor and marchesto the war alongside the other men fighters. She hides her trueidentity from everyone including her close companions. She manages tofight and lead the battle which marks the end of the Great War. Sherefuses to be honored and asks to return home. One may think thatthese actions are a manifestation of magic and divine interventions.However, the transformation is not about magic, rather, it is thedeliberate and basic action of changing clothes[ CITATION The10 l 1033 ].

Accordingto Indian Buddhism, Maudgalyayana, whose name is changed to Mulian inChinese, was one of the earliest disciples of Buddha. He is renownedfor his supernatural powers. It is said that he had the ability tovisit the underworld and have conversations with the dead[ CITATION Mai10 l 1033 ]. In Chinese Buddhism, Mulian became famous for saving his mother fromthe underworld. This legend is used to explain the origin of theghost festival of the fifteenth of the seventeenthmonth. On this day, donations were usually made to the clergy andwere believed to be efficacious in delivering someone’s relativesfrom hell. The spread of the legend went together with an increasingemphasis in the Chinese Buddhism on the inherent sinfulness of thefemale gender due to their sexuality as reified by the blood theyshed during menstruation. The legend of Mulian saving his mother wasadapted for stage performance on the occasions of ghost festival inthe early 12thcentury. The performances would then be staged over the years untilthe twentieth century. However, the performances in recent decadeshave been rare because the religious nature of the Mulian plays wouldworry the authorities in power and special skills are needed for theperformances.

Analyzingthe common part

Thethree stories are similar in some ways. The major characters areselfless and would risk their lives to save the lives of their lovedones. For instance, Dongyong sells himself into slavery in order togive his father a decent burial. Mulan pretends to be a man in orderto save his ill father from dying in battle. Mulian risks his lifeand uses his supernatural powers to save his mother from hell. Thethree major characters in the stories help in the propagation of the‘heroic actions’ functions of a narrative[ CITATION Hol l 1033 ].The three can therefore be termed as heroes and heroine. Thecharacters are forced to act in ways that are contrary to theBuddhism and Confucianism social codes. For instance, Buddhists arebanned from conducting slave trade. However, Dongyong defies theteachings of Buddha and sells himself as a slave as the result of hislove for his own father. In the second story, Mulan defied the socialnorms and went to war. Such actions propagate the theme oftransgression all through the stories. In the first story, themarriage between Dongyong and the maiden was a transgression sincethe maiden was a god and Dondyong was human. Furthermore, in Mulan’scase, it is not right for a woman to dress like a man.

Thethree stories are told in various different versions. The differencesmay occur since the stories may be written by different authors. Thehuman memory is limited. As the stories were being passed from onegeneration to the next, some aspects of the stories were forgottenand lost. Modern authors do not depend on the memories any more. Theyput down the stories using a pen and paper. However, the authors getthe stories from the old manuscripts and others write the storiesafter they are narrated to them. Sometimes, the stories areincomplete and the authors come up with differing ideas on how toconclude them. Greed can motivate some authors to add taste to thestories in order to increase the sales.

Somepeople claim that all legends are essential sources of morality.However, I tend to oppose the claim. The legends that have beenanalyzed in this paper contradict morality. While reading thestories, we find cases of slavery, practices of magic, and war. Inthe real sense, such practices are vices. Therefore, the stories failto act as sources of morality.

Thethree stories fail to propagate the theme of gender equality. Men arevalued more than women. The heroes Dongyong and Mulian are both men.The heroine Mulan is forced to disguise herself as a man in order toperform a heroic act. Therefore, the stories are a clear reflectionof the Chinese culture where men are considered to be better thantheir female counterparts.


Thelegends of Dongyong, Mulan, and Mulian are but some of the Chineselegends that are analyzed in the paper. They are the stories ofheroes who went out of their ways in order to help others. The heroeseven risked their lives for their loved ones. Though the stories arecaptivating, one is left in a confused state of mind due to the manyversions that are used in telling them. the stories propagate thethemes of: transgression, morality, and are gender biased. They doreflect the culture and traditions of the Chinese people.


The “Poem of Mulan” and “Song of Mulan,” from. (2010, 4 24). Mulan Front.

Holden, P. (2010). Vladmir Propp`s Functions of Narratives.

Idema, W. L. (n.d.). Dongyong Filial Piety and its divine Rewards.

Mair, V. B. (2010). Tun-huang popular narratives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.