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For the character Nu Wa in the Chinese novel Fengshen Yanyi, see Nu Wa Niang Niang

Nüwa iconograph in Shan Hai Jing
Nüwa iconograph in Shan Hai Jing

In Chinese mythology, Nüwa (Traditional Chinese: 女媧; Simplified Chinese: 女娲; Pinyin: nǚwā) is mythological character best known for reproducing people after a great calamity. Other later traditions name this as a creation myth attributed to either Pangu or Yu Huang.


[edit] Nüwa Original Source Documents

Below are some of the sources that describe Nüwa, in chronological order. These sources do not include local tribal stories or modern recreations. (note: please maintain pattern of date, author, book, chapter, account, and detail for future additions.)

1) (475 - 221 BC) author: Lie Yukou (列圄寇), book: Liezi (列子), chapter 5: "Questions of Tang" (卷第五 湯問篇), paragraph 1: account: "Nüwa repairs the heavens"
detail: Describes Nüwa repairing the heavens after a great flood. It also states that Nüwa molded the first people out of clay.
2) (340 - 278 BC) author: Qu Yuan (屈原), book: "Elegies of Chu" (楚辞, or Chuci), chapter 3: "Asking Heaven" (天問, or Wentian), account: "Nüwa Mends The Firmament"
detail: The name Nüwa first appears here. This story states that Nüwa molded figures from the yellow earth, giving them life and the ability to bear children. Demons then fought and broke the pillars of the Heavens. Nüwa worked unceasingly to repair the damage, melting down the five-coloured stones to mend the Heavens.
3) (179 - 122 BC) author: Liu An (劉安), book: Huainanzi (淮南子), chapter 6: Lanmingxun (覽冥訓), account: "Nüwa Mended the Sky"
detail: In remote antiquity, the four poles of the Universe collapsed, and the world descended into chaos: the firmament was no longer able to cover everything, and the earth was no longer able to support itself; fire burned wild, and waters flooded the land. Fierce beasts ate common people, and ferocious birds attacked the old and the weak. Hence, Nüwa tempered the five-colored stone to mend the Heavens, cut off the feet of the great turtle to support the four poles, killed the black dragon to help the earth, and gathered the ash of reed to stop the flood. Variation: The four corners of the sky collapsed and the world with its nine regions split open.
4) (145 - 90 BC) author: Sima Qian (司馬遷), book: Shiji (史記), section 1: BenJi (本紀), chapter 1: prolog
detail: Nüwa is described as a man with the last name of Feng. He is related to Fuxi; and possibly related to Fenghuang (鳳凰, pinyin: fènghuáng).
5) (58 - 147 AD) author: Xu Shen (許慎), book: Shuowen Jiezi (說文解字), entry: Nüwa
detail: The Shuowen is China's earliest dictionary. In it, Nüwa is said to have been both the sister and the wife of Fuxi. Nüwa and Fuxi were pictured as having snake like tails interlocked in an Eastern Han dynasty (+25 +220) mural in the Wuliang Temple in Jiaxiang county, Shandong province.
6) (618 - 907 AD) author: LiRong (李榮), book: Duyi Zhi (獨异志); vol 3, account: "opening of the universe"[citation needed]
detail: There was a brother and a sister living on the Kunlun Mountain, and there were no ordinary people at that time. The sister's name was Nüwa. The brother and sister wished to become husband and wife, but felt shy and guilty about this desire. So the brother took his younger sister to the top of the Kunlun Mounatain and prayed: "If Heaven allows us to be man and wife, please let the smoke before us gather; if not, please let the smoke scatter." The smoke before them gathered together. So Nüwa came to live with her elder brother. She made a fan with grass to hide her face. (The present custom of women covering their faces with fans originated from this story.)
7) (618 - 907 AD) author: Lu Tong (盧同), book: Yuchuan Ziji (玉川子集), chapter 3[citation needed]
detail: characters: "與馬異結交詩" 也稱 "女媧本是伏羲婦", pinyin: "Yu Mayi Jie Jiao Shi" YeCheng "Nüwa ben shi Fuxi fu", English: "NuWa originally is Fuxi wife" (note late date)
8) (618 - 907 AD) author: Sima Zhen (司馬貞), book: "Four Branches of Literature Complete Library" (四庫全書, or Siku Quanshu) , chapter: "Supplemental to the Historic Record – History of the Three August Ones"
detail: The three August Ones (San Huang) are: Fuxi, Nüwa, Shennong; Fuxi & Nüwa were brother & sister and have the same last name "Fong" or Feng. note: SimaZhens commentary in included with the later Siku Quanshu compiled by Ji Yun (紀昀) & Lu Xixiong (陸錫熊 ).
9) (960 - 1279 AD) author: Li Fang (李昉), collection: Songsi Dashu (宋四大書), series: "Taiping Anthologies for the Emperor" (太平御覽, or Taiping Yulan), book: Vol 78, chapter "Customs by Yingshao of the Han Dynasty"
detail: States that there were no men when the sky and the earth were separated. Nüwa used yellow clay to make people. The clay was not strong enough, so she put ropes into the clay to make the bodies erect. It was also said that she prayed to gods to let her be the goddess of marital affairs. (Variations of this story exist.)

[edit] Nüwa in various Roles

An ancient painting of Nüwa and Fuxi unearthed in Xinjiang.
An ancient painting of Nüwa and Fuxi unearthed in Xinjiang.

Since Nüwa is presented differently in so many myths, it is not accurate to tie "her" down as a creator, mother, goddess, or even female. Depending on the myth, "she" is responsible for being a wife, sister, man, tribal leader (or even emperor), creator, maintainer, etc. It is not clear from the evidence which view came first. Regardless of the origins, most myths present Nüwa as female in a procreative role after a calamity.

[edit] Nüwa as Repairer

The earliest literary role seems to be the upkeep and maintenance of the Wall of Heaven, whose collapse would obliterate everything. Also note the association to Deluge traditions below.
There was a quarrel between two of the more powerful gods, and they decided to settle it with a fight. When the water god Gong Gong saw that he was losing, he smashed his head against Mount Buzhou (不周山), a pillar holding up the sky. The pillar collapsed and caused the sky to tilt towards the northwest and the earth to shift to the southeast. This caused great floods and suffering to the people. Nüwa cut off the legs of a giant tortoise and used them to supplant the fallen pillar, alleviating the situation and sealing the broken sky using stones of seven different colours, but she was unable to fully correct the tilted sky. This explains the phenomenon that sun, moon, and stars move towards the northwest, and that rivers in China flow southeast into the Pacific Ocean. (this account is similar to the Huainanzi account; it was added as The Upkeep and Maintenance of Heaven[citation needed] )
Other versions of the story describe Nüwa going up to heaven and filling the gap with her body (half human half serpent) and thus stopping the flood. According to this legend some of the minorities in South-Western China hail Nüwa as their Goddess and some festivals such as the 'Water-Splashing Festival' are in part a tribute to her sacrifices.

[edit] Nüwa as Creator

The next major role of Nüwa is of a Creator. However, not many stories ascribe to her the creation of everything; they usually confine her to the creation of mankind. Many of these stories feature mankind being created or restored after a catastrophe.
It is said[citation needed] that Nüwa existed in the beginning of the world. She felt lonely as there were no animals so she began the creation of animals and humans. On the first day she created chickens. On the second day she created dogs. On the third day she created sheep. On the fourth day she created pigs. On the fifth day she created cows. On the sixth day she created horses. On the seventh day she began creating men from yellow clay, sculpting each one individually, yet after she had created hundreds of figures in this way she still had more to make but had grown tired of the laborious process. So instead of hand crafting each figure, she dipped a rope in clay and flicked it so blobs of clay landed everywhere; each of these blobs became a person. In this way, the story relates, were nobles and commoners created from the hand crafted figures and the blobs respectively. Another variation on this story relates that some of the figures melted in the rain as Nüwa was waiting for them to dry and in this way sickness and physical abnormalities came into existence.[citation needed]

[edit] Nüwa as Wife or Sister

By the Han Dynasty, she is described in literature with her husband Fuxi as the first of the San Huang, and often called the "parents of humankind". However, paintings depicting them joined as half people - half snake or dragon date to the Warring States period.
"It is said" in the form of dragons that she and her husband carved out the rivers of the world and drained the resulting floods.[citation needed]

[edit] Nüwa as a goddess for Miao people

Nüwa is also the traditional divine goddess of the Miao people.

[edit] Nüwa and Deluge traditions

Details of the Nüwa flood stories clearly share commonalities with other global Deluge traditions, and are worthy of note:

  • global flood or calamity (Gong Gongs destruction)
  • destruction of humanity and animals (explicitly described)
  • select pair survives calamity (Fuxi & Nuwa in most Chinese versions)
  • select pair survives in a boat or gourd (Zhuang version)
  • similarity of names (Nuwa, Noah, Nu, Manu, Oannes, etc.)
  • rebuilding humanity after devastation(explicitly described)
  • colorful heavenly object (5 colored pillar)

Many other comparisons are possible, but the scattered and indirect nature of the evidence makes any harmonious explanation difficult. Additionally, although the earliest Judeo-Christian influence in China is about 600 AD, there is also the undocumented possibility of earlier arrivals who could have influenced the development of the myth. For more detailed comparisons and treatment, please see Deluge and Pangu.

[edit] Is Nüwa related to Noah?

There could be some parallels from the elements of the story to some of the story told in the book of Genesis. These are:

  • Nüwa's humans from flinging mud has similarities with the Adam origin from soil (and other earth origin myths, such as the Greek myth of Deucalion-Pyrrha who created humans by flinging pebbles)
  • the Fuxi-Nüwa brother & sister element is similar to Adam-Eve coming from the same body
  • the Fuxi-Nüwa have a half snake element. The Adam-Eve story involves them being influenced by the serpent
  • the Fuxi-Nüwa flood survival[citation needed] is similar to the flood of Noah

Those who read the Bible literally, usually consider it plausible that such shared resemblances are derived from very ancient legends of a common ancestral tribe, whose descendants dispersed widely from Mount Ararat (Genesis 6-11). However, these elements could be coincidences, or respond to shared mythic elements present in Creation and Deluge myths around the world. It is also possible that some of these elements have been exchanged between the two traditions and inserted into existing myths.

[edit] Nüwa in History

Paintings of Nüwa, and her consort Fuxi, date to the Warring States period.

Although Nüwa is typically represented as a woman in mythology, the noted Chinese historian Sima Qian (in the Shiji, Chapter Benji or prolog) clearly identifies Nuwa as a man with the last name of Feng. Some scholars consider Nüwa a tribal leader (or emperor); others consider the name Nüwa a title.

[edit] Nüwa in Popular Culture

Nu Wa as featured within Dynasty Warriors
Nu Wa as featured within Dynasty Warriors

A character named Nüwa is an unlockable in the video game Dynasty Warriors 3 alongside Fuxi.

Nüwa also appears in Sierra Entertainment's city-building game Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom. She is a non-playable character and one of the three ancestral heroes of the game, who can be summoned to the player's city. She can safeguard the city from fires and enhance the production of clay pits and kilns.

Nüwa also has a major role in the Hong Kong ATV television series, "My Date With A Vampire (2)." Disappointed with her creations (humanity), she plans to destroy the world and let the world be reborn. That fateful day is predicted to be 1 January 2001, and the other characters race against time to stop her from destroying the world.

[edit] External links