Book of Songs
c. 1000-600 B. C. E.
Chinese tradition begins with lyric poetry. The voices in the Book of Songs are diverse, especially in contrast to the more homogeneous point of view of ancient epics written by Homer and Virgil. Similarities still exist. As with the epic tradition of Greek and Roman culture, the Book of Songs does reflect the values of the culture that created the text. The story of ruling well and gaining the support of the people seems to persist in all cultures; many of the poems in the Chinese Book of Songs can be read as verses of protest--voices speak out, sometimes in the humblest of ways, against whatever force threatens to destroy the society.
As far as creation stories, the Book of Songs includes Poem 238: Hou Chi is the legendary ancestor of the Chou people.
She who in the beginning gave birth to the people,
This was Chiang Yuan.
How did she give birth to the people?
Well she sacrificed and prayed
That she might no longer be childless.
She trod on the big toe of God's footprint,
Was accepted and got what she desired.
Then in reverence, then in awe
She gave birth, she nurtured;
And this was Hou Chi.'
Indeed, she had fulfilled her months,
And her first-born came like a lamb
With no bursting or rending,
With no hurt or harm.
To make manifest His magic power
God on high gave her ease.
So blessed were her sacrifice and prayer
That easily she bore her child.
Indeed, they put it in a narrow lane;
But oxen and sheep tenderly cherished it.
Indeed, they put it in a far-off wood;
But it chanced that woodcutters came to this wood.
Indeed, they put it on the cold ice;
But the birds covered it with their wings.
But birds at last went away,
And Hou Chi began to wail.
Truly far and wide
His voice was very loud.
Then sure enough he began to crawl;
Well he straddled, well he reared,
To reach food for his month.
He planted large beans;
His beans grew fat and tall.
His Paddy-lines were close set,
His hemp and wheat grew thick,
His voting gourds teemed.
Truly Hou Chi's husbandry
Followed the way that had been shown.
He cleared away the thick grass,
He planted the yellow crop.
It failed nowhere, it grew thick,
It was heavy, it was tall,
It sprouted, it eared,
It was firm and good,
It nodded, it hung
He made house and home in T'ai.
Indeed, the lucky grains were sent down to us,
The black millet, the double-kernelled,
Millet pink-sprouted and white.
Far and wide the black and the double-kernelled
He reaped and acred;
Far and wide the millet pink and white
He carried in his arms, lie bore on his back,
Brought them home, and created the sacrifice.
Indeed, what are they, our sacrifices?
We pound the grain we bale it out,
We sift, we tread,
We wash it--soak, soak;
We boil it all steamy.
Then with due care, due thought
We gather southernwood, make offering of fat,
Take lambs for the rite of expiation,
We roast, we broil,
To give a start to the coming year.
High we load the stands,
The stands of wood and of earthenware.
As soon as the smell rises
God on high is very pleased:
"What smell is this, so strong and good?"
Hou Chi founded the sacrifices,
And without blemish or flaw
They have gone on till now.